According to the New York City Department of Health, there are over 20,000 dining establishments in the city. Can you believe that? Thats one restaurant for every 400 people in this city. That means if you want Mexican take out, you can have it (albeit probably made by an Asian person). If you want Ethiopian, Moroccan or Vietnamese; it’s YOURS. For crying out loud, I’ve seen Mongolian take out. How is that possible? You can eat at an Irish pub, an Australian Bar or at a Nouveau American Gastro Pub. From Halal push carts to diners to the most exquisite fine dining in the world, there is literally something for everyone. And it’s a wonderful thing.
But I have to say that there is definitely something to be said for small town eateries. Hell, Food Network made a show about it; Diners, Drive Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri (is it just me or is he perpetually stuck in 1999 with that hair?). However, I’m specifically referring to the restaurants in my or your home town. Many of us were not raised in New York and didn’t have the access to the food that we have now. What we did have were our favorite places in our respective childhood homes. And as Ally and I just returned from a short trip back to Newark, Delaware (pronounced New-Ark), I’d like to touch on some of my favorite things that Newark has to offer.
First and foremost, the place where I have spent the most money over my 16 years in Newark is Margherita’s Pizza.
I began eating regularly at this New York style pizza shop when I was just 14 years old. I would ride my bike to Main Street, order one slice of pepperoni and a medium Dr. Pepper and watch the World Cup. I performed this routine for the entirety of the tournament. Needless to say, after this period had ended, I was a welcomed and valued regular to the owner, Enzo, who to this day still calls me “Junior” in his thick Naples accent each time I walk in. When I started going there in 1998, there weren’t many choices. The menu read like that of any other pizza shop around; toppings included pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, supreme, multiple meats and so on with the normal variety. And that’s not to take away from the taste because he only uses the top ingredients, but when two new pizza joints opened up on Main St. (it is a college town), Enzo began doing the creative pies that made Margherita’s the choice for townie and college student alike.
The first pies that blue my mind, simple as they were at the time, were Barbecue Chicken and Buffalo Chicken.
These are my favorites and I’m willing to bet, his most popular. But he also began making pies with fresh veggies and ricotta and mozz. Cauliflower is a staple there. Another great addition was the cheese steak pizza which is a sauceless pie and comes with chopped steak and is served best with regular ketchup. All the originals are still there, but I don’t think Margherita’s would be what it is if Enzo hadn’t stayed ahead of the pack. And Enzo doesn’t stop trying to create. He isn’t always successful (i.e. hotdog and french fry pizza), but that’s why he’s the best around. I would put Margherita’s against any pie in New York City.
My second favorite place to go when I’m home is ironically also something you can find in New York. It’s Newark’s only food cart and it’s run by Chef Bennie Dollard.
In the same spot in front of the 5 and Dime since I was a kid, it was originally a regular hot dog-cart run by “The Hot Dog Lady.” When she retired almost five years ago, Bennie took over. He has a full service kitchen in the cart. Grill top; check. Fryer; check; Fridge; check. Originally serving traditional kielbasa, hot dogs and sausages, Bennie’s menu has recently exploded with a plethora of sandwiches.
Along with the normal fare, Bennie’s most popular sandwich is the Hustler, which is a Philly cheese steak with two eggs, hash brown, peppers and onions. On this trip, I got the Caribbean Sunrise; jerk chicken patties on a roll with provolone, two eggs and onions.
You can also get chicken parm, a “Nigerian” cheese steak and about 25 other sandwiches. I guess you can tell that dieters are not getting their lunch here. Even if the food doesn’t tickle your taste buds, there is another reason to stop by the Newark landmark and thats Chef Ben himself. He talks to you like you’ve known each other for years, and you can tell that he is putting so much work into your sandwich because it’s his livelihood. Ben’s food is great, but his story may be better. Check it out here:
Finally, Sunday morning before we left, we stopped by Ally’s favorite coffee shop. Surprisingly enough, it’s not Starbucks (her favorite in the city). It’s called Brew HaHa, and it has an inviting atmosphere and quality coffee. It’s the strength of their house brew that draws many of the students here.
And once inside, patrons are invited to grab a cup of joe and a magazine and just chill. It also has amazing outdoor deck (it’s located on the second floor of the Main St. Galleria). Myself, I enjoyed an iced mocha latte. I know its pretty fru fru, but I can’t help it. If I’m going to a specialty coffee shop, I don’t want regular coffee. I can get that at the Buck (I am so lame).
So that’s only three of my favorites. The next time I go back, I will visit some other Newark traditions including Grotto Pizza (for the drinks), Cafe Gelato and Little Saigon. Hopefully, you’ll still be reading then. Thanks for stopping by San Diego.
P.S. The Vendy for Best Food Cart just recently went to a Mexican food cart in Brooklyn. The Country Boys can be found at the Red Hook Ball Fields and at the Brooklyn Flea Market. Rookie of the Year went to Schnitzel and Things, an Austrian food truck http://www.schnitzelandthings.com/. The best dessert award went to Wafels and Dinges http://www.wafelsanddinges.com/ . Click the links for locations.