Jersey at its best: 5 Great Diners in Central Jersey

Besides the Shore, Springsteen, and Porkroll, New Jersey is known for one other industry in which they’ve basically cornered the market – Diners! As a child growing up in Middlesex County, I’ve had many-a-meals at such establishments across all of Central Jersey. So, for this post, I decided I’d dish out my opinions on my top-five diners in the area. Keep in mind, these are my opinions, not any formal ranking by any professional food critic.

1. Park Ave Diner – South Plainfield, NJ

Park Ave Diner front view. Taken from diner’s website.

The good old Park Ave Diner is, well, really not that old. I remember coming here as a kid with my father back when it was called Cafe Everest and had a WAY different look to it, outside and inside. A few years ago, the diner was bought and the new owner renovated and revamped the place to make it what it is today. While The Park Ave Diner is a newer contender in the diner industry, but it still serves all those classic diner staples as well as some really cool specials. Every time I come in here, I always take a look at the specials they’re offering that day, and I can always find one that fits my liking. They also do an excellent job on pancakes and their cheddar and broccoli bites have become a favorite of mine. You can even buy beer here, which is something you normally can’t do at too many diners in the area.

2. Scotchwood Diner – Scotch Plains, NJ

Scotchwood Diner seen from Route 22. Image taken from panoramio.com.

Scotchwood Diner is a place I’ve gone to many times throughout my life. I’ve always looked forward to trips here because this diner has a really cool old-time look to it without looking decrepit or run-down. The menu item I remember most vividly sticking out in my mind is the seafood bisque soup they serve on some days. I really hope that soup is still around! Either way, their food doesn’t deviate too far off classic diner foods, but the quality is always good. The coolest part of this place might be the personal jukeboxes at every table. You’ll be sure to find some great classic rock tunes in their song selections.

3. All Seasons Diner – Eatontown, NJ

All Seasons Diner interior. Image taken from Asbury Park Press.

All Seasons Diner is located right across Route 36 from the Monmouth Mall and is about a five-to-ten minute drive from the beach. This diner is seriously cool, due in part to its interior. Just look at the lit-up glass dividers everywhere, and the layered ceiling lights going down the center of the room. It creates a very modern atmosphere to complement its classic diner food. I’ve enjoyed many different menu items here and the specials are always intriguing. For those of you taking a trip down to the shore this summer, this place provides a great meal option for anyone. The only complaint I have about this place is that it’s one of the few diners I’ve been to that isn’t 24-hour.

4. Fountainbleau Diner – South Plainfield/Piscataway, NJ

Fountainbleau Diner exterior seen from Stelton Road. Image taken from diner’s website.

Fountainbleau is another great diner in the Middlesex County area on Stelton Road right by Rt 287. It’s in one of those neighborhoods where you can’t tell whether you’re in South Plainfield or Piscataway, which is a common occurrence in that area. It’s also not too far outside the Rutgers New Brunswick neighborhood either. The one thing I like the most about this place is their coffee. While most diner coffees all taste the same for the most part, this place has an especially tasty coffee if you take yours light and sweet.

5. Menlo Park Diner – Edison, NJ

Menlo Park Diner exterior seen from Route 1. Image taken from nj.com.

Ah, Menlo Park Diner. It’s situated on the Route 1 roadside right next to the Menlo Park Mall. On on side of the lot, there’s a giant commercial complex, on the other side, there’s a park. It’s a diner situated between two different environments, but for me, it was always a cool place to go when I was a high school mallrat. If you want to know what a real classic, chromed-out diner looks like, look no further! This place is as classic as a diner gets.

Five Great Musical Artists from New Jersey that Aren’t on a Major Label

I’ve mentioned in previous posts how New Jersey is currently home to a bustling indie music scene. There are many venues for independent artists to play throughout the entire state. Now, when most people think of great music from New Jersey, they often think Springsteen or Bon Jovi. What many fail to realize is that there are a handful of other great artists to have come from the Garden State. This post explores musicians that are either still currently based in New Jersey or have originated from here and have gained notoriety in the scene they are a part of.

