Eagle Specialty Coffee: Monmouth County’s Best Kept Coffee Secret

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If you’re driving down New Jersey Route 35 South, heading toward the Monmouth Mall, you’ll pass a three-storefront building on your right. In the storefront on the right, you’ll see a Rita’s, a Philly Pretzel Factory at the center, and the storefront on the left? Well, that space is occupied by a fantastic independent coffee shop called Eagle Specialty Coffee.

Walking in, you’ll see a coffee shop with a very streamlined, modern look that doesn’t feel cold or uninviting. Rather, you’ll find a place with very friendly baristas who make good cups of coffee without taking a long time to do so.

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The area surrounding Eagle is saturated with corporate coffee places like Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and QuikCheck. Sure, they have successful business models. It’s not like those places have terrible coffee, but all those places definitely do not have coffee as high quality as Eagle. Eagle’s coffee tastes like a true premium brew without having to pay any outlandish price for a cup of it.

The first few times I ventured to Eagle, I applied a test I normally do every time I go to an independent coffee shop. Every time I visit a new independent coffee shop, I order a vanilla latte. I’ll then come back two more times, and if another barista is working, I’ll order another vanilla latte from the other barista. To me, just as any bartender should be able to make a decent whiskey sour, any barista should be able to make something simple like a vanilla latte. I tried three vanilla lattes from Eagle, each prepared by a different barista, and I can safely say each time the beverage was delicious, no matter who made it. That’s a good thing to know, from a customer’s standpoint – that the staff are consistent with making quality beverages.

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Since then, I’ve tried a few other different menu items at Eagle, and each time, they set a new standard for what I expect in beverage quality from coffee shops. Never once have I been disappointed from taking a chance on different menu items there. I know this for sure, if I lived any closer to Eagle, I would be there every day to get my daily caffeine fix.

Eagle Specialty Coffee is open seven days a week, with varying hours. To find out more about the company, visit their website here.

(All pictures courtesy of Eagle Specialty Coffee’s website)

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Top 5 Bruce Springsteen Songs that Weren’t Singles

Everyone who has heard of Bruce Springsteen knows that the Boss is famous for one thing besides writing great music: he’s a Jersey boy and not afraid to say it. Growing up in Monmouth County, the man grew from a youth of modest means to a superstar with albums like Born to Run. Over the decades, his albums have spawned many singles and have inspired “Greatest Hits” collections, but amongst every album, there were bound to be a few great songs that didn’t quite make the cut and become hits. Of these less-popular tunes, here are what I consider to be the five greatest songs he’s released that have not tacked a place on the charts:

1. The E Street Shuffle (1973)

This track, the first off his second studio album, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle has had its fair share of success with fans. Bruce is known to play it every now and then at live performances, but the song never managed to become a single or enjoy any time on the charts. It could be perhaps because the song could be considered very experimental for its time. It begins with a dissonant horn section battling furiously before coming together for a final seven notes and starting off the song. Then, the main guitar riff kicks in followed by a bouncy R&B rhythm that makes this song one of the Boss’s more danceable tunes. If you enjoy classic R&B, soul, or funk music, this might be the closest you’ll get to hearing it on a Bruce album.

2. Backstreets (1975)

Believe it or not, only two singles emerged from Born to Run, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and “Born to Run”. However, you’ll find plenty of professionally-shot performances of Springsteen playing this tune in concert. The reason “Backstreets” most likely failed to chart was due to its length at six minutes and thirty seconds. If you can listen to this lengthy track all the way through, you’ll find a song driven by beautiful piano and organ arrangements with Bruce recounting a fond memory of an ambiguous relationship in his youth with a person named “Terry”. It is unclear in the song whether Terry was an old male buddy of his or a former female love interest, but the song has a particular feel in both lyric and music that can trigger a sense of nostalgia in anyone.

