JerseyFest Food Truck Mash-Up at the Meadowlands: The Ground Report

Based on the huge turnout at the event this weekend, Exposure North Jersey definitely gets a nod for their marketing reach to bring the masses to the New Meadowlands Racetrack this weekend. It was a Jersey vs. Philly theme, and the battle was intense between the trucks as lines stretched back as far as more than one hundred people deep for some of the vendors.

We arrived at the Meadowlands around 7:45pm and took the shuttle from Lot M over to the new grandstand area, where the event was being held. Buses were brought in from Columbia University to shuttle people from remote parking areas. It was perfect weather; warm with a cool breeze. Dozens of tents filled the grounds, along with the usual Meadowlands vending stations (which are attractive for an outdoor venue), the beer garden glittering with lights, the colorful and diverse food trucks, and a crowd that was eager to sample as much of the different choices as they could.

I’ve seen some news coverage from over the weekend & it appears (not sure I’m accurate) that it may have been less crowded during the earlier hours of the event, which began at 3:30 for early access & 5pm for general admission. I’m thinking next year the extra cash for early admission might be worthwhile as we enjoyed ourselves, but barely ate and food due to the long waiting times. I heard one woman say that she waited 2 hours for MexiFlip TacoTruck; their Instagram thanked those that waited up to 3 hours. Wow. God has not blessed me with that much patience for any type of food, and I opted for trucks that had 20 or less people at a time – mostly those that were running out of ingredients by the time we hit the grounds.

This leads to my pieces of feedback for anyone (Exposure North Jersey, Meadowlands Event Administration & the Food Trucks) who might be in the stages of reviewing this event for better execution next year or at similar venues. My day job happens to be event management at one of the local NJ universities, so I’m not just saying these points to bitch or criticize for effect; I really just would like to be helpful from a genuine perspective.

Strengths of the JerseyFest event:

1. Marketing – I saw your ad running everywhere, including papers, signage, & social media outlets. It was attractive & concise. The branding of the event matched the outcomes & “feel” I believe you were looking for.

2. Venue selection – The New Meadowlands has revitalized the racetrack corner of the NJSEA and events like these are a win for all the planners & participants. Lots of folks at this event saw their first harness race and explored the New Meadowlands grounds, finding out there is a lot to enjoy there close to home. Of course, being a fairly new & visually appealing backdrop is advantageous.

3. Event content – Selection of Food Trucks, various vendor tabling, entertainment provided, and activities were very well done.

4. Age appropriate – Fun for young & old, single, couples, or families.

5. Theme – Let’s face it, “Mash-Ups” and Food Trucks are having a moment; why not celebrate that? Of course, this is a NJ centered blog, so we are all about anything “Jersey” centric. The local trucks, B Street Band, local business participation, & Meadowlands combo was spot on for the Jersey theme. A little regional competition made things interesting too as we live in perpetual rivalry to Philly & NYC.

Maybe for Next Time:

1. Line management at shuttles – Signage that directs people into two lines for the shuttles could be helpful when lines start to get long. Having everyone wait in one long line & then having one or two people telling them at the front of the lines which bus has arrived caused some confusion & delayed entering/exiting from the event lots. Having one person work the front of the line, while another walks along the line to explain there are two lines for two lots would be ideal.

2. Line management at ticket sale booth – Again, having staff work throughout the lines, explaining there were actually 3 people available to sell admission would have expedited entry. You couldn’t see this from the one, massive line that formed with no one directing traffic. There was no signage to direct people to the ticket area either, so if you weren’t following a mass, you did not know where to get into the event upon arrival.

3. Spacing of Food Trucks – There was great confusion among the crowds waiting in lines for food because the lines wrapped around one another, sometimes with hundreds of people. Crowds of people passing through from one part of the grounds to the other were impeded by these masses as well, which can add unnecessary frustration to an otherwise carefree event. More space between the trucks, with some form of partitions that organize lines, with signs marking what truck belongs to each line, would help very much. I do understand that you must contain the entire event within the parameters of the grandstand event area, but even expanding the space next year into the lots somehow but adding crown controlling barricades to keep the perimeter secure could be a possible solution.

4. Food Truck supply & demand reinforcements – I feel that many of the trucks were overwhelmed by the huge turnout: some ran out of supplies & certain foods, others could not turn out the product fast enough for the crowd’s demand. Nevertheless, people still seemed to be in good spirits and had a good attitude about it, but there was lots of talk about the aspects aforementioned within the long lines. I’d suggest that the trucks stock up the days before on readily available items (chopped fruits & veggies for example) and bring auxiliary equipment (extra coolers, freezers, portable stovetops tables & more staff) to supplement their trucks. People wanted to try most, if not all of the trucks & the way the lines were, this was not possible for most participants.

