It’s one of my favorite parts of going to stay with the in-laws for a couple of weeks at the holidays – the food. I love slowing down at the end of the year to take some time to spend with family. Part of that is all the running around my wife and I do. It always ends up with us just eating out somewhere. So, for our trip this year, I decided that I’d document the places we ate to write up a little food journal and share my meals with you all. The only problem? I didn’t decide to do this until we were halfway through the trip, so I missed out on a couple of spots. Next year! Restaurants attended but not pictured because we didn’t plan on putting this piece together at the time and didn’t take pictures: Court Jester, The Bagel Nook, Park Place Diner.
I think we ran to Rook just about every morning for the 10 days we were up there. It’s some of the best coffee I’ve ever had – specifically, their New Orleans style coffee with the chicory in it is unmatched. We do our best to work a trip in on the way home every year so that we can grab a couple of bags to bring with us for a little taste of that Rook action. There are a ton of Jersey transplants in the mid-state, so I’m stoked every time I see a Rook sticker on the back of someone’s car down here in Nashville. It truly is one of those things that people bond over. Rook > Starbucks > Dunkin’.
Pure, fresh ingredients shine at Nicholas Creamery – they’ve only been open for a few years now, but I can remember the first time I went in and tried one of their holiday flavors, I was blown away. I’ve been trying to sneak in visits here whenever we get a free moment on every trip since. There are some veritable ice cream institutions in New Jersey, and I feel like this might be blasphemous of me to say…but this is the best ice cream I’ve ever had up there. Hopefully, my in-laws will keep me. This year, I went with a scoop of egg nog and a scoop of Mexican hot chocolate in a cup. I love cayenne in anything, but there’s something about the spice it adds to chocolate ice cream that makes it such a unique and enjoyable flavor.
We stopped by Porta for some apps on a day when my wife and I were trying to kill time before a tattoo appointment. She said she’d been wanting to take me there, and I’ve never been. With no plans whatsoever, I said why not? It seemed like a hell of a place to sit at the bar, have a beer, and hang out for a bit. But, that wasn’t the vibe that day. We were seated and ordered the ricotta and meatballs. The ricotta was served with fresh bread, and I had to ask my wife at least twice if that was just straight up butter because it was so smooth. But, if you love that ricotta flavor, this was about as fresh and pure as it comes. I love the rich punch of a good home cooked tomato sauce. A hearty meatball is one thing, but it doesn’t mean much if it’s in some Chef Boyardee ass sauce. That wasn’t the case here – that sauce tasted like it was made with love. Our snacks had me wanting to come back for dinner.
It’s an old favorite of mine – see, we don’t get good fresh seafood down here in Nashville. Or at least, if we do, I’ve gotten so far behind on the scene that I don’t know about it. Whenever we head back to New Jersey, it’s a chance for me to get some good fresh seafood. Barnacle Bill’s has yet to disappoint. To this day, they’re the best crab cakes I’ve ever had. I’ve had some that had too much breading. I’ve had some that have had too much crab. But, these were just right, and they have the slightest tinge of sweetness to them that make them stand out. My wife had some sort of garlic shrimp that I can’t recall the exact name of, but it was fantastic too. She usually gets an order of the steamers as an appetizer, but I haven’t gone that far yet.
Of all the restaurants we’ve eaten at in New Jersey, Federici’s may be the GOAT. It’s a special place for our family. I’ve been fortunate enough to share in many big family meals here, and while the food and service never disappoint, it’s always the fun family conversations that stand out in my mind. That makes it really hard to write about objectively! The pizza is the real deal. It’s that stuff we just don’t get around Nashville. But, I had their seafood alfredo on this trip, and it just about changed my life. Smooth and creamy, and plentiful enough to feed a family of four. The care that Federici’s puts into their food is evident from the first bite.
Stoney Keeley is the Editor in Chief of The SoBros Network, and a Dogs Playing Poker on velvet connoisseur. He is a strong supporter of Team GSD, #BeBetter, and ‘Minds right, asses tight.’ “Big Natural” covers the Tennessee Titans, Nashville, Yankee Candle, and a whole wealth of nonsense. Follow on Twitter @StoneyKeeley.
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