3. Atlantic City – Live (1993)

“Atlantic City” itself was a single on Nebraska, but this live version featured on his album In Concert/MTV Plugged is a completely different animal. The Nebraska version is a somber acoustic number that tells the tale of a man who’s fallen on hard times and turns to the mob to make ends meet. This live version is a full-band number accompanied with some great piano riffing that turns the song into something bigger, more aggressive, and completely different. Though the versions share the same guitar chords, lyrics, and melodies, they sound like two separate songs if listened to back-to-back. This live version would fit anywhere on a Springsteen playlist featuring some of his louder tracks.

4. Gypsy Biker (2008)

Bruce’s often-overlooked 2008 album Magic is a collection that differs a bit from his classic sound, but still retains enough familiar elements that it can fit in a playlist with his older material. The album’s sound is a culmination of everything Bruce has tried out thus far musically, with some extra surprises added in. “Gypsy Biker” is a song driven by guitar and harmonica that rocks in a way that differs from many of his other harder, faster tunes. It’s a song that shows, even in his older years, the Boss still has the chops to compete with the younger generation of bands emerging today. It’s an entrancing song featuring romanticized lyrics about a rebellious biker. It would have been the perfect theme song for Sons of Anarchy.

5. Outlaw Pete (2009)

Bruce has played “Outlaw Pete” a number of times during live performances, but there is one reason why it has never charted as a single: the song is eight minutes long. The song is one of the more popular non-singles in recent years, as it even has a graphic novel version that tells the story from the song. The song tells the story of the title character and how he came to prominence as an outlaw and how he survives being hunted down in his adult years. The eight minutes takes listeners on a journey, both musically and lyrically that changes in dynamic with every passing minute. It is certainly one of the more entertaining songs in the Boss’s catalog to listen to.

(all images taken from WikiMedia Commons)

The Inkwell Coffeehouse: A Haven for the Night Owl in all of Us

Inkwell sign, image taken from Inkwell Facebook Page

Inkwell sign, image taken from Inkwell Facebook Page

Ever get a craving for a cup of coffee late at night? Do those cravings also come coupled with the desire to go out somewhere for a little while and enjoy said coffee? The problem is, as the night goes on, more places close up shop until the next morning and the only places that are open that serve coffee are diners. Now, I love diners, but I am usually not a fan of the plain coffee that diners serve.

If you take a late night journey down Second Avenue in Long Branch, New Jersey, you’ll find a place lit up well past midnight with a sign reading “The Inkwell Coffee House”. Their business model? Be a real late night coffee shop for the night owls. From 7pm til 3am, their doors are open for the late-nighters to congregate and enjoy a quality cup of coffee, snacks, or even a meal if they so desire.

The first thing I will say about their coffee is that it is fantastic. They have everything from plain, regular coffee to flavored coffees, espresso beverages, specialty coffees, and more. I highly recommend any first-timer there to try the Dutch Coffee. It is perhaps the greatest coffee I have ever had in my entire life.

Side of the building as seen from their parking lot. The street to the right of the photo is Second Avenue. Photo taken from Inkwell Facebook Page

Side of the building as seen from their parking lot. The street to the right of the photo is Second Avenue. Photo taken from Inkwell Facebook Page

The Inkwell’s owners have a very smart strategy in marketing solely to the late night crowd. With Monmouth University located less than a mile away and more than five bars near their establishment, they are in the presence of a lot of people who are out late and would want a meal and cup of coffee. Sure, there is a McDonald’s open 24 hours by the school and a few places that deliver food late at night, but none of them offer that intimate, sit-down type environment that makes going to get food and coffee into a social outing.

As for the food, I have never had a complaint with any of the meals or snacks I’ve eaten there. Their food is comparable to basic diner-style foods with some of their own unique creations thrown in the mix. Their large menu guarantees a diverse crowd will find something they will enjoy.

Why is Inkwell a place worth mentioning, you may ask? Well, to me, it’s the only place I’ve ever found in this state (so far) that I would call a true coffee shop. Coffee shops are about the social aspect, where one can sit down in a place that has a warm environment that both encourages social interaction and provides a hideaway for someone in search of solitude. I’ve been to so many coffee places in this state and very few have that atmosphere. Most places, people just walk in, order their drink, and take off. With Inkwell, you’ll find very few people ordering coffee or food to go. Mostly everyone that ventures inside Inkwell are planning to sit down and stay a while.