All in all, this event was definitely one I feel kicked off my summer adventures in an enjoyable & “Jersey Pop’ appropriate fashion. I would like to catch the trucks again sometime together again soon (I’ve already been looking at the Exposure North Jersey events link) so I can try those I missed this time around.

Thanks to anyone reading & remember, we also have our Jersey Pop Trivia App available at the iTunes Store for iOS devices. Follow us on Instagram @JerseyPopTrivia and Twitter @Jersey_Pop for more action from the Garden State!

Quick-Picks from the Birthplace of Bergen County for Great Food

Sanzari’s New Bridge Inn, New Milford

An air of “exclusive” where all are welcome. The name “Sanzari” in Bergen County is too big to fail, especially where Italian restaurant critics are a dime a dozen and not shy about spreading the word. Experienced wait & chef staff; great food selection & ambiance.

Green Papaya, River Edge

BYOB Thai/Asian-fusion that is always a full-house, but I’ve never had to wait. Stands among others of this genre because the taste of the food is phenomenal – flavors are complex and so tasty you’ll be challenged not to clean your plate every visit. Doesn’t leave you with the food “hangover” like many Asian spots. They type of place you’ll get cravings for.

Jersey Boys, New Milford

Cozy feeling, but big enough for the family or happy hour with friends. Traditional American fare with prompt, polite service. Nicely done interior with New Jersey themed-décor.

Garden Café’, New Milford

Popular for business lunch crowds, who enjoy the large patio/garden seating on warm days. Indoor seating also available. Specialize in soup, salads, sandwiches. Friendly staff.

Panchos Burritos, New Milford

Very popular for happy hour & weekend crowd -reasonably priced margaritas, sangrias, and beer. California-style Mexican cuisine, well executed. Live entertainment on some days/nights.

Casual Habana Café’, New Milford

This is the newly-opened, second location of Casual Habana (also in Hackensack). Airy, yet intimate feeling inside; some window seating available in street-side room. Dedicated tapas bar/lounge, Cuban traditional fare that has a down-home deliciousness, but the polish of an experienced chef.

New Jersey: Why Our State’s Food Tastes Better Than Yours

1. Access to Ports

New Jersey is a peninsula state with navigable waters on three sides, giving it incredible access to some of the busiest ports in the nation & the world. Imported foods & ingredients reaching NJ first are advantageous to stores, restaurants, and residents. These items are more likely to be fresh and unadulterated from suppliers before shipment to producers; similarly, the items do not have long distances to travel before consumption. This lends to great variety available within the region, and plenty of people to consume it. While there are definite state & international laws regulating products coming into port, let’s just say it’s good to know someone who works on the docks. You didn’t hear that here though, of course.

2. Tradition

New Jersey is a very familial culture. Generations of families & communities have made food a centerpiece of family life, holidays, entertaining, and faith.

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3. Farms

Let the rest of the country keep on believing the entire state looks like a cogeneration plant; we’ll keep our best-kept secrets to ourselves to enjoy, like the 550,000+ acres of farmland that ensure we live up to our name, “The Garden State.” Accessibility to local produce, dairy, and meats give our food that “Jersey Fresh” goodness.

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4. Demographics

New Jersey is the only state in the US which is entirely classified as “metropolitan,” because of its size and proximity between Philadelphia and New York. One of the most densely populated in the country, it is and has been a state largely affected by immigration. This makes it one of, if not the best, states in the US to find food that is 100% authentic to its origins and in tons of variety & quantity.

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5. Specialty Stores

When you live in NJ, you get spoiled sometimes not realizing that outside of the NJ/metro NY region, the “pork store” is a scarce commodity or a completely foreign/unknown phenomenon. We LOVE our provisions in NJ like a fat kid loves cake. Stores specializing in ethnic imported foods are easy to come by as well.

6. Regional “native” foods

Try and order a Taylor Ham, egg and cheese out of state and see what happens. The Texas Weiner originated in Paterson; you won’t get a better “ripper” once you cross that state line. Jimmy Buff’s & Applegate Farms will complete out-of-state mail orders, proving that you can take a person out of Jersey, but you’ll never take the “Jersey” out of the person. There are endless items you just won’t get anywhere else in the world that make living here uniquely delicious.

7. The Shore

Not only can you feast on a fresh catch of the day from local markets or restaurants thanks to bordering oceans, bays, and rivers – the shore region holds its own title as a food-lover’s paradise. What would summer be without your favorite shore-stand pizza, ice cream, or fried oreos? Does the salt in the air really make food taste better? We think so.

