Crossing the River: Exploring New Jersey

 

 

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Years ago — actually several decades ago — I was teaching an undergraduate social studies class at Holy Family University.  One assignment was to develop a lesson plan.  One young woman submitted a lesson about the Delaware River.  I asked her to explain what she was teaching about the river.  She answered that “the Delaware River seperated Pennsylvania and New Jersey”  I responded “yes, what else.”  She drew a blank.  She knew nothing else about the river.  From then on, my lesson plan templet had a section labeled “content.”

I have lived along the River (PA side) for most of my life.  Grew up in Bristol in a Mill Street apartment that looked out on the river; since 1978 in a riverfront house in Yardley.  Most families in the Philadelphia area cross the river at least annually for a vacation at the Jersey shore.  Philadelphians may go to Atlantic City or Wildwood; most Bristolians go  to Long Beach Island — LBI.  Whenimy sisters and I were young, we spent a week at Beach Haven on LBI.  We rented a house with my Aunt and Uncle, Ellen and Frank Mignoni.  We shared a house with  4 adults and at least 5 kids.  I remember my father driving a truck over the Bay bridge, with all our summer gear, including a second refrigerator.  My Aunt and Uncle ever eventually bought a breachfront house in Harvey Cedars.  During my HS, college, and the years immediately after, I spent many days visiting.  They were always extremely generous; we would call for a key off season; in 1977, pregnant with Jenny, Diane stayed at Harvey Cedars with my Aunt, August through September.

 

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This past year, Diane and I discovered the $75 NJ park pass.  A great bargain. We frequently go to Island Beach, not just summer trips  but off season.  Winter brings out the Island foxes.  This year there was a snowy owl which unfortunately we didn’t get to see.  Many days we find a secluded area and Moe can run free.  Our trips  to Island Beach are often on back roads.  What will we discover? On the way home we like to stop at a seafood market and bring fresh fish home for dinner. One of our favorite discoveries  is Shore Fresh in Point Pleasant Beach — a bit of a ride from Island Beach but worth it.  This summer we were pretty amazed at the continued recovery from hurricane Sandy.  On other trips, particularly on the bay side we have discovered restaurants, farms and seafood stops.  Or maybe, birding at Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.

There were only a couple of NJ destinations when we were kids.  My father liked Batsto othe bog iron village in the Pine Barrens. We visited quite a few times.  Diane and I rediscovered Batsto and its hiking trails several years ago.  My parents also liked a shopping village in Rancocus.  They was a hardware/furnishings store; colonial style; a bit of an 1950s version of Restoration.  Seems like we visited frequently.  A few times Dad crossed over to Burlington, if for no other reason than to look across the river at Bristol.

During the late 50s and early 60s, I did some NJ explores with the Boy Scouts.  I remember camping at Lakehurst.  We were told the story of the Hindenburg airship disaster of 1937 and I think we got to go inside a blimp.  Most memorable on the trip, was breakfast cooked by Mr. Lodge on a huge iron grill.  He had been an army cook and took orders, a wiz short order cook.

Another scout trip was canoeing on one of the Pine Barren rivers — Wading or Mullica? I remember moving through different landscapes — marshes, forests, open river.  I was in a canoe with Andy Romano and as we approached the end of our two night trip, his brother, Chris, attacked us, capsizing the canoe.  Several years ago Diane and  I, Taylor’s and Rosenthals rented canoes for a trip down the Mullica.  It was several days after heavy rains and the river was running fast.  Trees blocked clear runs and trying to slide under them was  a big challenge –trying not to get beheaded or captize.

