We had some great trips all over America, but New Jersey always feels like home and has some awesome food!
The way to see America is by car; it’s made for it. So with the keys to our rental car ready we started our drive from NYC, through New Jersey and into Philly. It was on this journey that our new catchphrase was born “Aah.. the open road – livin’ the American dream!” – which was predominantly used while A) stuck in traffic or B) totally lost.
We arrived in Philadelphia with one single goal in mind; no, it wasn’t to visit Independence Hall, or take a tour around Declaration House where Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, it wasn’t even to marvel at the statue of Rocky and shout at the top of my lungs ‘ADRIAN!’
It was to binge on the one and only Philly Cheese Steak.
A Philly Cheesesteak is magical thing, uber thin wafers of beef steak fried hard and fast with a topping of sloppy onions and some good ol’ fashioned American cheese slices that melt through the mesh of onions until eventually caressing the beef underneath. This is lovingly cradled in the bakers womb of a soft American hoagie..and occassionally jazzed up with a few jalapeno peppers. There are a dozen variations, but for me; that is the one I always remember. For sure the cheese doesn’t resemble anything remotely close to real cheese and it is far from healthy or pretty for that matter, but that isn’t the point. It is sheer indulgent comfort food, and my God is it satisfying. So much so that after we finished our Cheesesteaks we bought another one for the drive to Princeton – yes, I actually feel slightly dirty even admitting that. But being honest, there really is no end to the amount of steak infused oil I’m willing to let drip down my chin..
Guilt free and bellies full, we arrive in Princeton, New Jersey. I’ve lived in New Jersey for about five years in total with one of those years being in Princeton. Princeton is a gorgeous rarity in the US; Nassau Street is the main artery that meanders through the center of town. Princeton has an old world charm about it; a colonial village vibe; big wide clean streets, pretty large houses, a strong local community all within walking distance to the high street. Everything just feels rather spacious and traditional. There is lots of green (which you’d expect in the Garden State) with a ton of cool entertainment; lots of live music, micro-breweries and a very popular book club. The Ivy League university is stunning; dripping with historical aesthetic beauty, it is wonderful (and if memory serves me correct has some very lively and hospitable fraternity parties).
Carnegie river flows around Princeton with a couple of mom and pop outfits renting canoes in the summer months in case you fancy becoming one with nature or just a quiet beer while floating down the river.
But for all it’s offerings there are two things I remember most; the hospitality of the Princetonian’s and some great food. I couldn’t name the number of friends I made in Princeton but I can’t forget tasting my mate Greg’s mum’s pork chops in maple syrup for the first time. The other gastro-memory is queueing up outside PJ`s Pancake House on the weekends to get my fix of their delicious, fluffy stack of pancakes swimming in maple syrup. In fact you ever happen to find yourself in PJ’s Pancake House – have a look at the wooden counter to your right as you walk in; marked with a thousand customer engravings in front of the third stall from the left you will find my declaration of love to my wife in the form of a badly carved heart shape with ‘Theo + AN’ inside (I got my dimensions wrong and couldn’t fit Anna’s name in…).
While strolling around the grounds of Princeton university we bumped into a tour group and decided that if we kept our distance we could get away with tagging along, for free. We subtly followed the group oblivious to the disapproving glances we were receiving from the rest of the group. But the student tour guide decided to involve us and before we knew it we were very much in the thick of it; asking questions and responding with the appropriate oooh’s and aaah’s. It wasn`t until the tour finished at the Student Enrolment Office and half the younger members of the group started to complete their enrolment forms did we realise that this was in fact the prospective student tour. Glancing at each other and with a quick shrug of the shoulders we put our names down – it really is a very nice campus.
We drove back to the rental car place, got a lift to the bus stop and without incident arrived back at our friends apartment in Manhatten – our urban oasis of comfort and promised them that we would leave soon.