5. The Ugly Club – Union County

The Ugly Club has existed in various incarnations over the past few years, and each time they redirect their musical identity, they only get better. Though they’ve since hopped on the train to Brooklyn, I’ll always first remember them as a local New Jersey band that captured the hearts and ears of listeners in venues throughout the Union County area. What’s the best way to describe their sound, you might ask? Think of their sound as smooth indie rock that takes cues from a plethora of psychadelic influences – and the best part: they deliver a great live performance. This is a band that is not afraid to be different, and each time they’ve released new material, no two songs of theirs end up sounding the same (in a good way!). To get a taste of their newer material, check out their singles “Passengers” and “The Lonely”. 

4. The Gray Company – Union Township, NJ

Union Township-based quartet, The Gray Company, are a recent favorite of mine in the local scene. A couple of years ago, I was involved in a band with drummer Josh Howard and guitarist Jason Fandino. At the time, Jason was our keyboardist, and I am now positively blown away by the incredible songs he’s written for the Gray Company on guitar. Josh has always been an excellent drummer, and he’s gotten even better. Vocalist Zebeeb Awalom and bassist Adrian Kabigting are also great musicians as well. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing my old bandmates play with their new bandmates in The Gray Company a few times over the past few months, and I knew that The Gray Company was the perfect band for them. The music is best described as a highly-dynamic indie rock that boldly experiments and never falls flat. When Josh told me they were planning a tour, I only got more excited to see where that adventure will take them.

3. Steve Kelly – Cranford, NJ

Steve Kelly is another old bandmate of mine who played in the same group I played in with Josh and Jason from the Gray Company. Steve is just one of those special musicians with a natural talent that can’t be taught in a music lesson. With just his voice and an acoustic guitar, he’s able to fill out the room without the aid of a backing band. His music teeters on a fine line between old school emo and modern indie rock, but in a way that doesn’t sound played-out one bit. His live performances often feature a mix of creative covers and superb originals with a bunch of great deadpan jokes in between. Since he’s a very active performer in the Union County scene, you’re bound to find him playing at a venue on any given night.

2. The Front Bottoms – Woodcliff Lake, NJ

Over the past couple of years, The Front Bottoms have exploded in the touring scene, perhaps thanks in part to Say Anything’s Max Bemis taking a liking to them. Their danceable, catchy indie rock coupled with singer/guitarist Brian Sella’s witty and humorous lyrics have catapulted the band into international popularity (many of their lyrics refer to their home in the Garden State, too). The most impressive part? They’ve done all of this without any help from major labels. This band is as DIY as DIY gets in music.

1. Into it. Over it. – Cherry Hill, NJ

Though Into it. Over it. – a.k.a. Evan Weiss, has based most of his musical career out of Chicago, he has mentioned his South Jersey roots many times during live performances and media appearances over the years. While growing up in Cherry Hill, he formed his first touring outfit, the Progress, and the rest has been history for him. Since moving to Chicago, Weiss has led the charge in the current re-emergence of real emo music and has successfully played a large part in ridding peoples’ conception of emo music being played by kids in Hot Topic skinny jeans and Warped Tour t-shirts singing about how sad they are all the time. Instead, Weiss delivers a very sophisticated and intriguing sound layered with very intricate guitar and drum work coupled with honest lyrics that explore a large catalog of thoughts and tell a library of personal stories. While I imagine it is a special treat to see Weiss and his live band perform in his adopted hometown of Chicago, it’s always been a great experience seeing him play in the Garden State.

Product Spotlight: Shear Revival, Round 2 – Elm Street Lightweight Pomade

elmstreet1Back again after trying a different Shear Revival pomade, and I must say, I am once again thoroughly impressed. It’s awesome that 1) Shear Revival’s products are consistent in premium quality and 2) They’re American made and are based in the Garden State.

As I mentioned before in my post on the company’s Crystal Lake Water-based Pomade, I am not a big fan of oil-based pomades. This is because many oil based pomades you’ll find in most stores are just chemical labs in a can with ingredients you can barely pronounce. If I can’t pronounce the ingredients’ names, I don’t want them sitting in my hair; as oil-based hair products tend to stay in the hair much longer than water-based.