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Another High School  NJ experience was going to John Terrell’s Lambertville Music Circus.  I went several times.  First a dinner date at a restaurant in town — I think it was Riverside or River’s Edge?  Quick internet check, it was River’s Edge and post cards are available on eBay for $3.00.  After dinner, off to the the Circus, with its tent box office and huge tent outdoor seating.  In 1964, I saw the Rightous Brothers  (You Got that Loving Feeling) and the following year Dave Brubeck. The Music Circus closed sometime in the 1970s

In the early 1970s, Diane and I rented a house with John and Barbara Paglione, outside of downtown New Hope.  We crossed the New Hope-Lambertville bridge frequently to explore  NJ.  Lambertville was basically a working class town — the New Yorkers, galleries, shops and restaurants came later as New Hope turned into a T-shirt, tattoo, chain store, and tacky tourist destination.  The artist culture migrated across the bridge.

Our favorite Lambertville restaurant (because it was affordable) was, Phil and Dan’s.  The couple literally took the front room of their row house and turned  it into a dining room.  The pasta was always good and it was a BYOB.  A few years ago, the Paglione’s were visiting.  We decided to go to Phil &  Dan’s — now it’s called Rick’s.  A few weeks later, I mentioned this in a Holy Family class.    After class, a young teacher approached, “Mr. Profy, Phil and Dan were my grandparents.”  They were still alive but had  crossed the river and we’re living in Bucks County.

Today Rick’s has the same BYOB, red checked table cloth,  home cooked pasta and meatballs atmosphere.  We’ve been back several times.  Another Lambertville restaurant from the early 1970s was the Swan Hotel.  Anton’s at the Swan was and is a pretty up-scale expensive restaurant. We may have been there once but more often have  gone to the Swan bar – – more affordable, then and now — its  a delightful, intimate space.

We go to Lambertville quite a bit.  Sometimes we wander around town, taking in the galleries, many with local artists. Some years we attend the Shad festival.  Shad migrate upriver in the spring to spawn.  The Lewis Fishery in town still license and can be seen seining for shad. I have been told that Delaware River shad taste of mud and what’s sold locally comes from Connecticut.  The roe is prized but I can’t interest Diane.  Eating shad becomes a bit of a dream for me.  But the festival is always fun.  This year I won a historic walking tour of Lambertville.

Today many of our Lambertville explores are culinary.  El Tule is a Peruvian-Mexican BYOB.  Some  traditional but also quite a few interesting dishes.  They have outdoor tables.  Another Mexican we like is Tortuga’s Cocina, located in Mitchell’s bar.  But they may have closed.  Fairly new is Cafe Galleria in a Victorian house, porch seating, fresh, organic, health conscious offerings.  Refreshing comes to mind.  Brian’s is well reviewed and rated.  We’ve eaten there once.  The Lambertville House has been redone and we recently had nice lunch there — the atmosphere is classic.  In the early 1980s, we spent New Years with the Gallaghers and Chapmans (HGP staff) at the Lambertville House. Memories.

There are quite a few Lambertville restaurants on our check it out list — Bell’s Tavern, Siam Thai, and the French, Manon which always seemed closed.

 

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Currently our favorite Lambertville restaurant is Hamilton’s Grill, located on a small alley courtyard.  Back in the 70s, owner Jim Hamilton and his family lived in an old mill around the corner from our New Hope rental house.  Jim was a NYC  set designer; his wife was French.  They hosted annual glitzy parties in the historic mill.  We weren’t invited but knew people who attended.  For us they were part of the New Hope art and culture scene. The Grill has been around for decades; Jim is now in his 80s.  One daughter, Melissa, publishes a series of cookbooks — “Canal House Cooking.” His other daughter, Gabrielle, is one of the better  known woman NYC chefs.  On a recent trip to NYC (with Pagliones) we had dinner at her East Village restaurant, Prune.  It met all expectations.  John and I had pigeon!  We also have a copy of Gabrielle’s cookbook, “Prune” and her 2011 memoir, “Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of A Reluctant Chef.”  A interesting story, particularly as we feel we know her.

In recent years, Hamilton’s Grill is where we go for our anniversary dinner.  We have also attended what Jim describes as cooking classes.  They are really demonstrations in a small apartment near the restaurant.  We attended a seafood dinner and an Italian Christmas seven  fish dinner with guest chef, Andrew Abruzzese and his son (Pineville Tavern). Both meals were fantastic.