Again, I highly recommend you try that dutch coffee!

Why Kevin Smith’s Films are so Important to New Jersey and Pop Culture

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Red Bank, New Jersey’s very own Kevin Smith is a man in the film industry who has eschewed the need for introduction. His first major film project Clerks consistently ranks amongst the elite as one of the greatest independent films ever made. The movie also sparked an entire connected universe in which many of his films also take place including Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, Clerks II, and the upcoming Mallrats 2. The films feature a cast of many memorable characters, including the dynamic duo that appear in each of these films, Jay & Silent Bob (Silent Bob played by Smith himself).

Smith also frequently references his Garden State roots when speaking to various media. All of the previously mentioned films take place in or near Monmouth County and mention real places in the area. Chasing Amy features a few shots of Red Bank’s Broad Street neighborhood, and Clerks was filmed at a convenience store he worked at in Middletown. His currently running show, AMC’s Comic Book Men, is filmed inside Smith’s own comic book store, Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in Red Bank.

Out of all places Smith could choose to set these films, he chooses the ordinary suburban New Jersey region where he grew up. New York City always makes a decent film setting, so does LA, or even another major city like DC or Miami. Still, his film characters are distinctly suburban New Jersey-esque. Why did he choose to do that? Well, he’s often said he bases parts of his characters’ personalities off of his long-time friends from New Jersey. To me, he goes with setting his characters here because it’s what enables him to tell his story in the most realistic, yet funny ways possible, and that’s never a bad thing.

Smith’s success and notoriety as a filmmaker has only contributed to New Jersey having a more prominent role in media. Since Clerks emerged and made suburban New Jersey a prominent film setting, many other shows and movies have popped up featuring the state. For example, the show House was set in Princeton, and the Die Hard film series’ main character John McClane famously calls himself “The 007 of Plainfield, New Jersey” in the film  A Good Day to Die Hard. Smith’s artistry helped pave the way for New Jersey to no longer be considered as just a dirty landscape between NYC and Philadelphia in media stereotypes.

It’s not to say that New Jersey hasn’t had its fair share of garbage representation in the media, either. Shows like Jersey Shore have certainly created negative sentiments toward the state, but many of them haven’t stuck. The Jersey Shore fad has come and gone. Why didn’t they stick? Because shows like Jersey Shore have no substance to them. A show like that is one an audience member can sit back, mindlessly consume, and move on. Shows like that provoke no thought in the viewers’ minds. Smith’s works, however, do deliver something real for audiences to enjoy and to think about. His works treat viewers to a mix of outlandish and goofy moments, smartly-crafted jokes, and serious and thought-provoking scenes all within the confines of a single film.

So, Mr. Smith, I thank you for your labors. Your works have inspired countless aspiring filmmakers to pursue their passions and they have also given New Jersey in a positive media presence in pop culture.

To close, I’ll say this, “I wasn’t even supposed to write this today!”.

Product Spotlight: Shear Revival – Asbury Park NJ

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Most of my previous posts here have consisted of locations, brick and mortar places to visit, if you will. This time, I’m writing about an excellent line of men’s grooming products you can acquire either online or in select stores near you. What company makes these products, you ask? Well, that company is a superb Asbury Park-based company called Shear Revival.

Shear Revival is a company that uses natural ingredients to make their products. They offer a variety of great items such as both water and oil-based pomades, beard oil, shave oil, after shave, and even their own wooden combs. This is no chemical lab-based pomade that you buy at just any old store. You can apply these products and know they’re formulated to help you maintain healthy hair.

Mitch, my good friend and barber that I’ve mentioned on here before, introduced me to Shear Revival’s products. One day, as I strolled into Calabrese’s Barber Shop for another cut, Mitch suggested that I try out Shear Revival’s new Crystal Lake Water-based Pomade. After the haircut was finished, Mitch applied some Crystal Lake to my new cut, and I couldn’t have been happier with the result. I have been searching for something like Crystal Lake my whole life.

