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The greatest thing about every single North Jersey town, part 1 logo 8/19/2021 Peter Genovese,

New Jersey is composed of 565 municipalities and scores more sections and hamlets. I, Pete Genovese, have spent a lifetime wandering around and writing about this incredible state. Now, I have compiled the ultimate list: The greatest thing about every single town. Yes, all 565.

Landmarks, attractions, parks, historical tidbits, museums, restaurants — unique features that give each borough, city or township (every type of municipality is a “town,” for this project) its special character or personality.

My mission: to show the richness, charm and wonder of New Jersey; no state is more mocked, maligned and misunderstood.

Today, we’ll cover Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties. Tuesday, we’ll finish North Jersey with Morris, Passaic, Sussex, Union and Warren counties. Wednesday is Central Jersey, Thursday is South Jersey and Friday we’ll end at the Jersey Shore.


Allendale: The Celery Farm

No, they don’t grow celery at the Celery Farm, you silly rabbit. Once upon a time, sure. Today, the Celery Farm is known mostly for its … birds. Really. The 107-acre Celery Farm Natural Area is home to 53 bird species; more than 240 species have been recorded here. You’ll also find abundant mammals, fish and reptiles. The Fyke Nature Association, founded in 1952, helps maintain the freshwater wetland.

Alpine: Palisades Interstate Park

Call it the scariest drive in New Jersey. Henry Hudson Drive, a memorable, meandering and vertiginous roller coaster ride at Palisades Interstate Park. Those afraid of heights, or who shudder at the thought of mere stone walls keeping you from plunging hundreds of feet into the river, would do well to stay away. The road eventually levels off and ends just south of the George Washington Bridge. The park also includes State Line Lookout, perched 527 feet above the Hudson River, with its heart-stopping views. Birders love The Lookout, as you can tell by the photo. You can walk to the New Jersey/New York boundary marker a half mile away.

Bergenfield: Bergenfield Volunteer Ambulance Corps

The Bergenfield Volunteer Ambulance Corps has provided emergency transport and care for free since 1941. That’s right, free. BVAC operates 24/7, with two 12-hour shifts every day (the standard commitment for members is one 12-hour weekday shift and two 12-hour weekend shifts). BVAC, which consists of 60 volunteers (there is also a cadet program for high school students) responds to 2,000-plus calls every year.

Bogota: Andy’s Corner Bar

There are several bars among the 565 entries, and they’re all special, trust me. Andy’s looks unremarkable from the outside, with its bland, gray façade, but it’s one of the state’s pre-eminent beer bars. It started a block away in 1949 as Bell’s, then Jerry’s Oval Bar. Andy Gray, a former paper mill worker, took over the bar in 1970, when it became Andy’s. The bar moved to its present location in 1999, in a space formerly occupied by a massage parlor. There’s no menu, but you’re free to bring in a sandwich, or pizza. Snacks? There’s popcorn, and if you order a draft, a pretzel is hooked onto the glass. At Andy’s, it’s all about the beer.

Carlstadt: River Barge Park

The Meadowlands is beautiful. No, I have not lost my mind. I’m not talking MetLife Stadium and American Dream mall, obviously. My Meadowlands, minutes from Manhattan, is New Jersey’s greatest urban wilderness, with the Hackensack River its main jumping-off point. Bruce sang about the swamps of North Jersey, but they’ve come a long way since the 1970s, when parts of the Hackensack River and its tributaries were an environmental nightmare due to pollution. Hackensack Riverkeeper-led boat tours of the river and environs are a must, and they leave from River Barge Park. Ignore the crumbly surroundings, park the car, and prepare to be amazed. You’ll never look at the Meadowlands the same way again.

Cliffside Park: Turkish restaurants

Turkish food is maybe New Jersey’s most overlooked cuisine, and I wish there were a Turkish restaurant within 50 miles of my house. Cliffside Park has long been known as a Turkish food destination — Beyoglu Grill and Dayinin Yeri are probably the two best-known. The latter was the first restaurant in New Jersey to serve pide cesitleri — Turkish pizza. Varieties include lahmacum (ground meat, peppers, onions, tomatoes, parsley) and kusbasili pide (chunks of lamb mixed with onions, green peppers and tomatoes). Step away from your boring pepperoni pizza and try them. Other Turkish restaurants in town include Haki Baba, Istanbul Borek & Kebab, Cinar and Saray Cuisine.

Closter: Closter Nature Center

A nature center in the state’s most populous and maybe most traffic-congested county? No joke. There are plentiful woods, parks and open space throughout Bergen. The Closter Nature Center is one of the most beautiful, featuring 136 acres of wetlands, ponds, streams and trails. In 1961, the mayor and council, “concerned that unwise development might erode the quality of life in the borough,” formed a committee to establish a nature center, the website said. There are three miles of walking trails, a summer camp program for kids 4 to 14, and regularly scheduled bird walks and other activities. Judging by the photo, looks like the fishing’s good, too.

Cresskill: The Peddler

There was considerable angst in 2017 when the owners announced they were closing the Hungry Peddler after nearly 40 years in business because of high rent. “People came in crying, devastated,” Steve Saranovic told Fortunately a new location, also in town, was found. The restaurant, now known as The Peddler, is known for its fish and pasta dishes, and homemade pot pie. As you surely know, good pot pie is not easy to find in New Jersey.

Demarest: Chic Squad Fashion Camp

Chic Squad Fashion Camp is a virtual and in-person program where girls take ordinary materials — odd clothes, discarded bags, wire, paper and turn them into something wearable, beautiful and loved. “If a child can envision the process of renewal through design, that child can create with little more than what the rest of the less imaginative world has thrown away,” says camp director Victoria Pero. Classes are held at her house. “In an entirely fun atmosphere, surrounded by highly trained counselors and 15 other eager learners, your young designer will learn countless skills experiencing surges in confidence and creativity as s/he comes to understand that everything needed to create and succeed is all around us and most importantly, inside our own spirits and minds.,” Pero adds.

