Over the spring Bank Holiday, Jon and I made a last-minute trip to New Jersey and New York for a family obligation. While these trips back to the New York area are always too short and too busy, we still managed to hit up some hometown favorites. For those of you who end up in north Jersey or are rushing around the tri-State area via Penn Station, here are some of my most-loved places to eat:
For Chinese, I love going to the Hunan Cottage in Fairfield, NJ. Although it was a relatively-long, 30-minute drive from our home, Hunan Cottage was the place we went to celebrate and/or treat ourselves when I was growing up. The exterior is hideous (like many highway-side businesses in the Jerz), and the interior isn’t much better. But the food’s freshness and tastiness are the star attraction. I know this next sentence sounds ridiculous because I’m describing a dish that is the chicken tikka masala of American Chinese food, but if you’ve never had General Tso’s chicken and want to have a positive first experience, you should try Hunan Cottage’s version. Theirs is made with chicken that’s always crisp and flavored with a well-balanced spicy-sweet-tangy sauce. Scallion pancake and crispy duck served with fluffy, hot mantou round out the items I miss most from Hunan Cottage.
Despite its name, Hunan Cottage serves dishes from lots of other regions of China (as almost all Chinese places have to do to survive in the ‘burbs), so you’ll have to set aside your desire for regional specificity here: xiao long bao fillings are juicy and dense with flavor; sauteed snow pea leaves are melt-in-your-mouth; and crispy fish is served whole and to a chorus of oohs and ahhs. Definitely a place I love to visit when I’m back in the Jerz. Most dishes cost less than $15, but a few of the specials-of-the-day cost $25.
Hunan Cottage, 14 Route 46 East, Fairfield, NJ 07004; (973) 808-8328.
For breakfast, nothing beats a quick drive to Bagels 4 U (there are multiple locations in North Jersey, but we usually end up at the locations in Livingston or Short Hills (their original shop). I know the name is hardly confidence inspiring (4? U? Really?), but the bagels are crisp and shiny on the outside, chewy on the inside, and with a hint of the sweet yeastiness that smells like warm comfort. The key, as in any bagel place, is to order whatever’s the freshest from the oven, and while Bagels 4 U seems to have crossed over to the Dark Side and now offers “specialty flavors” (raspberry? grrr), the classics are all represented and going strong. Ceteris paribus, a sesame for me, please.
Bagels are about $11 for a dozen, and slightly more per bagel if you don’t go for the dozen.
Bagels 4 U, 69 E Northfield Rd, Livingston, NJ 07039; 973-761-0556
Jon and I had exactly 1.5 hours free from family “stuff” and wanted to see some friends in Manhattan. We’d taken a train from NJ into Penn Station and had to catch another train out to Long Island (ahh, the Tri-State area), so where to meet that would be relaxing, tasty and quick? Patsy’s, of course. Is it the best pizza in New York? I’m not going anywhere near that. But it’s pretty darn good. Thin crust, fresh mozzarella, good sauce. The crust edges were a bit too thick, but after almost five years of living in London, I’d say Patsy’s pies tasted like manna.
Large pies start at $17 and small ones at $15. Toppings are $2.50 each, and there’s lots of salads and pastas available, too, in case you’re crazy and don’t want pizza.
Patsy’s, multiple locations in Manhattan, but the Chelsea one is convenient for those rushing around Penn Station. 318 W. 23d Street (between 8th and 9th Avenue), New York 1011; 646-867-7400. Closest subway stop: 23d street on the C, E, but just a 10-minute walk from Penn Station.