This past year we also went to Hamilton’s Grill for their New Jersey shore meal — clams, mussels, lobster, tomatoes obviously.  Wow.  And for Thanksgiving we sat at the counter watching chef Mark Miller grill shrimp and tuna.  What a meal and experience.  Not to be outdone by her father, Melissa hosted a Sunday breakfast in an apartment she maintains for test cooking and I guess parties. We have never had lighter, more delicious pancakes.  The Grill is a BYOB but in the courtyard is The Boathouse, a small funky bar, with outdoor seating — the place to begin your Hamilton Grill experience.  Oh, regulars also know that off hours, you can park in the nearby lumber yard, along the canal.

Another NJ city to explore is Princeton.  We have many associations.  In the 198os and 1990s we subscribed to McCarter Theatre and eventually McCarter Dance — when Jenny was enrolled in dance classes.  We went so frequently, we even contributed a few dollars.  By the 90s, most pre-show dinners were  at Teresa’s — a small, very busy,  Italian style restaurant near the Nassau Inn.  Reasonable priced and tasty pasta dishes, pizza, brought us back again and again.  Another Princeton tradition is Christmas shopping.  I hate malls  — refuse to go to them unless absolutely necessary.  Princeton is enchanting at Christmas.  Although over the years the shops have changed,  there are still some that are quite classy and interesting.

There are a lot of reasons to go to Princeton.  Great shoes stores — my Birkenstocks, Clarks, and other shoes have come from Princeton.   In fact my grandfather ran a shoe repair shop on Nassau Street.  Address in hand, I found the location this year.  This summer I sold 20 boxes  of books to Labyrinth Books.  I hope to return with more and eventually I want to sell some of my LPs to the Princeton Record Exchange.

We have also found some great food stops — on the way to Princeton there is Tehune Orchard.  A variety of crops and kid friendly activities.     On Route 206, don’t miss Lucy’s Kitchen.  Homemade  ravoli and pasta (fresh, dried and frozen).  Heaven.  Can’t believe we only discovered Lucy’s  a few years ago.  We also like to stop at Nassau Street Seafood.  Fresh fish and usually varieties that we don’t find locally.  Next door to the market is the Blue Point Grill.  Recently we had octopus — it was fantastic.  And we learned that the same could be had with pre-cooked, frozen octopus from Buckingham Valley Seafood (ops that’s in PA).  There are many other good restaurants in Princeton — check out Mediterra (same owners as Teresa’s) and Agricola.  The Nassau Inn is always a classic lunch stop.

In the past few years, our drives to Princeton are on back roads.  We avoid I-95 and wander through Pennington and Hopewell. These NJ explores have turned up a number of interesting discoveries. Food wise, we go to the Brick Farm Market in Hopewell.  Meats, cheese, some fresh produce and a small, expanding cafe.  A great find. We also enjoyed tea class and a few breakfasts in Paint the Roses — unfortunately I think it just closed.  Another farm market is Blue Moon Acres.  They grow a variety of micro-greens (also have a farm on route 413 near 202 in PA).  At the Pennington market in addition to their own produce they feature anything local — honey, meats, cheese, popcorn, just anything local.  You can get a Griggstown pot pie or Cherry Grove Farmstead cheese.  Both NJ farms.

Actually if you want to explore NJ farm products, go to the Trenton Farmer’s Market. Cross the river at the Calhoun Street bridge and head north.  The market has all NJ produce and a few speciality stores.  The butcher made pork roll from Cartlidge is amazing. There is a good baker and an Italian deli.  Olsen’s cheese was there until they moved to Palmer Square in Princeton.  I usually  buy a lot of my garden plants at the Trenton Market. My other garden plants come from  NJ — Dragonfly Nursery and Mazur Nursery and Garden Center.  The later family owned has a good selection of Fall plants.  A good place to know.