Dumont: Dumont Crystal Diner

New Jersey is the diner capital of the world, with about 600 diners to its name, and the barrel-roofed Dumont Crystal is one of its most distinctive, loaded with charm, atmosphere, and tons of photos. Annie Oakley is next to Sitting Bull and on the other side of Annie Oakley is … Dolly Parton? Further down are photos of John Wayne, JFK and Burt Reynolds. The diner, built in the 1920s, screams old-school. Must-trys: the Amazing Omelet, a tasty combination of chopped beef, cheese, tomatoes, spinach and onions. Good French toast, too. And sandwiches named after the police and fire departments, ambulance squad, and public works. I devoted a chapter to the diner in my book “Jersey Diners,” 25 years ago. It hasn’t changed a bit.

East Rutherford: American Dream Mall

Yes, American Dream — the most expensive U.S. mall ever built — has had a long and troubled history, but the mall next to MetLife Stadium is now open and jammed with attractions. DreamWorks Water Park, the largest indoor water park in North America. The world’s biggest indoor wave pool. The KungFu Panda Temple of Awesomeness, which should win an award for the name alone. Legoland. The Mad Flush, which sounds sketchy but is actually a high-speed spiral slide that drops you into deep water. And don’t forget Big Snow, the continent’s first and only indoor real-snow ski resort. Recommended food stop: Best Pizza, from the excellent Brooklyn pizzeria of the same name.

Edgewater: Mitsuwa

Calling Mitsuwa “a Japanese grocery store” is like calling the Yankees just another baseball team. This is a sprawling, sensory wonderland of meals, seafood, snacks, sweets, baked goods, beverages, personal products and much more. There are 23 shops and restaurants, including Mitsuwa Nagomi for sushi, Santouk for ramen, Omusubi Gonbei for rice balls and Niitakay for Japanese pickles. The state’s most colorful doughnuts can be found at Cafe KAI Sweets. There’s even a bookstore, hair salon and dentist. You could easily spend all day here.

Elmwood Park: Pizza Town USA

The owners insist Pizza Town USA was the first place to serve slices in Jersey when it opened in 1958. Whatever. Slices back then were 15 cents, whole pies $1 and $1.25. Still today, there is no better place to snag a late-night slice than this Route 46 roadside attraction. Just look for the red-and-blue awning and the Uncle Sam-like figure on the sign. There were once six locations; only the one in Elmwood Park remains. It’s a Jersey treasure.

Emerson: The Emerson Hotel Restaurant

Sliced steak. If you visit the Emerson Hotel Restaurant and don’t order it I’ll never talk to you again. The hotel, originally known as Etna’s, then Block’s Hall, has always been a cornerstone of this town. When it opened in 1872, it was one of several establishments along the train tracks to feed and house travelers. Borough meetings, social gatherings and receptions were held there over the years. That sliced steak? It’s thinly sliced and layered over toast points with sizzling hot butter.

Englewood: Bergen Performing Arts Center

The Bergen Performing Arts Center, like stages across state, welcomes back patrons this summer and fall, with performances by Three Dog Night, Roger McGuinn and Rain, a Beatles tribute. Okay, so maybe we didn’t need to hear “One (Is the Loneliest Number)” again, but we’re glad the center is open. Pre-COVID, the center hosted more than 200 events a year, from rock, folk and classical to dance and comedy.

Englewood Cliffs: Allison Park

There is no shortage of great views of Manhattan from the Jersey side, but Allison Park stands out due to the cliff-top vistas — including the George Washington Bridge — at this eight-acre park. There are paved walkways, and benches, and the park is a great respite from the thrum and whir of the nearby Palisades Parkway. In the 19th Century, Englewood Cliffs consisted of two settlements — Undercliff and Coytesville. The present borough, once part of since-defunct Englewood Township and Palisades, was incorporated in 1895.

Fair Lawn: The first community planned for the automobile

Yes, it’s true! Radburn, a section of Fair Lawn, was the first American community built for the motor age — actually to “tame” the automobile, according to James W. Hughes, professor at Rutgers University. Instead of the usual gridiron street pattern, “superblocks,” or large blocks of parks and gardens surrounded by main roads, were created. “In terms of the history of planning, it’s extremely significant,” Hughes told The New York Times.

Fairview: Noches de Colombia

You could call this bright, lively restaurant, part of a 13-store chain, a Jersey diner, Colombian version. The slogan at Noches de Colombia is “Eat Drink Enjoy,” which sound to me like words to live by. All the traditional favorites are here, including pechuga a la plancha (grilled chicken), lomo a la plancha (breaded pork loin), arroz con camarones (rice and shrimp). There are a whopping 200 dishes on the menu, so good luck ordering. The empanadas are hearty and filling, and served with lemons and a distinctive hot sauce.

Fort Lee: The George Washington Bridge

Forget Bridgegate for a second and know that New Jersey would pretty much come to a standstill without the GW. It opened in 1931 — an unheard-of eight months ahead of schedule!— with Franklin D. Roosevelt, then governor of New York, presiding over the ceremony. Legendary French architect Le Corbusier once called the GW “the most beautiful bridge in the world,” although those stuck in the epic traffic jams on the world’s busiest bridge might beg to differ.

Franklin Lakes: Lorrimer Sanctuary

Deer may be the scourge of suburbia, but they can’t get into Lorrimer Sanctuary, kept away by an eight-foot-high fence. The sanctuary is named after Lucine Lorrimer, who bequeathed the 14-acre property to the New Jersey Audubon Society. The main house, in fact, served as NJ Audubon’s first headquarters. The wildlife sanctuary includes a self-guiding trail system, exhibits, interpretive displays.

Garfield: Barcelona’s

Long bar, red padded chairs, red booths with coatracks — who does coatracks anymore? Barcelona’s opened in 1933 and hasn’t changed much since. Famous for its thin-crust pizza, Barcelona’s “famous menu” offers a mere 20 ravioli dishes, which must be some kind of record. You can get ravioli with veal and peppers, ravioli with pork chops, ravioli with anchovy sauce (no!), but give me the cheese ravioli with marinara sauce any day of the week. No designer or frou-frou toppings available on the thin-crust pizza, and you wouldn’t have it any other way. And it’s cash-only, like any old-school joint.

