Artsy Photo–Dinersaur

At a diner near the Rte. 34 circle in Wall is this colorful dinosaur statue made of car parts by Colts Neck/Farmingdale resident Jim Gary, famous for such creations. He passed away in 2006, but had a very interesting history you can read about here. We feel a better name for the establishment would be The Dinersaur, but apparently we are too creative for our own good, since it is called, blandly, The Roadside Diner. We’ve not eaten there (yet).

dinersaursized

The Dinersaur

Advertisements

Culinary Sidebar–Pete & Elda’s

What's in a name?  Or two?

What’s in a name? Or two?

For 50 years, Pete & Elda’s has been a mainstay of thin-crust pizza in Neptune, and almost always ends up on pizza “Best Of” lists for New Jersey.  We had to check it out.

The building and location is certainly nothing special, but it was packed…PACKED with people, so we had high expectations. After a very long wait in a very crowded and noisy bar area, we were seated. We really wanted to be wowed, not by the surroundings, or even by the wait, but by the pizza. We kept the order short and to the point: two famous thin crust pies, one plain and one with fresh garlic.

We were quite hungry and were pleased that the long wait in the bar area was not duplicated for our table service. We dug into our pies and were…not wowed. Admittedly, it was very thin crust. And admittedly, it did not taste bad.  But a Best Of in the pizza stronghold of New Jersey? We think not. Federici’s in Freehold…Conte’s in Princeton…Esposito’s in Matawan…Brothers in East Brunswick…DeLorenzo’s in Trenton…and so many others are better. Leaps and bounds better.

Undercrusted and underwhelming

Undercrusted and underwhelming

pesign2

You could starve while waiting in line til 1 a.m.

There’s lots of other stuff on the menu, but honestly this place, which oddly is also known as Carmen’s Pizzeria, is really about the crust, cheese and sauce. They are known for their “eat a whole large pie, get a free T-shirt” policy, which, once we saw how thin the pizzas really are, seemed too easy. And seemingly to prove our point, several teenagers left holding their Hanes Beefy prizes right under our noses.

The takeaway? Sadly, not worth the wait.

Culinary Sidebar–Kaya’s Kitchen

Kaya's Combo--yum!

Kaya’s Combo–yum!

We love Kaya’s Kitchen. This Belmar restaurant is one of the only places in New Jersey that has an organic, all-vegetarian menu that goes well beyond Asian cuisine. Comfort foods like lentil loaf with mashed potatoes are the real stars here, as well as Kaya’s Combo for an appetizer–an appealing mix of vegetarian hot wings, riblets, and crispy nuggets with a fabulous bowl of cooling potato salad alongside. There is always a wonderful array of soups, chili, salads and burgers, as well as artfully dressed entrees featuring vegetables and soy proteins. The vibe is laid back, evolved and eclectic, with live music on weekends (shout-out to The Stringbeans, the jazzy trio playing during our last visit) and a Sunday all-you-can-eat buffet we are dying to try. Prices are not cheap, but the portions are huge and there’s really no other place like this in the state that we can think of. It’s also a popular spot, so make reservations if you are targeting a Saturday dinner.

Belmar was ravaged during Hurricane Sandy and as of this writing all access to the beach was still cordoned off, but likely will be opened soon. Kaya’s was not damaged, with the exception of power loss, and its proprietors very graciously offered a “pay what you can” policy for diners in the weeks following the storm. Plenty of good karma (the name of another vegetarian restaurant in Red Bank!) and good food going around at Kaya’s, go and enjoy!

Windy Farm Alpacas, Chesterfield

New Jersey, home of the most people per square mile, the most horses per person, and…a thriving alpaca fiber industry. What can surprise you about this state anymore?

It’s true. The New Jersey Alpaca Community has more than 35 member farms, active in breeding (and showing) the critters and harvesting their wool for luxurious yarns. An exemplar of this setup is Windy Farm Alpacas in Chesterfield, which offers year-round sales of alpacas, yarns and hand-knitted items, as well as tours and knitting and felting classes.

The charmingly large eyes and crooked teeth of Amanda

The charmingly large eyes, hay-strewn coat and crooked teeth of Amanda

We visited to procure a Christmas present highlighting local and sustainable farms, and left with several skeins of yarn from Amanda, a gingerbread-colored female with the longest eyelashes of the herd. It was a cute tour, with hand-spinners at work, gorgeous hand-knit sweaters, unusual gift items and pastures full of charming animals. We thank owner Jackie Armiger for the poignant experience.

Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson

Abstract study of the Superman ride

Abstract study of the Superman ride

Six Flags is aiming to be the king of the hill, top of the heap–of amusements–right here in New Jersey, New Jersey, with its Great Adventure park, and is pulling out all the stops to make that happen. Frank Sinatra references aside, this adrenaline wonderland has been a staple of steel, screams and soda pop for locals and out-of-state thrill seekers since 1974 (it was privately owned until 1977). Like its many stomach-churning rides, the park has had its ups and downs, including the nadir of a horrific haunted house fire in 1984 that killed 8 teenagers. The park survived that PR disaster and thrives today (the haunted house did not); it is now the largest amusement complex in the US with the merger of its 160 acre theme park and 350 acre wild safari in 2013.

