You just don’t mess with
Texas New Jersey. Nowhere is this more evident than in Camden, not because the crime-ridden city is one of the most dangerous in the country, with 40% of the population below the poverty level and a police force that was entirely disbanded in August 2012, but rather because of a kickass hulk of steel floating in the Delaware known as BB62, aka Battleship New Jersey.
Built at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, and launched December 7, 1942–just a year after the Pearl Harbor Attack–the USS New Jersey saw tours of duty in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and was visited personally by President Ronald Regan before being finally decommissioned in 1991. She spent some time hanging around in Long Beach, California, and Washington State for “modernization” and was then brought to Philadelphia for restoration as a museum in 1999. The ship was positioned in the Camden Waterfront and opened for tours in 2001.
Just as New Jersey goes all-in in most things, so as well does its namesake battleship: with a total of Nineteen Battle and Campaign Stars, the USS New Jersey is America’s most decorated battleship and surviving warship.
A labyrinthian set of side roadways leads to the ship–in fact we are not quite sure we even followed the correct way, and ended up parking in what may have been an employee-only area. But hey, it worked and no parking tickets were waiting when we came back. We got our entrance passes ($19.75 each, as the guided version is a must) and waited for a small group to form for the next tour, taking the opportunity to futilely attempt a full-body shot of the warship.
Our guide was a spunky veteran with tons of colorful stories and an abundance of knowledge. We walked along the pier, which features monuments to all of the ship’s campaigns and battle stars, and entered the main deck via a large stairwell. From then began a fascinating foray into the physical and historical depths of BB62. We learned about: the giant guns and how they were operated, the missile systems, the enormous chains, the hierarchy of sailors, the ship’s structure, how to navigate the maze of staterooms, sleeping areas and corridors, and much more.
The lengthy tour was fascinating, it was easy to imagine the drama and excitement of being on a working warship, and there was nothing our guide didn’t know. One quickly learned lesson was that it pays to have rank when it comes to food service and sleeping quarters. Still, we tried out one of the tiny bunks for the rank-and-file sailors and were surprised at how manageable the tiny space was…at least for 30 seconds.
We sat in gunnery chairs, stood in the missile hull, peeped through periscopes, and helmed the control room and much more before being released to the self-guided exhibit section towards the back of the ship. It featured historical items, scene recreations and various curiosities and was a quick walk-through. We exited to stormy skies and a fierce looking helicopter on the rear deck, thoroughly awe-struck by our experience of the previous 3 hours.
The Battleship New Jersey is a nonprofit entity, always looking for help with funding (they need to restore the wooden deck among many other projects) and volunteers. It is a unique location for special events of any kind, offers sleepovers for scout troops and other youth organizations, and frequently has special fundraising outreaches like golf tournaments, fun runs and the like. The best way to start supporting BB62 though is to take a tour–we highly recommend it. Here are some additional photos:
Trenton is not only the capital of New Jersey, it is also our state’s capital of “tomato pie” production and ingestion. A tomato pie is more or less a pizza that has a thinner, crispy crust, an abundance of sauce and of course some mozzarella, quite tasty in its own right. In the Trenton neighborhood of Chambersburg, there is an unusually high ratio of tomato pie purveyors as compared with other parts of the state–and it proudly (and rightly) promotes this gustatory quirk. Since 1938, the apex of Trenton tomato pie dining has been DeLorenzo’s on Hamilton Avenue.
The restaurant has never left the hands of the DeLorenzo family, starting with Pasquale and Maria who emigrated from Naples, to present day under the ownership of Nick DeLorenzo, Jr. It is an unassuming dining room in a rough-around-the-edges community, but is warm, friendly and perfect for pigging out with friends. Note: it is BYOB, and there is a scary liquor store nearby for convenience.
Only one of our party had ever previously been to this establishment, despite its high word-of-mouth ranking and media darling reviews, so we decided to give it a whirl together. If you don’t like pizza, don’t come here, as it is the sole item on the menu, albeit in many different incarnations. We numbered 4 diners and ultimately needed 3 pies (ok, we were hungry)–a plain, an onion and a fresh garlic–ordered well done for extra crispiness. They were all delicious, although the garlic pie was the clear winner–yum, yum, yum! We were all very happy and full.
DeLorenzo’s can cause confusion. There is a satellite outpost in Risoldi’s market on Quakerbridge Road that, though owned by the same outfit, by all accounts doesn’t hold up to the same taste standards, and there is an alternative DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies on Rte. 33 in Robbinsville–totally different operation–so make sure you are visiting the real thing on Hamilton Avenue.