Glen Rock: The Rock

Not The Rock, the movie star, but The Rock, the giant boulder in the middle of Glen Rock. It’s Pamachapuka, the “Stone from Heaven,” where an Indian Council site once stood and from which the town took its name in 1894. I’m pretty sure it’s the only giant boulder in the middle of any Jersey town. Glen Rock’s castle/chalet-like Starbucks is one of the kitschiest anywhere, and businesses include a vacuum repair shop, a tarot card reader, a clock shop, several pizzerias (try the margherita at John’s Boy Pizzeria) and a cheesecake store (Marc’s).

Hackensack: White Manna

The White Manna (not to be confused with the White Mana in Jersey City) is the Fenway Park of diners, a red-trimmed, glass block jewel with 20 seats and the irresistible smell of meat and onions emanating from the tiny grill. Get a double cheeseburger with onions; gloriously greasy. It’s not a big fancy designer burger, but you’ll dream about it the day after. A McDonald’s is across the street. Make the right choice.

Harrington Park: Beechwood Forest

My first visit to Beechwood Forest took my breath away. “One of the most serene and beautiful communities" in Bergen County is how Harrington Park describes itself, and nowhere is it more beautiful than in Beechwood Forest, with one of the largest stands of beech trees in the U.S. Located at the end of Richard Road, it’s a mysterious, magical spot.

Hasbrouck Heights: The Bendix Diner

At one time, the Bendix seemed to be everywhere on TV and in the movies; one of my favorite commercials ever featured Ray Charles singing “America” as a wedding party ran across the rain-slicked diner parking lot. Scenes in the movies “Boys on the Side” and “Jersey Girls” were shot here. The Bendix has not undergone glitzy multi-million-dollar renovations like many of its counterparts, preferring to stay comfortably and charmingly stuck in its retro past.

Haworth: Haworth Swim Club

“Our little hideaway.” That’s what Haworth calls the swim club, a town fixture open to town residents and non-residents alike. (But you must be a Bergen County resident). Choose from a 200-foot-long heated pool and 78-foot unheated pool, both spring-fed with fresh water. There’s also a kiddie pool, snack stand, picnic area, basketball court and volleyball court. Membership rates vary; a seasonal household membership purchased by June 26 is $660, a single membership $350. But daily passes are available — $20 for ages 18 and over; $15, for 2-17.

Hillsdale: Karl Ehmer Meats

I don’t know about you, but I think every deli or meat store should have someone grilling hot dogs out on the sidewalk. That’s the charm at Karl Ehmer Meats, which started as a butcher shop in New York City in 1932. Dolores Santucci (in the photo) has been cooking those sidewalk dogs for 20-plus years. The beef/pork hot dogs are made by Kocher, a German butcher in Fort Lee. The park across the street makes for a great lunch spot.

Ho-Ho-Kus: Ho-Ho-Kus Inn & Tavern

No New Jersey town is more fun to pronounce than Ho-Ho-Kus. I giggle every time I say it, drawing out the “Ho-Ho” like some demented Santa. There are several possible origins for the name, among them a Native American name for running water, and a contraction of Mehokhokus, a Delaware Indian name meaning red cedar. The original tavern was built in 1796. In the 1960s, the Ho-Ho-Kus Inn became a favorite dining spot of former president Richard Nixon. In late 2009, it re-opened after a $1.5 million renovation. Recommended: the Berkshire porterhouse pork chop, and the key lime pie.

Leonia: The Erika and David Boyd Sculpture Garden

Call Leonia the outdoor sculpture capital of North Jersey, with 50-some sculptures scattered around town. They include a life-size gorilla made from recycled objects, a giant moose constructed from fallen limbs, and Skate Shack, assembled from used skateboards. Many of the sculptures can be found in the Erika and David Boyd Sculpture Garden. The town was a noted arts colony from the late 1800s to mid-1900s.

Little Ferry: H Mart

An Asian food wonderland. That’s the best way to describe H Mart, which stocks a staggering range of products — fish, meats, fruit, produce, snacks, noodles, candy, juices, soda, cookware; you name it; they’ve got it. Dragon fruit? Sure. Baby Mum-Mum rice rusks (”great taste; no mess”)? But of course. H Mart is a nationwide chain with 70-plus stores; it started in 1982 with a single store in Woodside, Queens (the Englewood location was third to open). Other New Jersey stores are in Paramus, Cherry Hill, Edison, Fort Lee, Leonia and Ridgefield.

Lodi: Satin Dolls

The most famous strip club in television history is in New Jersey — where else did you expect it to be? You knew Satin Dolls as the Bada Bing Club in “The Sopranos.” The strip — I’m sorry, gentleman’s — club was closed in 2017 for solicitation of prostitution, lewd activity, and failure to account for “large amounts of cash moving in and out of the businesses.” It re-opened in 2018. Besides the obvious, they serve food (which my colleague dutifully sampled last year), but there is no mention of food on the website. I have no idea why.

Lyndhurst: Richard W. DeKorte Park

One more shout-out for the Meadowlands, and I promise there won’t be any more. Whether you walk, hike, canoe, bird-watch or just sit on a park bench, the swamps of North Jersey reward those seeking peace, quiet and scenic beauty. Richard W. DeKorte Park includes 3.5 miles of walking paths, and views of wetlands and waterways, not to mention the Manhattan skyline. It was once slated to be a landfill, but rational minds prevailed. A World Trade Center memorial can be found in The Cove, adjacent to the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority administration building.

Mahwah: Les Paul

He was born as Lester William Polsfuss, but everyone knew him as Les Paul, and a guitar hero. Paul not only revolutionized the electric guitar, he was also a noted songwriter. He and his wife, Mary Ford, had 16 top-10 hits between 1950 and 1954. Paul, the only person to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame, died in 2009 at the age of 94. “We all must own up that without Les Paul, generations of flash little punks like us would be in jail or cleaning toilets,” Keith Richards once said.