Great Adventure is just one of eighteen Six Flags properties in North America. Not as sugar-coated as its Disney competitors, Six Flags has linked itself in recent years with Warner Brothers for an edgier experience, including soaring superhero-themed rides and a (tamer) Looney Toon town for the kids.  Over the years, so many fun rides have come and gone at Great Adventure, it is difficult to keep track, and it is not uncommon to hear people GenX and older reminiscing about Lightnin’ Loops, The Great American Scream Machine, Viper and Shockwave, all of which were dismantled to make room for bigger and better attractions. Purists, however, can still ride the original Log Flume, Runaway Train and the park’s first major coaster, Rolling Thunder (warning: rickety and rough!).

nitro

Nitro–impressive by any standard

Let’s be clear: Roller coaster fans will not be disappointed at Great Adventure. At least eight intense specimens snake through the landscape, each one with its own exhilarating charm. Of particular mention-worthiness are two non-inverting traditionalists: Nitro, a smooth steel ride that puts riders through many paces from its monstrous 215-foot first drop, unexpected mid-ride screeching halt, and 540 degree helix to its final frenetic return, making it easy to understand why it perennially ranks #3 on best-of lists; and El Toro, a modern wooden monolith that ascends to 176 feet, reaches speeds of 70 mph (highest and fastest of the world’s wooden roller coasters) and offers more air time than the Apollo missions as it camel-backs home. We really had to muster some gumption to get on these two rides, but it was well worth it.

For anyone worth their coaster-riding salt, though, Kingda-Ka is the absolute, non-negotiable, must-go-on fear-inducer. Take it from us and don’t listen to naysayers who complain it is too simplistic. This ride is one of the wildest sucker punches we’ve had in our lives.

The silhouette of Kingda-Ka

The fearsome silhouette of Kingda-Ka

Unlike the other coasters that click nerve-wrackingly up huge hills to get their momentum, this journey starts with a simple horizontal glide that belies the experience to come. The small train moves into position and sits idle for what seems like an interminable time length, then the brakes hiss and yet more seconds elapse. Just when you think something has gone wrong, the hydraulic launch (the very same used to send air craft carrier jets on their way) kicks into high gear, hurling you wildly forward from 0-128 mph in 3.5 seconds. Sky, land, wind, steel and fear meld equally as you twist over a single, enormous, 456-foot hump, and are deposited nonchalantly back at the depot only 28 seconds later. Your hair and mind equally blown, you can say you’ve survived the world’s tallest (and second fastest) roller coaster, if your pallor and frizz don’t give it away without you saying a word.

Juxtaposition of signs:

Juxtaposition of signs: Grape Adventure wine and High Voltage Danger

There are more than 50 rides at Great Adventure, there’s a wild safari drive-through (on park trolleys and no longer open to private cars) and Hurricane Harbor next door (separate admission for this huge water park). Every October, the site transforms for Frightfest–the main fountain turns to blood, ghouls walk everywhere, and various terror trails offer up plenty of scares (for an extra fee). In November, after the park closes to regular guests, we attended Grape Adventure, featuring wines of New Jersey vineyards (hint: stick with fruit wines and reds) and a demonstration of some of the more accessible safari wildlife. Truly something to be had for everyone at this New Jersey amusement institution.

Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park, Kingston

The old flour mill, seen from across Lake Carnegie

Kingston (pop. 1200) is a little village-y town that extends around a section of Route 27 north of Princeton. The main street features some antique stores, an equestrian tack shop, professional services offices and a strangely high density of quality restaurants: Eno Terra, Osteria Procaccini and Main Street Cafe to name three heavy hitters. One possible explanation for the plethora of fine food? Tradition from when Washington Slept (& Ate & Destroyed Bridges) Here, while esconced in his Rockingham estate on Laurel Avenue. Well, currently on Laurel Avenue, as the house has been moved several times to make way for the ever-expanding Trap Rock Quarry.

In any case, GW’s house and the restaurants are for other posts… For now our focus is the town’s branch of the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park, accessible next to the Eno Terra restaurant just off Route 27. This mostly straight and flat trail, known as the tow path from its days as a working waterway, runs next to the canal itself and is a favorite for joggers and cyclists.

View from the flour mill

A short walk up the sandy path brings you past a quaint old flour mill to the adjacent Lake Carnegie, a man-made reservoir courtesy of, you guessed it, gazillionaire Andrew Carnegie who christened it eponymously in 1906. It is home to Princeton University’s rowing team and featured on the opening credits of the TV show House.

Canal offshoot with tree obstacle

Happy greenery along the tow path

The views are lovely, and the walking easy and pleasant. We saw canoers, hikers, geese and dragonflies all in states of quiet contentment in the sunshine. By foot or by canoe, you can see turtles, fish and other wildlife–even the tell-tale gnawed trees of beavers. Intrepid sorts can traverse all the way to Trenton, New Brunswick or Frenchtown on this lengthy trail! A nice way to get some exercise, fresh air and an infusion of nature and history. Oh, and a good meal too.