No doubt, we enjoyed our meal at DeLorenzo’s. However, we have yet to find any pizza establishment–in New Jersey or beyond–that can beat Brothers Pizza at 1020 Rte. 18 in East Brunswick. They don’t have a website, or much to our chagrin any logoed t-shirts anymore, but have been making the best pizza in the world, without any doubt, since the early 1970s. But that is for another post…
As fairs go in New Jersey, Middlesex County’s is one of the best. Like clockwork every first week of August, the fairgrounds site in East Brunswick populates with enough rickety rides, “whack various animals” arcade games and greasy food vendors to satisfy even a Midwesterner. We drove over early in the week, while the vegetable displays were still fresh, the grounds were pristine and the food plentiful. As an extra bonus, we were treated to a blazing sunset of pinks, purples and oranges as the backdrop to the whirling lights and pleasant buzz of the crowd.
We were gleeful to see the return of the Peanut Man, a wiry and somewhat dour vendor of roasted legumes whose schedule in some years has precluded his attendance at the event. He sells, hands down, the most delicious peanuts we have ever had, handed over still warm from the barrels in brown paper bags. Some of us have been known to pay admission to the fair just to retrieve a bag of these treasures and scurry away like a squirrel in October.
There were lots of nice animals, including donkeys, ducks, prizewinning rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, cows, sheep, horses and goats. The farmer’s exhibit featured a baby pig that had everyone oohing and ahhing at its cuteness as it snuffled around in the hay. “Jersey Fresh” stickers were abundant, not only at the food kiosks, but at the vegetable and fruit stand on the main corner of the agricultural area, where for a few dollars you pick up some local produce to bring home.
The dining, well, forget your diet and just enjoy. Fried everything can be had, as well as Mexican specialties, pizza, potatoes of every cut and preparation, meat skewers, cheese steaks, ice cream, frozen cheesecake and shaved ices. We opted for the perennially fantastic grilled corn-on-the-cob, basted with melted butter and handed over with the leaves and husk as its handle, as well as Greek gyro and falafel that were quite good. We haven’t even scratched the surface describing the other eats that were available.
As usual, an extensive tractor collection was on display, as well as local artwork, canned goods and yarn crafts. The agriculture department sponsored an arresting display detailing the dangers of mosquitoes and how to eliminate standing-water breeding grounds from yards and patios. The nearby dog training outfit gave agility demonstrations with pooches of varying capabilities and interest–almost always good for at least two laughs–and there was also a glitzy acrobatic act and adorable, if mildly disturbing, pig races.
There were plenty of midway-type games, spinning wheels and opportunities to win ridiculous stuffed animals, as well as an assortment of spinning, flailing and teetering rides that looked thoroughly nauseating but which fair-goers seemed to love. For non-participants, they make a wonderfully exhilarating setting within which to eat popcorn and lick ice cream cones.
In all, the Middlesex County Fair is a genuinely sweet stop for families, couples, and people seeking really great peanuts. Recommended for yearly attendance.
It was a gallant idea, but alas, the giant concrete horseshoe crab sculpture unfortunately smashed on its way to the ocean floor during the installation ceremony. News reports say that sonar scans show the structure in pieces on the sea bed. This means New Jersey is not home to the largest underwater sculpture in the world after all. Bright side: the scattered concrete pieces will still serve as an effective artificial reef for the saltwater critters of the area. Since we don’t have sonar and underwater imaging capabilities, no photos for this one…
The Colonial Diner on Route 18 has been a staple in East Brunswick for decades–many a high-school lunch has been eaten there, many a late-night afterparty snack chowed down, and many a family Sunday breakfast devoured. We have eaten so many meals there it is impossible to count. The restaurant offers classic diner fare, some with a gourmet tweak, as well as a salad/soup/baked potato bar and a variety of oversized cakes and pastries. It used to be part of the Americana group (see other posts…) but we recently learned it has gone solo (oddly not reflected on the website). That doesn’t stop it from offering tasty pancakes, great feta crepes, burgers (veggie and non), salads and more. We visited recently and finally ordered something we’ve been eyeing on the menu for years–the Girl Scout Cookie milkshake, a concoction of chocolate chip mint ice cream, oreos, milk and whipped cream–a decadent indulgence. Next time perhaps the Granny Smith apple pancakes… Open 6 am to 11 pm weekdays, til midnight Friday and Saturday.
Reports have arisen that there is a beaver or beaver family living in a pond off Hart’s Lane in East Brunswick, and as rodent lovers we had to investigate. How beavers could get to this locale is beyond our comprehension, but the notion of them living in this community elated us. We drove to the little water feature and saw some very, very suspicious activity–chomped-down trees and piled up sticks. No visual confirmation of the buck-toothed cuties, but we are rooting for them here and everywhere. Based on the photos, what do you think?
Playmobil toys are hallmarks of Germany, but where there’s a will, New Jersey will find a way, and in fact the manufacturer has its warehouse and US offices right here in a complex in Cranbury near the Turnpike 8A entrance.
The products are made in Germany and Malta, and distributed in the US through this facility. With a side jaunt through the warehouse complex though, it is easy to see the company’s logo face emblazoned hundreds of times larger than life on the building’s exterior. There is no retail at this location, although they have been known on occasion to have a warehouse sale–but there is a Playmobil Fun Park and store at Woodbridge Mall for those who are inspired to purchase. Toys make everyone happy!