Maywood: Pleasant Avenue

You have to be some kind of miserable person not to like a street called Pleasant Avenue. It runs right through Maywood, and is filled with worthy food stops: Uncle Paulie’s (Peruvian cuisine, and a personal favorite); Maywood’s Marketplace (gourmet food store), Maywood Pancake House, Dragon Garden and more. The town claims the best shopping district in Bergen County, and “a small town feel that you just can’t get anywhere else."

Midland Park: Children’s Love Fund

The Children’s Love Fund was established in 1977 to raise funds for a sick child’s medical bills, and today helps Midland Park families cope with personal emergencies. The fund is staffed entirely by volunteers. “During this time of quarantine, many are struggling, and we are helping every child who needs us," read a post on the group’s Facebook page. “We will continue to make sure that there is no child in MP who is hungry."

Montvale: The Parkway’s beginning (or end)

The Garden State Parkway is the road everyone loves to hate, 172.4 miles of terror and trauma from Montvale to nearly Cape May. Actually, the stretch below, say, Toms River is tranquil and scenic, but good luck convincing those stuck at the Essex or Union tolls every day. The Montvale service area is the last northbound service area on the Parkway. It’s at milepost 171. Here’s how it landed on my ranking of every Parkway and Turnpike service area.

Moonachie: Port Authority Headquarters

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey does not control New Jersey, it just seems that way. The agency oversees five airports, including Newark Liberty International Airport, six bridges, three bus terminals, and the Port of New York and New Jersey. And that’s just a partial list. Headquarters are in Moonachie, and good luck trying to get everyone to agree how to pronounce the town’s name. Former Mayor Frederick Dressel said it’s “Moo-NAH-key, not Moo-NAH-chee.”

New Milford: Kickball

Kickball? What’s that? In the neighborhood I grew up in, it didn’t exist; we played baseball nonstop. The popular American sport, invented in Cincinnati around 1917, is a combination of baseball and soccer; an inflated ball is tossed to a player, who kicks it and then runs the bases. Rules in New Milford’s “minimally competitive” co-ed adult league (open to those 30 and over): You can overrun every base. No bunting. No sliding. Games can end in ties. And there is no crying in kickball. OK, I just made that one up.

North Arlington: Arlington Diner

I was tempted to put Pizzaland USA (seen in the opening credits to “The Sopranos”) here, but went instead with the Arlington Diner. There is no Jersey diner more spectacular at night than this neon-lit, stainless steel beauty. It’s undergone several renovations and transformations since 1958, when it opened. Must-order: the cheesecake. It’s one of the state’s best.

Northvale: Madeleine’s Petit Paris

New Jersey is not exactly known for its French restaurants (it may be the only cuisine where New York City has a decided edge), but Madeleine’s Petit Paris will please those pining for ratatouille, beef bourguignon and cassoulet in a white-tablecloth, fine dining atmosphere. All entrees come with “unlimited" mimosa drinks. I’m heading there right now.

Norwood: Santos Baseball Academy

“Breeding baseball excellence” is the slogan at Santos Baseball Academy. It’s named after Victor Santos, who posted a perfect 0.00 ERA in his first 27.1 innings in the major leagues in 2001. Not surprisingly, he’s the pitching instructor here. There are summer clinics, winter programs, private lessons and more. Wonder if they can help my rusty softball swing?

Oakland: Skyline Drive/Ramapo Mountain State Forest

Skyline Drive, a 5.8-mile drive from Route 287 to Route 511 in Oakland and Ringwood, offers good views from the car, but even better ones if you park and hike — not far — into the woods in Ramapo Mountain State Forest. A walk down any of the trails reveals many places of quiet beauty. One note: watch out for bears. Skyline Drive made my list of the state’s 20 most beautiful drives.

Old Tappan: Old Tappan Golf Course

I haven’t picked up a golf club in, like, 30 years (miniature golf doesn’t count), but that doesn’t mean I can’t admire a lush, lovely links like Old Tappan Golf Course, within walking distance of the New York State border. It’s members only, although the DeWolf Inn on site is open to the public for lunch and dinner. Try the brioche French toast with cinnamon-whipped butter, or any of the ten burgers.

Oradell: Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum

This museum is one of New Jersey’s most singular art spaces, filled with wildlife art and big game trophies. It opened as a natural history museum in 1958, introducing students to the need to support wildlife and habitat conservation. The art museum opened a year later. Today, it’s a treasure house of animal paintings and sculpture. Don’t miss the Trophy Room, with nearly 200 animals from around the world.

Palisades Park: Korean restaurants

No need to fly to Seoul, just head to Palisades Park and its wealth of Korean restaurants. Korean fried chicken is a particular delight. It’s twice-fried, which accounts for the colossal crispiness, and it’s always made to order, which means a wait of about 15 to 20 minutes — but that wait is so worth it. My two favorite places: Peck Peck in Teaneck and Mama Chicken in Palisades Park.

Paramus: Bergen County Zoo

A zoo in mall-mad and traffic-clogged Paramus? Yep. The Bergen County Zoo is a “New World” zoo, with animals from North and South America, including mountain lions, red wolves. tapirs, alligators, condors and more. Admission is $4 for county residents and $8 for non-residents. The zoo is open year-round and admission is free Nov. 1 to April 1, but not all the animals are out then.

Park Ridge: Campbell Wampum Machine

Wait, what, wampum? Wampum were beads made from shells that Native Americans prized for gifts and personal adornment. The Pascack Historical Society has the only wampum machine left in the world. The museum is a treasure trove of artifacts — photos, manuscripts, costumes, textiles, typewriters and much more. Don’t forget to visit the Victorian Parlor, it’s like stepping back in time.

Ramsey: Kinchley’s Tavern

New Jersey is undoubtedly the thin-crust center of the universe (any New Yorker who claims thin-crust is better on their side of the river knows zip about pizza; it barely exists there). Kinchley’s delivers one of the best; a saucy, crunchy marvel. It’s also undoubtedly the only New Jersey pizzeria with a giant horse statue outside (ask the bartender for the story), Kinchley’s is a pizza roadhouse with wood paneling, red-checked tablecloths and model trains on display. There’s a cozy bar to the side.

