This pretty much sums it up – I identify as New York. I was born in New Jersey, and raised in Pennsylvania. But from the time I can remember, I wanted to move to Manhattan and work on Wall Street, or Madison Avenue. The specifics didn’t matter, and it was my dream. It came true in 1999, when I graduated from college and moved to the big city to start my big job with a big professional services firm. My love for New York knew no bounds, and that was before I figured out that in this case the world was quite literally my oyster. The food scene was exploding and New York was at the epicenter.
Apparently my love for New York could not survive my lurking wanderlust and constant need for new challenges, nor my husband’s desire for extra space, a lawn, and let’s be honest, a nearby golf course. In 2007 we packed up our beautiful apartment and moved to the picturesque hamlet known as Maplewood, New Jersey. While I adored my walk in closet, guest bedrooms, and expansive outdoor space with a view of Manhattan on a clear day, my tastebuds died a little.
But thankfully, the foodie force is strong with this one. Just as I was drawn to Manhattan all those years ago, completely unaware of the epicurean adventures that lay before me, my adventures in real estate also drew me to what was apparently a blossoming food community.
At first it was rough; like most of North Jersey, the area’s food options were mostly a sea of indistinguishable italian fare. Oh, and pizza. Are those different? There were next to no ethnic options, save the occasional
bastardized Americanized Chinese takeout, sushi that catered to the “I don’t like raw fish” crowd, and the occasional fusion disaster. And my personal favorite — antiquated liquor laws meant that nearly every restaurant was “BYO” — a concept so foreign it made my friend Matt’s observation that he needed a passport to visit me seem suspiciously valid.
The reality was, there were gems all over — and many more on their way. But OpenTable didn’t yet meaningfully serve the area, and Yelp, while good for generating lists of options, didn’t have the reliable reviewer base I needed. The Zagat guide covered the entire state, which meant it only discussed a small handful of reliable fine dining options in my particular neck of the woods. Finding the best the area had to offer required a lot of trial and error. And there is nothing this girl hates more than a bad meal.
Now for the happy ending. For ten years I have been navigating the New Jersey food scene, uncovering the best it has to offer and improving my ability to spot the tired and uninspired. I watched foodie culture make its way across the Hudson, bringing with it new choices and experiences from around the world – and even better pizza. I learned a thing or two about wine, and Gary amassed the kind of wine collection that makes you embrace BYO and actually look forward to the chance to self-sommelier. I built my dream kitchen — including all the necessary accoutrements — and seriously learned to cook with them. I discovered entirely new corners of the Manhattan food universe, with a new focus on neighborhoods more conducive to commuter lifestyle. And I took notes.
Why? Because as much as I love food, I love helping other people love food even more. I love talking about food, and sharing food experiences with people that matter to me. If I didn’t capture my observations and experiences, I couldn’t help others have memorable dining experiences, or try a great wine, or learn about a never-tried ingredient or the latest cooking technique.
My “list,” as my friend Jeremy calls it, deserved to be shared.