Best of NJ 2014: Food and Drink

Where are the best places to nosh in New Jersey? Our readers picked the best spots to find bagels, wings, cupcakes and more!

Assorted cupcakes from Sugarush in Red Bank, the best candy/chocolatier in New Jersey.
Photo by Yvonne Albinowski

Bagels
Goldberg’s Famous Deli & Bagel Chateau in Millburn added the “Goldberg” part of its name last year, “because we’re not just bagels,” says co-owner Tina Goldberg. “We have everything from matzo ball soup to arugula salad.” Still, its 30 varieties of puffy bagels are so satisfying that, should you call when lines are out the door, whoever answers the phone may very well hang up with the words, “Too busy.” (325 Millburn Avenue; 973-376-4777)

REGIONAL WINNERS: Bagel Masters, Shrewsbury; Delicious Bagels, Point Pleasant

Butcher
John’s Meat Market has been a purveyor of quality meat for 75 years. But it’s not just the cuts of beef that keep customers coming back to the Scotch Plains store, it’s the cut of the staff’s jib. “We know where the cattle comes from,” says co-owner Vincent Losazio. “We hand-cut the beef and grind it ourselves so we know what we’re offering our customers.” (389 Park Avenue; 908-322-7126)

REGIONAL WINNERS:
Monmouth Meats, Red Bank; Lenny’s Colonial Ranch Market, Point Pleasant

Gourmet Shop
Delicious Orchards has been a Colts Neck institution for more than 100 years. Originally known for its apple orchard, then its apple pie, it now boasts a full bakery as well as meats and cheeses, coffees and teas, seafood and prepared food, and excellent fresh produce. Some 2.5 million customers visit annually; virtually all grab a cup of fresh apple cider on the way out. (320 Highway 34; 732-462-1989)

REGIONAL WINNERS: Tom the Green Grocer, Scotch Plains; Joe Leone’s, Point Pleasant

Health Food Store

Grassroots Natural Market of Denville supplies customers with natural and organic groceries and homeopathic medicine. The independently owned store—there’s a second location in Morristown—prides itself on sourcing products locally, when possible. Grassroots also goes out of its way to carry hard-to-find brands suggested by customers and staff. (20 1st Avenue; 973-627-5440)

REGIONAL WINNERS:
Whole Earth Center, Princeton

Sports Bar
The Office Beer Bar & Grill takes the words game day seriously. Each of its six locations in North and Central New Jersey has 10 to 15 flat-screen TVs and offers beer and food specials keyed to football, baseball, hockey and basketball games. During March Madness, the Office goes for a slam dunk with a $100,000 grand prize for a perfect bracket and a flat-screen TV for the best bracket at each location. Burgers, wings, disco fries and every other item on the special Gameday Menus are $6 or less.

REGIONAL WINNERS:
Mad Hatter, Sea Bright; The Spot, Point Pleasant Beach

Wings

Whether you prefer your wings slathered in honey-sweet Beesting sauce or MediYUMMM, there’s a flavor for you at the Chicken or the Egg, an iconic eatery in Beach Haven on Long Beach Island. The Chegg, as regulars call it, attracts an all-night crowd during the summer season. And with 16 kinds of wings to choose from, it’s little wonder that beachgoers keep coming back. The secret ingredient? “It’s all the love we put into them,” says co-owner Craig Cohen. (207 North Bay Avenue; 609-492-3695)

REGIONAL WINNERS:
Biggie’s Clam Bar, Carlstadt; Tommy’s Coal-Fired Pizza, Red Bank

Candy/Chocolatier
Sugarush in Red Bank caters to the serious sweet tooth. Take the cupcake bar: “Start with a naked cupcake and let us know how you want to dress it,” says co-owner Chris Paseka. “We have hundreds of icings and toppings and fun stuff.” Sugarush also has a wall of candy with modern favorites and retro treats like Necco wafers. “We want adults to feel like a kid in here,” Paseka says. The store’s event space has birthday parties most weekends. (37 East Front Street; 732-414-9044)

REGIONAL WINNERS:
Brummer’s Chocolates, Westfield; Mrs. Hanna Krause Candy, Toms River