Ridgefield: Rispoli’s Pastry Shop

Don’t you dare argue with me on this: Rispoli’s makes the state’s best sfogliatelle or lobster tail (the two are not quite the same, although most Americans use the terms interchangeably). The light, luscious filling is so good you want to sip it with a straw. Gabriele and Josephine Rispoli opened the shop in 1937.

Ridgefield Park: 4th of July Parade

4th of July parades are a summer staple throughout the state, but Ridgefield Park’s stands out. It’s the oldest, founded in 1894. They kick off things early, with the reading of the Declaration of Independence at 7:30 a.m. and a flag-raising ceremony at 7:45. Then comes the Baby & Youth Parade, where kids ride in elaborate floats or on patriotically-decorated bicycles. It’s followed by the Civic Parade, where youth groups, village organizations, bands and visitors march. The event is one of Jersey’s great summer spectacles.

Ridgewood: Bookends bookstore

No Jersey bookstore attracts more celebrity authors for signings than Bookends. Hilary Clinton, Buzz Aldrin, Buddy Guy, Mary Higgins Clark, Pete Townsend and Denis Leary have been among the guests. Confession: I was scheduled to appear for a signing one day but what happened? A snowstorm. Let’s make it a blizzard for poetic effect. I showed up, but no one else did. Story of my life. Signings this year have been virtual, but the bookstore is very much open.

River Edge: Zabriskie-Steuben House

This house, at what is known as New Bridge Landing, practically echoes with whispers of the Revolutionary War. Set in a no-man’s land between the American and British armies, it served as a fort, intelligence gathering station, and military headquarters and was the scene of assorted skirmishes throughout the war. The house is sometimes opened for special events.

River Vale: Jersey’s safest town

That’s according to SafeWise, a security product platform that uses crime statistics and data from the FBI. River Vale was ranked the state’s safest town in 2021 for the second year in a row, with Sparta, Chatham Township and Kinnelon as runners-up. I’m sure River Vale is safe, but I live in what I’m convinced is the state’s quietest neighborhood, so I’m not moving.

Rochelle Park: Saddle River County Park

County parks are one of New Jersey’s great, overlooked, treasures — one of my 50 best reasons to live in New Jersey. Saddle River County Park is a 577-acre expanse that spans six towns — Fair Lawn, Glen Rock, Paramus, Ridgewood, Rochelle Park and Saddle Brook — as it meanders along the Saddle River. There’s a six-mile pedestrian and biking path, waterfalls, three ponds, pavilions and tree-shaded picnic areas. Abundant peace and quiet can be found in the state’s most populous county.

Rockleigh: The Rockleigh

Possibly the ultimate wedding venue in New Jersey, The Rockleigh, open since 1995, brims with elegance and style. Ornate grand ballrooms, lush gardens and fountains, and high-end cuisine add up to an occasion you’ll never forget. If I ever get married (don’t hold your breath), it will either be here or some South Pacific island.

Rutherford: William Carlos Williams Center

A performance and arts space, the William Carlos Williams Center is named after the Rutherford-born poet best known for the five-volume epic “Paterson” and the Pulitzer-Prize-winning “Pictures from Brueghel & Other Poems.” The center’s future, though, is in question as the county plans to auction the space. A petition drive is underway to at least save the historic Newman Theater.

Saddle Brook: The Fish Hut of New Jersey

Want to bring an instant smile to your kid’s face? Take him or her to the Fish Hut of New Jersey, a marine wonderland with 500 tanks packed with fish. Two hundred of the tanks are devoted to African cichlids, a popular home aquarium fish because of their bright diverse colors. The store features a Fish of the Week (a recent one: the One Spot Foxface, “a beautiful peaceful fish except towards other rabbitfish.”) They ship throughout the U.S., in case you don’t want to brave the traffic on Route 46.

Saddle River: Saddle River Inn

One of the state’s most highly regarded restaurants, the Saddle River Inn, perched along, you guessed it, the Saddle River, operated as a sawmill and basket weaving factory in the 1800s. In 1981 it opened as a restaurant specializing in French cuisine. Entrees include prime reserve pork chop with fingerling potatoes and a soy-ginger sauce, and Colorado lamb chops. Sides include apple cider Brussels sprouts and lemon chili butter broccoli. Those last four words practically caused me to faint.

South Hackensack: Clemente Bakery

Pane d’Altamura. Write that down. It’s brick oven-baked bread from the town of Altamura, Italy, where Donato Clemente was born. He opened the bakery in Union City in 1974, Clemente’s is also famous for its fresh mozzarella, sandwiches and salads. New Jersey does Italian bakeries maybe better than anyone, and Clemente’s is one of its prime examples.

Teaneck: A town of historic progress

In 1965, Teaneck made history, becoming the first U.S. town to voluntarily integrate its schools. There is no mention of the historic event, interestingly enough, on the township’s official website. But the book “Triumph in a White Suburb,” by Reginald G. Damerell, details the history.

Tenafly: Greenbrook Sanctuary

What parks offer you a key to the front gate? Greenbrook Sanctuary does. It’s a 165-acre woodland preserve atop the Palisades, with a dozen trails, plus streams, a secret waterfall and spectacular views. Also partly in Alpine, it’s open to members only; the $40 membership fee includes a welcome kit and that front gate key.

Teterboro: Aviation Hall of Fame & Museum

Five hundred dummies dropped over Normandy to divert Germans from the Allies’ actual drop zones in 1944. That was Operation Titanic, one of many fascinating exhibits at the Aviation Hall of Fame & Museum. There’s also the rocket engine that propelled the X-15 to hypersonic speed. A rocket-powered mail plane. The first American hovercraft (Charles Fletcher’s Glide-Mobile, in 1959). A Bell AH-1 Cobra helicopter. There are exhibits on the Hindenburg (even actual fragments from the zeppelin), women aviators, and much more.