And there are still things to do in Trenton.  I went to a lecture about the gardens of Jefferson’s Monticello at the Trent House. There was a tour of their garden led by Charlie, a volunteer who lives a block away from us.  Diane and I also went to the Trenton Barracks, built for Bristish soldiers during the French and Indian War.  Both of these sites host a variety of activities.  One day after we read a book on the Battle of Trenton, we took a car trip attempting to follow the historic route.  Then  we saw signs, Washington’s March to Trenton.  They took us to the Trenton Battle Monument overlooking the scene of the historic battle, turning point of the Revolution.

On another trip, in  Cadwalder Park, we discovered the Trenton Museum with several interesting exhibits — one was on Italians (Porfirio’s pasta company was mentioned) and another on the Abbot Marsh which we always pass on the way to the shore.

Chambersburg, Trenton’s historically Italian community has shrunk as businesses move out to Hamilton township but I still want to explore it. My grandfather took us to several Trenton restaurants — I believe on was Marsilio’s Kitchen (still open).  And he went to the Italian People’s Bakery every Christmas for cookies.  When I  began teaching Local History in the 1980s, I used a fantastic documentary on the Chambersburg neighborhood.  And I haven’t done it yet, but Abbot’s Marsh is on a list of  this year’s explores.

In the past year we have been doing a lot of driving and walks exploring Mercer, Hunterdon and Somerset counties across the river from Bucks County.  We frequently drive to Stockton (an interesting if expensive Farmers Market), park and walk along the Delaware and Raritan State Park trail.  One destination north is Prallsville Mills, a small collection of buildings opened for special events. continue on to Bulls Island Recreation Area, the beginning of the D &R canal feeder.  Years ago we took HGP Explorer’s Club camping there.  It was part of a Delaware River canoe trip.  The kids crossed the foot  bridge to buy dinner at the Black Bass Hotel.  Next day none of them had money for a soda.

There is Washington Crossing State Park (NJ), we usually go in on back roads where Moe can run free.  Baldpate Mountain and the Ted Stiles Preserve is another great area for walking and dog running.  Our big NJ surprise this year was the Goat Hill Overlook.  It’s a small park area with fantastic views of New Hope and Lambertville.  Also very dog friendly. Moe’s favorite trip, however, is to Rosedale Park near Pennington.  There is a free, no permit, well maintained dog park.  Run Moe, run.

Howell Living History Farm offers a different type of experience.  Saturday activities may include sheep shearing, cheese making, maple syrup making, wagon rides.  Great place for kids.  One day at Howell, we took a tour with Larry Kidder, author of “Farming Pleasant Valley: 250 years of life in rural Hopewell Township, New Jersey.  Serendipitous drives in the area and you feel that you have stepped back in history.

Maybe a stop at Gravity Hill Farm for some fresh produce. Driving north of Stockton on one  trip, we saw a sign, Tullamore Farms, The Farm Cooking School.  In an funny coincidence, Jenny read about the school and for Christmas gave us a gift certificate.  I went to a cooking beer centric demonstration and dinner.  The school’s chefs, Ian and Shelly are fantastic.  In this particular dinner, Triumph Brewery provided beer in many of the recipes as well as beer to drink.  Some were brewed specifically for the dinner.  A month later, Eli went to a class, Latino breakfast. They made everything and then served it to parents who came to pick them up.  At events like this, there are always interesting participants.  We will return to the Farm Cooking School.

Back in the 1990s, I read a book “Looking for America on the New Jersey Turnpike.” It was a fun book.  The Garden State gets mixed reviews.  Is NJ chemical companies,  dying marshlands, a stop on the Interstate, an asphalt strip between NYC and Philadelphia.  I  think our NJ explores reveals more. These local field trip show just how much there is close to home in NJ.   I suspect there will be many more explores in Retirement, year two.

 

Goat Hill Overlook

Goat Hill Overlook

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