8. The Water

Yes; there have actually been studies conducted investigating the effect of a location’s water chemical makeup and its effect on food. Whether water is hard or soft, its ph balance, and chemical levels present can change dough consistency, taste, and shelf-life. So the reason bagels taste better here is apparently legit.

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9. Demanding & Critical Marketplace

If you want an honest & unabashed review on your food product, ask a New Jerseyan. Even most of us from the more humble neighborhoods have pretty diverse selections of choices in their immediate or surrounding locality. If your pizza tastes like crap, they will say so- typically loud enough for most of the restaurant to hear. Maybe they’ll finish it, maybe not. Then they will go a block over, tell the guy at the counter how bad your pizza tastes (again loud so we all hear) and exactly what seems to be the problem with it, ie: “the the cheese was like plastic & the friggin’ sauce tastes like Prego.” Basically, we have zero tolerance for mediocrity because we are spoiled rotten in quality & quantity from Cape May to Mahwah.

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Moreover, the food industry in New Jersey is serious business. There are magazines, blogs, social media accounts, and an entire industry built around promoting, marketing, and critiquing it. There are huge food & beverage events happening seven days a week, all over the state, all year long.

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In conclusion, all of these conditions can lend to some respectable palettes. You don’t have to take my word for it, but I know about 8 million people who probably have my back on it:)

One Funeral & Four Restaurants: Americana Diner, Anthony’s Pizza, Mastoris, & Under the Moon Cafe (East Windsor & Bordentown)

This Halloween weekend was spent on the road, as I left my home in Passaic County to relocate to my hometown, Bordentown, for a family funeral.

Bordentown is a wonderful little town, in a unique geographical position that places it right along the Delaware River, but smack dab in the middle of NY vs. Philadelphia-influenced NJ culture. At sports bars, you can find just as many Giants & Jets decorations as you will Eagles; you can tune in to both Philly and NY based television & radio stations. While there are many natives of the town still left, with generations of family born & raised, there is a recent influx of residents from both the north, south, and yes- that elusive “central” Jersey of folklore & mythology that have given this town a flavorful vibe, while maintaining its historical charms.

My first stop for Friday night dinner was at Americana Diner, in East Windsor. Like many New Jerseyans, I have patronized this diner for decades. However, it’s been a few years since I’ve visited and I noticed some changes. While the interior remains the same since their last major renovation (probably close to the new millennium, if I’m not mistaken), the menu has changed quite dramatically. While I appreciate that the ownership has taken the direction of a culinary manager, who clearly is qualified based on her bio on the website, I know I can’t be alone in missing the old menu. The new Americana menu is much more scaled-down, offering more of a restaurant or café-style selection vs. a traditional diner. Appetizers, salads, soups, sides, and entrees all fit on one side of a page. I was looking forward to my big fat diner menu; I’m all about being progressive but keeping the name “Americana” now in this case seems ironic. Gone is all the standard diner fare that made them famous; left is a lofty menu that sadly, I felt was frankly overpriced and ambitious for their market. Maybe I’m underestimating their “new” market – as I stated, I’ve been out of that area for a while. I know there probably are plenty of people happy with the change; the place was as packed as ever, so they must be doing something right. I guess I was just let down as I was all geared-up for the large selection & portions of the past as I drove down the Turnpike, making a pit-stop at this old favorite of mine. Maybe it was an “off” night, but I hope next time, if I’m paying higher-end prices at a diner, that the food quality matches the price.

Americana

Saturday’s lunch needed to be simple and brief, as we had a lot to accomplish before an early evening church service. Therefore, we stopped in at Anthony’s Pizza in Bordentown, a classic pizza “joint,” that remains in a comfy time-machine vacuum of sorts circa late 70s-early 80s. Locals know the owner, Anthony, who has a penchant for Elvis, Cadillacs, and the local women (bordering on the creepy side, but he seems harmless enough to take your kids there). Anthony is getting up there in age & as of late, I’ve noticed some new help at the restaurant. Seemingly, the pizza is not as I remember as a kid & I suspect that Anthony has suffered the effects of the economy & his age and has been forced to cut some corners. Just on the principle of tradition alone, I will continue to stop in from time to time when I’m in town, but it’s clear that Anthony’s is on its way to possibly closing up shop and ending an era. Sadly, many neighbors of the same stretch of highways 206 &130 that saw a heyday in the 70s-80s (Papp’s Bowling, most recently for example) have done the same.