Upper Saddle River: Hopper-Goetschius House

The oldest home in town, the Hopper-Goetschius House dates to 1739. One of its residents was the borough clerk, who conducted town business from the house’s east room. In 1985, descendants of the Goetschius family presented the house to the borough. It now serves as a museum run by the Upper Saddle River Historic Society. It is temporarily closed.

Waldwick: Nellie’s Place

Kinchley’s Tavern in Ramsey gets all the thin-crust pizza publicity in Bergen, but Nellie’s might be better. It’s a cozy, wood-paneled hangout, with a bar out front and dining room in back. Not-so-ordinary pizza choices here include a Greek salad pizza and a rigatoni plum tomato basil pizza. Try it, you’ll like it.

Wallington: New Jersey’s Polish paradise

Polish food is one of the state’s overlooked cuisines, and those hungering for fried kielbasa, stuffed cabbage and other Polish favorites should head straight to Wallington. Chefski’s (try the roast pork), Tatra Haus, Wallington Exchange, Krakus and Super Deli (a Polish grocery store) are all here. Piast Meats & Provisions, probably North Jersey’s best known Polish market, is minutes away in Garfield.

Washington: Our most outlandish burger

It starts with an eight-ounce beef patty cooked on a charcoal grill and seasoned with a secret mix of spices. Then the nonstop meat madness begins. Six slices of Taylor ham/pork roll. Thirteen slices of bacon. Make that 13 slices of double-fried bacon. Deep-fried pepperoni. Enough cheddar cheese to coat your stomach several times over — trip to cardiologist optional. It’s called the Meat Lovers Burger (what a surprise), and it’s New Jersey’s most insane burger. You’ll find it at the Dog House Saloon. “Excess at its best” is the bar’s slogan.

Westwood: Conrad’s Confectionary

The black raspberry ice cream at Conrad’s is one of my 20 favorite flavors in the entire state — it’s that good. Conrad’s opened in 1928 as a candy store. Even today, the chocolates, hot fudge, caramel, whipped cream and syrup are made from scratch in small batches. Check out the vintage artifacts and newspaper clippings in the window.

Woodcliff Lake: Centennial Causeway

Short and sweet, Centennial Causeway is a pear-tree-shaded road over the Woodcliff Lake Reservoir. Catch it in spring when the trees are in gorgeous full blossom. It’s one of the state’s great quick drives. My choice for Woodcliff Lake was the causeway or BMW’s North American headquarters. Nature won out.

Wood-Ridge: Buffalo’s Chicken

The state’s best plain wings are here, and don’t try to tell me otherwise. Buffalo’s Chicken is an unassuming soul food joint. Despite the name, it’s not a shrine to buffalo wings; you can get catfish sandwiches, ribs, chicken and waffles, and more. Wing sauces include sweet Thai, lemon pepper, jerk (my favorite), urban bourbon and Misery, made with ghost pepper chiles. The wings are supremely crunchy and crispy. Not surprisingly, Buffalo’s made my N.J.’s best wings list.

Wyckoff: The Gardens at Wyckoff

This is the state’s least-known romantic spot, an oasis of peace and quiet beauty minutes from the Parkway. The 13-acre property was deeded to the township by the late Warner “Bud” Brackett. There are 500 or so rose plants alone. “Roses are the prima donnas of the plant world,” the caretaker told me. “Anything that can go wrong goes wrong.” He smiled. “And they complain all the time.” The roses are in a gated garden; make sure to explore the entire grounds. Don’t go looking for a website or Facebook page; there aren’t any.


Belleville: Belmont Tavern

Stretch’s chicken savoy! Shrimp beeps! If you’ve never heard of those two dishes, you clearly have never been to the Belmont Tavern. One of the state’s great old-school restaurants, the Belmont opened in 1967 on that sliver of Belleville on Bloomfield Avenue between Newark and Bloomfield. Wood paneling, red-and-white-checked plastic tablecloths, celebrity photos on the wall, American-flag-decorated bar, fluorescent lighting, cash-only and they don’t take reservations. The garlic-and-vinegar heavy chicken savoy and sauce-studded shrimp beeps (shrimp pieces in a spicy sauce) are must-orders.

Bloomfield: Holsten’s

The final scene of “The Sopranos” — that alone earns Holsten’s a spot on the list. The vintage luncheonette/ice cream parlor — it’s not a diner! — was on the Jersey culinary map well before that. It opened in 1939 as Strubbe’s Ice Cream Parlor, then became Martin and Holsten’s, and finally Holsten’s. The ice cream and candy counter is up front, the dining room beyond that. How did Holsten’s end up in everyone’s favorite mob family show? “We were looking for a typical period luncheonette in New Jersey, not specifically an ice cream place,” the show’s location manager told me in 2007.

Caldwell: Grover Cleveland Birthplace

There’s only one place in the state where you can see a 135-year-old wedding cake — the Grover Cleveland Birthplace. Grover Cleveland, the only president to be born and buried in New Jersey, was also the only president to be married in the White House, which is where the cake comes in. Party favors at the wedding included bonbons, satin bags, and mini-fruit cakes, nestled in Tiffany boxes. The two on display at the Grover Cleveland Birthplace have stood the test of time, they almost look edible. For fruitcake, anyway. There’s much more than ancient cake on display here as it’s the nation’s leading repository of Cleveland artifacts and political memorabilia.

Cedar Grove: Time Warp Comics & Games

Who still reads and buys comics? The loyal customers at Time Warp do. The store describes itself as “New Jersey’s finest comics and games outlet.” New arrivals are listed every week on the website. The store provides pithy descriptions of all their comic books. Their summary of Blue & Gold #1 from DC Comics: “Desperate to regain the spotlight, Booster Gold looks to attract the public’s (and Justice League’s) attention the same way any washed-up, second-rate hero would—social media.”

East Orange: Cicely L. Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts

Actress Cicely Tyson didn’t just lend her name to the Cicely L. Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts, she was actively involved with the school every year after it opened in 1995. She worked with students “not necessarily so that they could become the next Cicely Tyson, but just so that they would have the tools needed to be successful in life,” a former principal said. The school, for sixth through 12th grade school students, “teaches core disciplines while focusing on the creative potential of students,” according to its mission statement. Tyson, who starred in “Sounder,” ”The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman,” ”Roots” and other movies/TV dramas, passed away in January at the age of 96.