Shear Revival's Crystal Lake Pomade

Shear Revival’s Crystal Lake Pomade

As someone who personally isn’t a fan of oil-based pomades, I have been using water-based ones for a number of years now. Water-based pomades only stay in your hair until you decide to wash them out, as opposed to the oil ones taking a while. I’ve tried many other water-based pomades like Layrite, Shiner Gold, Uppercut, etc. While those pomades are also great products, I never liked how they made my hair so rigid and stiff. Crystal Lake doesn’t give your hair that look. Rather, Crystal Lake gives your hair a smooth, natural look that you can easily re-style throughout the day without making your hair appear greasy or full of product. I can run my fingers through my hair, and the hair will move with my hand and not stay stuck in one place, as opposed to other water-based pomades.

In short, Shear Revival is a local company that is bringing fantastic men’s grooming products to the consumer market that include all-natural ingredients to give your hair a healthy look that you can re-style throughout the day. Since I’ve started growing my beard again, I can’t wait to get my hands on some of their beard oil.

*All images taken from Shear Revival’s Website

Click Here for Shear Revival’s Website

Jack’s Music Shoppe: A Wholesome Garden State Record Store

Jack's Music Shoppe exterior - photo courtesy of Sound And Vision

Jack’s Music Shoppe exterior – photo courtesy of Sound And Vision

Right across from Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, you might see another storefront that once appeared in another Kevin Smith film. Jack’s Music Shoppe, a location featured briefly in Smith’s Chasing Amy, is a one-stop shop for all aspects of music.

I’ve gone to Jack’s for a number of years now. I always consider it a treat to visit there, and it’s great that a music store has such a prominent presence in a thriving downtown neighborhood.

Jack’s has it all. Vinyl, CD’s, DVD’s, and even sells musical instruments. Their selection of both new and used music is very thorough and fairly priced. While Jack’s is a great place to indulge in everything music, I’m not writing this blog post to solely praise the store’s vinyl selection or anything like that. Jack’s is a rare breed of quality music shops that are a prominent fixture in the community.

Anyone can acquire music over the Internet. Point, click, and in some cases, actually pay for the music to be downloaded directly to your device’s memory. Jack’s is one of those few places in the world that decide to say “NO” to the digital age and they do so with class. There’s just something different and better about purchasing a physical copy of your favorite music and taking it home with you.

Jack's interior facing the front entrance - Photo courtesy of The Lavender Luxury

Jack’s interior facing the front entrance – Photo courtesy of The Lavender Luxury

For a budding vinyl collector, Jack’s proves an excellent place to acquire a few staples you’d need as a base for your collection. They have a great selection of old, used records in the back where you can find some classic albums for less than even 5$. I acquired many a Zeppelin and Springsteen albums there when I began collecting.

From there, I moved to the front of the store where they featured all the new vinyl records. I bought a good chunk of many of my modern albums from those racks. Amongst those records, you won’t find the watered-down, substance-less pop and dance music that you’d find at the Urban Outfitters’ vinyl selection down the street. Jack’s is a great shop dedicated to real music and spreading it to the customers.

** OUT OF STATE POST ** Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum – Uniondale, NY

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Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum exterior – photo from Islanders Point Blank

Now many people would expect a guy that blogs about how great New Jersey is to be amongst the most rabid of Devils fans. Instead of an article about a place on Long Island, perhaps I would be writing something about the Prudential Center. While I probably will write something on Prudential Center and its role in Jersey culture later on, I wanted to make sure I wrote something about one hockey arena that I truly love beyond all the rest.

Coliseum interior during a New York Islanders game - Image taken from Islanders Point Blank

Coliseum interior during a New York Islanders game – Image taken from Islanders Point Blank

Indeed, I am not a New Jersey Devils fan. I didn’t get into sports until later in my teens, and as a result, I did not grow up with any particular teams like my father did. If my father had it his way, I’d be a fan of every single Philadelphia team. If my friends had it their way, I would be wearing Devils or Rangers jerseys. Thankfully, when I decided I would be a hockey fan and follow the NHL, I had the luxury of selecting a team outside of any external influences.