Cannoli
Calandra’s stuffs its crunchy cannoli shells with a mix of dry and semi-dry ricottas for a filling that’s moister than most. There’s no candied fruit in the filling—just chocolate chips, pure cane sugar and “some secret flavors” that bakery general manager Joe Silva won’t name. “Eat the cannoli,” he says. “You’ll find out what makes it special.” The three locations sell about 1,000 cannoli each weekday and 3,000 to 4,000 each weekend. (Newark, Fairfield and Caldwell)

REGIONAL WINNERS:
La Rosa’s, Shrewsbury; Joe Leone’s, Point Pleasant

Cupcakes

A newcomer on the cupcake scene, 2 Sweet in Woodland Park is winning fans with creative flavor combinations like chocolate peanut butter fudge and vanilla chai. “We try to keep it simple but appeal to everyone’s taste,” says owner Angela Schafer. The shop also offers cheesecakes, cake-pops and custom-made cakes. (279 Browerton Road, 973-638-1973)

REGIONAL WINNERS:
Sugarush, Red Bank; Mueller’s Bakery, Bay Head

Cocktails
The outdoor patio at the Stage House Tavern in Scotch Plains is an ideal spot to sample carefully crafted concoctions, such as their classic Cosmopolitan. “We’re constantly practicing our drinks to make them perfect,” says bar manager Kyle Wilner. “We want to make sure every guest has the same experience, no matter who’s behind the bar.” A favorite is the Stoli Surprise, a fruity concoction consisting of…surprise—Wilner won’t say. The dinner menu includes ample appetizer, salad and entrée choices. Also in Somerset. (366 Park Avenue; 908-322-4224)

Ninety Acres in Peapack-Gladstone not only makes memorable cocktails, it’s an unforgettable place to enjoy your drink, whether around the outdoor firepits, at the bar or in the Cognac Lounge, a handsome room with corner banquettes, leather armchairs and a 15-foot-long communal table. Four times a year the bar staff creates a menu of seasonal cocktails using ingredients from the farm just beyond the back door. The most popular of those join a rotating list of best-selling originals such as the Smashed Pumpkin (poached pear vodka, pumpkin butter, simple syrup, cava sparkling wine). A likely addition? Pigs in an Orchard, made with bacon-infused bourbon, spiced-apple cider syrup, apple schnapps, fresh apple and lemon. (2 Main Street; 908-901-9500)

Since opening in 2011 in Point Pleasant Beach, 709 has been drawing a crowd eager to sample its creative cocktails. “Our bartenders are always coming in with new ideas,” says owner Carl LaManna. Flavor-infused liquors are all house made. Seasonal specials are especially popular. Recent favorites: the Pumpkin Martini (whiskey and vanilla vodka) and the Apple Mojito (apple-infused rum and cinnamon syrup). The dinner menu includes sushi, pizzas and a raw bar. Happy hour runs 4 to 7 pm daily. (709 Arnold Avenue; 732-295-0709)

Wine Shops
Wine Library has grown way beyond its multistory retail location in Springfield. Owner Gary Vaynerchuk’s Wine Library TV show on the Internet has transformed his store into a destination for online wine buyers across the country. Vice president of operations Brandon Warnke says the digital component is only getting stronger: “We’re about to launch a brand-new version of our website that will offer customers much more flexibility on their phones.” (586 Morris Avenue; 973-376-0005)

Owner Gary Fisch and his staff at Gary’s Wine & Marketplace consider themselves “personal wine advisers” to their “guests.” This is only one reason the Gary’s empire has expanded since 1987 to four locations, including the newly uncorked Hillsborough store. By the time the new 9,000-square-foot store is finished, it will be even larger than the group’s places in Madison, Bernardsville and Wayne. Each store offers gourmet goodies in addition to a large selection of wine, spirits and beer. Then there’s the Gary’s website, which lists 3,000 labels.

Canal’s Bottlestop in Marlton stands out from the rest of the Original Canal’s franchise stores thanks to its emphasis on wines. “We pick and choose what we think is the best available,” says wine buyer and general manager Rob Pierce. “We pretty much taste wine every day.” Recognizable by their red-and-yellow signboards, the 10 Original Canal’s franchises are staples in South Jersey. Not to be confused with the Joe Canal’s chain, Canal’s distinguishes itself with discount pricing. The Bottlestop boasts an easily searchable, up-to-the-minute website and rotates wine inventory regularly. Bottle origins tilt toward California and Italy, with price points ranging from budget to high-end. (10 West Route 70, 800-327-5054)

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