Essex Fells: Essex Fells Volunteer Fire Co.

There are nearly 700 volunteer fire companies in New Jersey; nationwide, about 67 percent of all firefighters are volunteer. The Essex Fells Volunteer Fire Co., founded in 1903, is one of the state’s oldest. There are 40-plus members. The firehouse is on Roseland Avenue.

Fairfield: Distillery central

Call Fairfield a spirited town; three distilleries — Jersey Artisan, Claremont and Jersey Spirits — call it home. In 2013, Jersey Artisan (Busted Barrel Rum, James F.C. Hyde Sorgho Whiskey) became the first distillery in New Jersey to open since Prohibition. Claremont (Claremont Vodka, Tracks & Rails Five Grain Straight Bourbon) and Jersey Spirits (Main Street Vodka, Boardwalk Rum) soon followed. Jersey Artisan and Claremont switched gears during the pandemic and started making hand sanitizer.

Glen Ridge: Those gas lamps

About 3,000 gas lights are in operation throughout the country; 667 of them can be found in Glen Ridge. When Glen Ridge seceded from Bloomfield in 1895, architects suggested stylish gas lamps to light the streets. When natural gas became scarce during World War II, many of the lamps ended up tossed into junkyards. Many salvaged and repaired ones were later brought to Glen Ridge.

Irvington: Springfield Avenue

Lively, busy and bustling — Springfield Avenue is the commercial heart of Irvington. Seemingly every kind of business is located on the street, from fast food restaurants, markets and dollar stores to nail salons, car repair shops, thrift stores and clothes shops. Irvington was once known as Camptown; residents were aghast when Stephen Foster published his bawdy song “De Camptown Races.” One resident suggested a name change, to Irvingtown, to commemorate Washington Irving, author of “Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.” It later became Irvington.

Livingston: Riker Art Park

A former missile tracking base that now houses artist studios? Sounds so Jersey. The government bought the 42-acre Nike Missile Base from the federal government for a buck in 1974. The buildings that formerly housed army facilities are now home to sculptors, painters, potters and other artists.

Maplewood: Maplewood Village

The “Village" is the adorable downtown of Maplewood. It’s a prime destination for foodies (I hate the word, but I’ll use it anyway). Arturo’s Osteria & Pizzeria, St. James’s Gate (Irish pub), Bill & Harry’s (Chinese) and The Able Baker are all recommended.

Millburn: The Mall at Short Hills

“New Jersey’s premier shopping destination” is the slogan at the Mall at Short Hills. It debuted as an open-air mall in the 1950s; it was enclosed in the mid-1970s and “gained the reputation over time as the Fifth Avenue of New Jersey,” according to a New York Times feature. There are 150 stores and restaurants, with 50-plus shops unique to New Jersey. No slight intended to the Paper Mill House, but we’d rather go shopping.

Montclair: Montclair Art Museum

The first New Jersey museum dedicated solely to art, the Montclair Art Museum opened in 1914. Besides ongoing exhibitions, there are adult summer classes, and SummerArt Camps and Classes for kids and teens. I was almost tempted to put Crockett’s Fish Fry (great fried fish sandwiches/platters) here — Montclair being a prime dining destination and all — but art won out.

Newark: The Ironbound

The state’s greatest food neighborhood, Newark’s Ironbound is home to some 200 restaurants, cafes, markets and specialty food stores. It was “destroyed" in the 2005 “War of the Worlds" remake with Tom Cruise, but this is one neighborhood that seems destined to last forever. There are Portuguese, Spanish and Brazilian restaurants and markets for sure, but also Italian, Ecuadorian, Mexican and many others. It’s a culinary paradise and sensory experience, steps from Newark Penn Station.

North Caldwell: Movies at the pool

Movies poolside, and they even provide popcorn and cotton candy! The movies at the town community pool, which begin at dusk, are open to borough residents and pool members. Bring your lawn chairs and blankets and settle in; movies begin at dusk. The pool is located on Gould Avenue.

Nutley: Annie Oakley

Legendary sharpshooter Annie Oakley lived ten years in Nutley, in the only house she ever owned. She and her husband, Frank Butler, performed in Buffalo Bill’s Original Wild West Show. Postcards, booklets and three of her guns are in display in the Nutley Historical Society and Museum. “She was a greater character than she was a rifle shot," Will Rogers once said.

Orange: Star Tavern

The Star Tavern, a shrine to thin-crust pizza, is probably New Jersey’s best-known pizzeria. Jimmy Buff’s West Orange location and the Star are practically within walking distance; Star owner Gary Vayianos and Jimmy Buff’s owner James Racioppi attended Newark Academy at the same time.

Roseland: ‘The Gem of Essex County’

That’s quite a claim, but tranquil Roseland just may live up to it. It’s a quiet, tranquil town, surrounded by bigger, busier Livingston, West Orange and Caldwell. It was part of Livingston until 1908, its original name was supposed to be Roselyn upon a resident’s suggestion, but “through misspelling or design,” it became Roseland, according to the borough website.

South Orange: South Orange Performing Arts Center

Rock tribute bands — those honoring the Eagles, Stones, Beatles, Neil Young — were back with a vengeance in 2021 at the South Orange Performing Arts Center. The center — its centerpiece is the 429-seat Jennifer & Tony Leitner Performance Hall — opened in 2006. SOPAC and the South Orange Department of Recreation co-sponsor South Orange Summer Nights, which features free concerts and movies at Meadowland Park.

Verona: Verona Park

You’d never guess that leafy, lovely Verona Park was once a swamp. Landscaping in the 1920s was done by the Olmsted Brothers, famous for New York City’s Central Park. The 54-acre park, bordered by Lakeside and Bloomfield avenues, is the fifth-largest park in the county park system. The annual Fishing Derby, in June, is a highlight.