Anthonys

After the services, I hosted a repass dinner at Mastoris of Bordentown. Mastoris is pretty well-known statewide, as it lies at close proximity to routes 195, 130, 206, and 295. Similarly, it’s about equidistant to exits 7 and 7A off the NJ Turnpike. A large facility, it is typically full of local & commuting patrons, along with large bus groups or catered events. Mastoris is another Bordentown dinosaur that has a lot riding on expectations of its past performance. Fortunately for them, their portions and quality still deliver. Their famous cheese & cinnamon breads are the centerpiece of a full on-site bakery, which gives the place a very welcoming appeal as soon as you walk inside and see everything on display before the numerous dining rooms. I like reading the Mastoris family restaurant story on their placemats and the efforts to create an “experience” is still a formula that works. I’ve heard rumors that their current site will close and they will move operations to their new Allstarz Sports Bar; I’m hoping this is not the case unless they are willing to invest in a serious renovation to recreate their current model that can still meet the demands of a modern world. Allstarz is a cavernous, contemporary sports bar that offers a completely different atmosphere than classic Mastoris. As I can say for now is “say it ain’t so” Mastoris. I’d love to see a renovation of the current facility instead of a move that could jeopardize the brand.

Mastori bread

Sunday brunch brought about a pleasant discovery in Under the Moon Café in Bordentown City. This small, yet distinct venue offers Argentinean-inspired dishes & to die-for desserts. I was immediately moved by the attention to decorative & interior design. The core elements of the café are rustic, and there is something interesting to look at on every table and wall. I get the impression that a lot of trips to antique dealers and second-hand shops were made with joyful finds that make this place special. The menu is as creative and intentional as the atmosphere. This location was definitely a much needed pick-me-up after an emotionally draining weekend. In fact, I left feeling inspired to write again – so I did. I will definitely be sampling more of Under the Moon in the future.

Under the Moon

Jersey Pop Restaurant Rave: Burger Deluxe

In my younger days as a college student at William Paterson University, I remember passing the old North Star 23 Diner frequently on Route 23 North in Wayne. It was even one of my subjects of a final photography course thesis I presented on New Jersey diners.

Today, the Livanos Restaurant Group has transformed the location into a standout dining destination among the heavily saturated NJ diner-verse. Burger Deluxe grabs your attention with its visual appeal on its exterior; it’s interior content & character keep you coming back for more.

A congruent theme is a critical but often mishandled aspect of the food business. Burger Deluxe is on the money with the “feel good” recipe, capitalizing on the best of 1950s/60s retro: decor, music, menu, and good old-fashioned family fun.

While the menu is not the hulking page-turner you’ll find at most other competitors in its league, it doesn’t have to be due to the high level of quality in taste, preparation, and presentation. Burgers are in the spotlight as their specialty, but the other sandwiches, soups, salads, and appetizers receive the same love from the chef. Upon about 15+ visits now, I have never been disappointed with any option I’ve tried.

Favorites: En Fuego Burger, Buffalo (Bison) Burger, Skillet Mac & Cheese, Sante Fe Chicken Salad, and as of late, their Spinach Pie appetizer.

Another area Burger Deluxe pulls away from the pack is their beverages & desserts. Kids of all ages (us big ones too) will fall for the thick milkshakes, floats, local Boylan’s soda, and ice cream truffles. I crave their Watermelon Lemonade regularly; they use real purée for a beautiful layered sweet & sour mix. I confess, it’s the best mixed drink I’ve had without the need for alcohol. Which leads to a final thought- atmosphere.

Some diners in Jersey benefit from a liquor license; in many cases, they should be thankful as you can use the intoxicants to lower your expectations. As a social drinker, I also appreciate the diner/liquor combo. All this being said, Burger Deluxe needs no liquor license and if you’ve been there, you already know what I mean. It’s a glimpse into a simpler time, in the best ways possible: great food, pleasant & genuine service, great music (appropriate for all ages), sleek yet sentimental design, and smiles. You go there, and you don’t feel like you’re missing anything, despite a bustling NJ highway in view, the world slows down at Burger Deluxe. Nothing should muffle the beauty in that.

Survey: Newark is the World’s Most Unfriendly City

Even with all of the wonderful pockets of hope in Newark- the Ironbound, our numerous premiere higher education institutions, Prudential Center, the Newark Museum, one of the most important airports in the world, sadly all of the efforts are still not enough to rate against hard facts on crime within the city.

Rated the “Most unfriendly city in the World” is about as low of a blow a city and state can be dealt. New Jersey also has Atlantic City ranking as in the top ten, as determined by Conde’ Nast. Not our finest hour as no other area in the world has 2 cities in the top ten.

I could rant about the sociology and government failures, but even though the rest of the world views us through a microscope of criminal notoriety – most of us Jerseyans can clearly read between the lines. Either way, it’s a real tough nut to crack.

http://www.newsmax.com/US/survey-newark-unfriendly-city/2013/08/07/id/519255