However, today I decided I would try an oil-based pomade, as I always have my hair styled and I would like something that stays put for a longer period of time. Of course, knowing Crystal Lake was a great product made with natural ingredients, I had no hesitation to try a Shear Revival oil-based pomade for my first foray into this type of product.

elmstreet2

As with Crystal Lake, the packaging on Elm Street is seriously cool. The minimalist fedora icon, an obvious reference to the Nightmare on Elm Street film series, looks sleek and strong. The blue plastic canister with the metal lid also adds a lot of understated depth to the packaging which makes it a stylish statement piece in itself. The pomade itself smells exactly as the company’s website describes: “a clean oak & citrus scent” and it is a scent I am more than okay with carrying on my person.

After a few hours with a moderate amount of the product in my hair, the hold stays true to form. What’s great about both Shear Revival pomades that I’ve tried is that they hold the form you desire for your hair, but they do not leave your hair dry and sticky. You can comb and re-comb all day without any resistance from the product.

However, the best part about Shear Revival’s products is that they are made with natural ingredients. With ingredients like organic castor oil, pure jojoba oil, organic beeswax, shea butter, and coconut oil, you know that what you’re putting in your hair is not a toxic batch of artificial chemicals. Rather, Shear Revival’s products are committed to giving your hair an excellent look and a healthy lifespan with natural ingredients.

You can grab your own canister of this quality product on the Shear Revival Website or pay a visit to one of the places that carry it like Calabrese’s Barber Shop.

(All images taken from Shear Revival’s website)

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

Kevin_Smith_(7492355720)

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

shearrevivallogo

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.

Calabrese’s Barber Shop: Where Classic Style Meets Quality Craftsmanship

cbbs(Photo Courtesy of Yelp!.)

Situated amidst Keyport, New Jersey’s Front Street Neighborhood, amongst all the antique shops, tattoo parlors, and eateries, lies Calabrese’s Barber Shop – a modern establishment with a true, classic atmosphere that stands out amongst other places where people simply go for a haircut.

Once opening the door, first-time patrons may feel the impression they’ve just stepped back in time. The old time country music playing on the radio, classic-style barber chairs, the antique cash register, and a display case featuring a mini museum of vintage and antique barbering products all contribute to Calabrese’s Barber Shop’s authentic and timeless atmosphere that many other shops try to replicate and rarely succeed.

I first visited the shop about two years ago when my friend Mitch introduced the place to me. At the time, he had aspirations to become a barber himself and was learning tricks of the trade from shop owner, Chris Calabrese. Fast forward two years later, and now Mitch is a licensed barber giving excellent haircuts at Calabrese’s Barber Shop.

Some might ask, beyond the shop’s design points, why is it a unique place worth visiting? Well, from my personal experiences there, I’ll explain.

As I started frequenting the place more often, I realized Calabrese’s Barber Shop is not just a place where people just sit silently while getting their haircut and leave. The reason this place is a true classic barber shop is due to the fact that it also holds a strong community presence. It is not uncommon for many people in the community to pop open the shop’s door just to say hello. The barbers and regular patrons are very friendly people that create a welcoming environment for any first-time customer.

Now, there’s one aspect I haven’t quite touched on just yet: the actual haircuts. The three barbers there: Chris, Ben, and Mitch are all professionally licensed barbers with a lot of experience under their belts, so any apprehensive customer can leave their pre-haircut anxiety at the door. Customers can ask for a variety of both classic and modern cuts and walk away more than satisfied with the outcome.

The shop also carries a selection of excellent hair products, mostly manufactured by Layrite and Asbury Park, NJ-based company Shear Revival. These are the products they will use to style your hair, which you can purchase yourself to get the same style at home.

To sum this all up, Calabrese’s Barber Shop is, in my opinion, the best barber shop in the area. Friendly, highly-skilled barbers put all their effort into giving customers the best experience possible. For a real authentic barber shop, look no further than here.

Calabrese’s Barber Shop Facebook Page

Shear Revival Website (subject of future blog post!)