West Caldwell: Pickleball Clinic

No, pickleball is not played with pickles. The fun, wacky sport, played with a paddle and a ball with rounded holes, is a combination of ping pong, badminton and tennis. A congressman and a friend are said to have originated the sport in the former’s backyard in 1965. There are 21,000-plus courts in the country, according to US Pickleball. West Caldwell’s Pickleball Clinic is held Tuesdays and Thursdays from mid-May to mid-June at the Westville Pool tennis court. Must-read: My colleague Matt Stanmyre’s account of the pickleball dispute in tony Ridgewood.

West Orange: Eagle Rock Reservation

Best views of New York City? Maybe the ones at Eagle Rock Reservation.The 408-acre park runs along the Watchung Mountains. Bald eagles loved to nest here, thus the name. The 40-mile Lenape Trail, on the park’s eastern edge, is a popular hike. Lookout Point provides the best views of the New York City skyline. The county’s 9/11 memorial is also located here.


Bayonne: The Bayonne Bridge

This may be New Jersey’s most beautiful bridge, elegant and striking in the way few bridges are (especially around here). The original span was completed in November 1931, several months ahead of schedule and $3 million under budget, believe it or not. The designer was Othmar H. Ammann, who also designed the George Washington Bridge and the Verrazano Narrows. For 45 years, the Bayonne Bridge was the world’s longest steel-arch bridge. The original roadway was demolished and the bridge raised to 215 feet to accommodate enormous Panamax cargo ships; the new span fully opened in June 2019. And you can walk across it!

East Newark: Tops Diner

Tops Diner is one of New Jersey’s most popular diners, and for good reason. The encyclopedic menu seemingly covers every possible breakfast, lunch and dinner item. It started as the barrel-roofed Top’s Grill in the 1920s. George Golemis bought the diner in 1972, when it featured a stone exterior and Venetian blinds. It’s being demolished to make way for a new Tops, three times bigger. Like meatloaf? Tops serves one of the state’s best.

Guttenberg: The Encyclopedia of Things

In 2017-18, artist Elisabeth Smolarz interviewed 65 Guttenberg residents and photographed their most treasured possessions, which led to an exhibit of 12 portraits showing the town’s diversity. The project was part of her artist residency at Guttenberg Arts. The exhibit is scheduled to be installed in city hall this fall.

Harrison: Red Bull Arena

Is Red Bull Arena really 11 years old? The gleaming, soaring structure is the home of the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer. Yep, another New York team calling New Jersey home. Fans in the front row are just 21 feet from the touchlines. You can’t get any closer to the action than that.

Hoboken: Birthplace of baseball

Forget Cooperstown; the first real baseball game, according to many sports historians, was played on June 19, 1846 at what was then Elysian Fields in Hoboken. Back then, batters were called strikers; pitchers, hurlers. Fans were known as cranks (things haven’t changed a bit). A plaque at 11th and Washington marks the spot.

Jersey City: America’s most diverse city

The city’s polyglot population earned it the designation of the nation’s most diverse city in 2017, 2018 and 2020 (it ranked second this year), based on ethno-racial diversity, linguistic diversity and birthplace diversity. I’ve said this what seems like a million times already: Jersey City has the state’s most diverse — and best — dining scene. Italian, Korean, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, French, Cuban, Indian, barbecue, burgers, steakhouses, seafood — you name it, Jersey City has it.

Kearny: The Pulaski Skyway

The Skyway is Jersey’s greatest thrill ride, several miles of pure charm or chaos, depending on how you look at it. It snakes and slithers over a shadowy world of warehouses, power lines, container ship depots, smokestacks, train tracks, truck stops, bars, a jail and a sewage treatment plant. Jimmy Hoffa may be buried down there somewhere. If there weren’t already so many unplanned plots in the vicinity, I’d want to be buried under it.

North Bergen: James J. Braddock Park

An oasis of beauty in the midst of the urban megalopolis, James J. Braddock Park contains nature trails, picnic areas, 21 tennis courts, six volleyball courts, three football fields, a playground and eight miles of walkways. And sensational views of the New York City skyline. The park is named for the celebrated boxing champion, who Russell Crowe famously portrayed in the 2005 film “Cinderella Man.”

Secaucus: Snake Hill

The oddest sight on the New Jersey Turnpike (that’s saying something) is the mysterious, monstrous rock rising unexpectedly at milepost 120. That’s Snake Hill, at one time the site of a psychiatric hospital, a penitentiary and three churches. When a J. Walter Thompson executive passed Snake Hill on a train trip from New York to Newark, he spotted the black monolith and was inspired to create the Prudential Insurance Co.’s Rock of Gibraltar logo. The rock can be seen up close and personal in Laurel Park.

Union City: Bergenline Avenue

Bergenline Avenue in Union City and West New York is New Jersey’s liveliest food street. Central and South American restaurants, markets, delis, bodegas and bakeries line the ever-busy thoroughfare (good luck finding a parking spot). Dulce de Leche in West New York was one of 10 finalists in our search for N.J.’s best bakery. Don’t ignore the side streets. Cuba Bakery on Summit Street in Union City makes excellent — and cheap — doughnuts, breads and empanadas. La Pola on Palisade Avenue in West New York merely makes the nation’s best Cuban sandwich. You’ll never go hungry in this neighborhood.

Weehawken: The Helix

Millions of New Jerseyans have spun round and round on the Helix over the years, many not knowing it had a name. It’s the sweeping oval (Rt. 495) leading to the Lincoln Tunnel. The tunnel and Helix opened in 1937 and there have been renovations over the years, including the Helix Fix in 2015. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is considering replacing the “aging and deteriorating” Helix “with a roadway that meets current highway and safety standards,” the organization’s website said.

West New York: Dulce de Leche Bakery

Doesn’t that double mousse cake in the photo look devastatingly delicious? Those familiar with Dulce de Leche’s first West New York store — “small” doesn’t do it justice — may be shocked when they walk into the spacious new location, just down the street. It’s a wonderland of baked goods — cakes, pastries, cookies, empanadas and more. The double mousse is magical. They were one of ten finalists in our statewide search for N.J.’s best bakery in 2017.


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