I just finished reading through the December 2010 edition of New Jersey Monthly magazine. I am a subscriber, but happened to buy the magazine off the rack at the supermarket the minute I saw it because I believe in having pride in your state, and just couldn't wait to read it.
We are a state that has been mocked due to the smells that are said to emanate from the landscape surrounding the New Jersey Turnpike (though I have never smelled a thing); we've been filed as the classless adjunct of New York City. We've been mocked senselessly due to shows like Jersey Shore (I've never watched the show but heard that none of the cast is from New Jersey), yet my shore experiences have always been relaxed, with beautiful views and great food. Our football teams, the Giants and the Jets, go by "New York" but play in New Jersey. The Jets even practice at Fairleigh Dickenson University and players spend much of their off time in the Florham Park/Morristown/Madison area. In season, they live here in New Jersey.
Having been raised here, after moving from Long Island back in the 70s, I can say with complete assurance, that our state deserves much more credit. I don't say "Joisey", I say "Jersey"; we don't all have big hair, and we don't (at least most of us) fist pump. Look, there are idiots everywhere, and while we may have a few to speak of, let's face it. All states do. On the contrary, the Garden State produced actors, scholars, artists, writers, scientists, doctors, even astronauts. NASA's Buzz Aldrin was born in Glen Ridge and grew up in Montclair. Count Basie was from Red Bank, the Jonas Brothers are from Wykoff, Beastie Boys Adam Horovitz was from South Orange. Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Fountains of Wayne. Comedian Artie Lange is from Union. Poet Allen Ginsberg was from Paterson, author Fran Lebowitz was from Morristown. Actors like Zach Braff (South Orange), Sandra Dee (Bayonne), Danny DeVito (Livingston), James Gandolfini (Westwood), Ed Harris (Englewood then Tenafly), Tea Leoni (Leonia), Nathan Lane (Jersey City), Jay Mohr (Verona), Laura San Giacomo (Denville), Peter Onorati (Boonton). I remember when I used to see actress Jane Krakowski all over town. She was raised in a neighboring town -- Parsippany -- and got discovered at The Barn Theatre in Montville. Martha Stewart was born in Jersey City and raised in Nutley. And that's just the beginning of a very, long list.
We have urban, suburban, and rural spaces. Our cities and towns, like Montclair, Princeton, Madison, and Main Street in Boonton, is the stuff that movies are made of. In fact, Boonton has been used countless times as television backdrops -- not only for the Sopranos, but MTV has shot here, and the Boonton Diner has been used for a commercial. Madison's corner of Main Street and Waverly Place was used for the kissing scene between characters Julie Morton (played by Clare Danes) and Everett Stone (played by Dermot Mulroney), and it's train station was where Simon Green (played by Ashton Kutcher) gets off the train in the movie, Guess Who.
We are surrounded by beautiful lakes, and our beach communities still have that relaxed, home away from home feel. We have hiking trails, and beautiful public gardens. The Ringwood State Park is amazing. When I worked in that area, I'd often pack my lunch and go eat it amongst the statues and trees. (The Skylands New Jersey Botanical Garden is about a mile from there, and quite a place.) Montclair's Presby Memorial Iris Gardens is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Sites and each year, as the irises bloom, people come out in droves to see (and photograph, and paint) them.
Our diners and eateries are top notch. I can tell you that in Denville, you must visit Sergio & Co. for Italian specialties and gourmet sandwiches, and the Denville Diner makes such great food that you'll want to move in (I know I do). Princeton has P.J.s Pancake House. You'll have to wait in line most days, just to get a seat, and I have, in 4" heels and 25* and I never once regretted it, not even for a minute. In LBI's Beach Haven, there is Uncle Will's Pancake House that makes the best, freshest food I've had since my visit to Crazy Burger in Rhode Island. At Uncle Willie's, I've gotten an egg white omelet with fresh spinach and goat cheese that was so good, I nearly cried. The soft, salty cheese just melted into the egg. Gorgeous. In Montclair, I am always thrilled to go to Raymond's. Love their burgers, their egg creams, and their retro atmosphere. In season, their Mexican Hot Cocoa is to die for (and the homemade marshmallows, which are now available, are light and heavenly).
In my backyard is the town of Boonton, and there I pretty much live at Roma Pizzeria and Restaurant. The pizza, calzones, all the food, really, is perfecto! Everyone there is like family (and they are their own family), and the dining room, on any given weekend, is full of familiar, happy faces. We were just there today, and the Christmas tree is up, surrounded by wreaths and bows, and all sorts of festive decorations. For Valentine's Day, they make heart shaped pizzas. Can you believe it? Across the street is my favorite Mexican food, Chili Willie's, and though I can no longer eat anything on the menu, you can (and you should, please, for me). They even have a vegetarian burrito - Popeye's - that people drive from everywhere just to try. God, I miss that place.
New Jersey is home to Princeton University, Einstein's stomping grounds. Toni Morrison. Cornell West. Need I say more?
There are farms, organic markets, tattoo shops. Art galleries, libraries, museums. We have a wealth of historic homes and landmarks. Bakeries. Vintage stores. We've got it all.
I urge each and every one of you to keep your Jersey pride strong, and with that, your town pride. Boonton has some of the best town pride I've ever seen. Residents shop locally, eat locally, and support their neighbors. Support your town, your schools, and the towns that surround yours. Shop and eat locally whenever possible. Keep your property well-tended, so that your house will accurately represent the pride you feel about your town, and your state.
Tell me what you love most about New Jersey. I am excited and curious to know. Oh, and check out Zach Braff's New Jersey pride monologue on SNL (click here). The Jersey native was recently on "Late Night" where he said, "Now I feel like I have to defend New Jersey all the time, all over the place -- no thanks to Snooki...She's really bad for Jersey, Snooki! ... America, you can go to the Jersey Shore and you will not get punched in the face."