It all began when my good buddy Mitch (see the post about his workplace here) and I became friends. At the time, I had a budding interest in hockey but hadn’t selected a team to call my own just yet. I was originally torn between the Devils or the Bruins. Bailed on the Bruins because I wouldn’t be able to go to many home games and I didn’t choose the Devils because I didn’t feel like I connected with them as a franchise. Instead, my friend Mitch, who is originally from Long Island and a lifelong New York Islanders fan, was one of the first people who really talked to me about the sport. I learned most of my basic hockey knowledge from him and he happened to reference the Islanders a lot to help me understand.

I quickly began doing my homework on Islanders history and almost instantly felt a strange, indescribable connection to the team. While the Islanders are a very regional team with most of their fans hailing from Long Island, I did not have a geographical connection to the franchise. With the exception of Mitch, most of my friends are Rangers and Devils fans. However, something inside me told me to instinctively hate the Rangers and I already had a natural apathy toward the Devils. Thus, my Islanders fandom began.

I remember my first game at Nassau Coliseum. Mitch and I decided to spontaneously purchase tickets for an Islanders home game against the Buffalo Sabres and thankfully the Islanders won at my first home game. This was the first time I set foot inside the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. While some consider it a dump, others consider it home, I consider it something else entirely.

From the get-go, you can tell the Coliseum has had better years. Compared to a modern facility like the Devils’ Prudential Center, this place is ancient history. It just looks old, but not old in a decrepit way. It looks old in a respectful, classic fashion, at least in my opinion.

I feel Nassau Coliseum is a rare symbol of classic, old-time hockey that has survived into the 2010s. Many great, old NHL arenas have either been vacated by the league or demolished to have a new facility built to house the team in its stead. The Islanders are one of the teams that never had to relocate over the decades. They stayed in their old-time hockey facility and they continued to bring a wealth of tradition along with them. This building remains as it was when the Islanders won four consecutive Stanley Cup Championships in the early 1980s. I’ve got to tell you, just being and Islanders fan and looking up at the rafters and seeing all the banners and retired number hanging from the rafters, you can almost picture yourself jumping up and down in one of the seats as Bob Nystrom scored that overtime goal 1980 to claim the first Stanley Cup of the Islanders Dynasty. Nassau Coliseum is one of the last original arenas to have housed true hockey greatness.

Bob Nystrom just after he scored the overtime goal that won the Islanders their first Stanley Cup championship and began a legendary sports dynasty.

Bob Nystrom just after he scored the overtime goal that won the Islanders their first Stanley Cup championship and began a legendary sports dynasty. – Image taken from Newsday

While the Islanders have certainly faced dark eras in franchise history, each era did have players that made the games exciting. The original lineup featured storied Islanders alumni such as Eddie Westfall and JP Parise. The pre-Dynasty era began introducing the pieces needed to create the perfect team such as Potvin, Gillies, Trottier, Bossy, Nystrom, and Smith (the 6 names and numbers hanging from the rafters). Later on, the team saw some dark periods as the once-mighty franchise began a decline. Still, players like Pat LaFontaine and Ziggy Palffy added excitement and gave the fans someone to really cheer for.

This season, unfortunately, is the last season this old-time hockey powerhouse will host an NHL franchise. The Islanders will be moving to the more modern Barclays Center in Brooklyn next season. Thankfully, this current season is not a dark one for fans to leave with a sour taste in their mouths over. The team has seen tons of success this year. Captain John Tavares leading the league in points, goaltender Jaroslav Halak has already set two single-season franchise records, newly-acquired defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy have revitalized the team’s defense, and we’ve seen plenty memorable moments along the way during the venue’s final NHL season.

Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, while the time you and I have had together has been short, it has been very sweet. Thank you for housing a multitude of great hockey players and for being a place I could visit and feel instantly at home. Perhaps, the old Coliseum Magic will return this season and grant the Islanders one more Stanley Cup Championship to celebrate as the franchise says a bittersweet goodbye and moves westward.