Best of Jersey

We in the Garden State need to start demanding more. Here are a bunch who deliver.

People & Places

PUNDIT Does anyone arch an eyebrow with more irony than Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert, the political wit of Montclair? With the Democrats taking over Congress this month, he’s got a whole new vein of “truthiness” to tap.

FUN PLACE FOR KIDS (WINTER DIVISION) For kid-friendly warmth and coziness, you can’t beat Northlandz, the Flemington wonderland with the old-fashioned choo-choo trains, doll museum, massive pipe organ, and old-fashioned soda fountain. All aboard!

FUN PLACE FOR KIDS (SPRING DIVISION) The Turtleback Zoo in West Orange teaches youngsters the lessons of wildlife without the pricetag of a Serengeti safari.

FUN PLACE FOR KIDS (FALL DIVISION) Acres of pumpkins at Alstede Farms in Chester beg to be picked—the best excuse you’ll need to ditch the NFL on a Sunday and hang out with your kids. Bonus: homemade ice cream sold on premises.

FUN PLACE FOR KIDS (SUMMER division) Can’t face another haul to the Shore or Great Adventure? Bowcraft Amusement Park in Scotch Plains offers family fun, lots of kiddie rides, and two cool coasters.

REASON TO HUG LOVED ONES Whether or not you agree with our presence in Iraq, we owe a debt of gratitude to the 50 New Jersey soldiers who have died in combat. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families—and with the remaining men and women stationed there and around the world.

CHIC SPOT (NORTH) After drinks at Lua in Hoboken, you might never wander across the Hudson for cocktails again.

CHIC SPOT (SOUTH) At Daddy O, the new Rat Pack–inspired Vegas-style nightspot in Brant Beach, you’ll half expect to see Dino, Frank, and Sammy sauntering in for happy hour.

SURFING BEACH Whether you’re the next Kelly Slater or just an SUV-driving mom looking to please kids who know their way around a big breaker, Ship Bottom has a board—and a wave—with your name on it.

BENIGN SHORELINE Due to the natural contours of the South Jersey coast, the waves break in a rolling, more gentle pattern that allows kids to splash around and keeps parents relatively calm.

NATURAL WONDER Tillman Ravine in Stokes State Forest, Branchville, captures the unspoiled beauty of nature with pine and hemlock forests sheltering a mountain spring in the shadow of the Kittatinny Mountains.

SHOPPING MECCA The safest bet in Atlantic City comes in a shopping bag. Killer outlets + the Quarter at the Trop + the shiny new Pier at Caesars (think Short Hills south) = charge it!

TRADITION Kids can still enjoy the treasured sledding sanctuary that is Stokes Hill in Moorestown thanks to the locals who fought like mad to preserve it. Generations have taken their Flexible Flyers there for winter joyrides.

CASINO The Borgata isn’t just the most elegant casino in Atlantic City, boasting European glamour and a scintillating spa: it also yields the highest return on slot players’ money—92.7 percent. Cha-ching!

BROADWAY STAR (female) Christine Ebersole has already become the critics’ de facto 2007 Best Actress Tony winner for her hypnotizing performance in Grey Gardens. After the curtain closes, the Maplewood resident goes home to husband Bill, their three children, and her other Tony (for 42nd Street).

ON-THE-RISE ATHLETE The pride of St. Joseph’s High in Metuchen is Plainsboro native Andrew Bynum, who last year at 18 became the youngest person ever to play in the NBA. Now he’s trying to help the storied L.A. Lakers back to a title.

COMPOSER Scotch Plains native Marc Shaiman, who has won an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony (the latter for the score to the Broadway smash Hairspray), crafts melodies you hum long after you leave the theater. Of his five Oscar nominations, the bio at his web site (www.marcshaiman.com) proudly declares: “He has lost each and every time!”

MOTHER/DAUGHTER FASHION FIX Six Clothing in Haddonfield stocks fashions for moms and daughters who share a passion for denim, bulky sweaters, and sizzling tank tops. Handcrafted jewelry for mom and shorts paired with leggings for daughter keep everyone happy.

BOOKSTORE For browsing old and new tomes in a ye-olde-book-shoppe atmosphere, head to the striped awning of the Montclair Book Center. Unlike at Barnes & Noble, it even smells like a bookstore.

ACTOR We need brooding, intense, but oddly lovable Andre Braugher to work more. The Emmy-winning South Orange resident—best known for his portrayal of Detective Frank Pembleton on NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street in the ’90s—stars this year in the sequel to last summer’s blockbuster Fantastic Four. Make that fantastic five.

GUITAR HERO Robert Randolph was 16 when he started playing church music on his pedal-steel guitar at the House of God in Orange, where his mom and dad were minister and deacon. Then he heard a Stevie Ray Vaughan recording. Twelve years later, the Morristown resident has been nominated for a Grammy, Rolling Stone named him one of the 100 best guitar players of all time, and Robert Randolph & The Family Band is spreading the message of “rockspel” music, a raucously joyous sound. Pick up Colorblind, his latest CD, to hear for yourself.

INDEPENDENT MUSIC SOURCE The staff at marsRED in Haddonfield knows more than most music-store clerks, and even better, they’re not snotty about it. If owner Scott Welborn has never heard of the artist you’re raving about, he’ll look ’em up. marsRED takes 5 percent off special orders, gives good-grade discounts to students, and has a vast supply of used CDs, DVDs, video games and books (yes, they buy back and trade). They also have fab T-shirts for sale.

SINGER/SONGWRITER Montville native Pete Yorn just put out his fifth album, Nightcrawler, to yet more critical acclaim. He’s culled his inspirations from a variety of sources and brings a literate sensibility to a sound all his own.

JOB TITLE Tom Gilmour, Director of Commerce and Good Times, for Asbury Park. The title’s whimsy aside, Gilmour is dogged in his efforts to restore the town to its former glory—one event, one new resident, and one business at a time.

ANNIVERSARY Ten years of NJPAC is a live-venue triumph.

NEW FACE (SPORTS) Bobby Sanguinetti grew up in the Philadelphia Flyers’ backyard of Cherry Hill, but his dad was a rabid New York Rangers nut. Now the Rangers’ first-round pick in the 2006 draft is tearing it up for their junior farm team—with an eye on Madison Square Garden sooner rather than later.

OLD FACE (SPORTS) Why hasn’t Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, destined for the NHL Hall of Fame, gotten more ink? Oh, yeah. ’Cause he plays hockey.

old face (politics) Can we already pine for Richard Codey’s gubernatorial presence? You bet.

faceoff (politics) Governor Jon S. Corzine knows Wall St. power struggles—and balanced ledger sheets—and he shut down the government to prove it. It served notice that change is coming. The future won’t be easy, but the present ain’t been so great, either.

MOVER AND SHAKER Bart Oates, the former Giants center, is a lawyer, real-estate developer, and the man who turned the New Jersey Sports Hall of Fame into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, where artists, writers, scientists, musicians, entertainers, historical figures, and anyone else who deserves the honor will sit in the Garden State pantheon. For the first time, there will even be a building for the hall. Go to njhalloffame.com to check out the inaugural class and learn more.

UNLIKELY POLITICAL HERO Georgine DiMaria, the 2006 Miss New Jersey, refused to sign on to a pageant-sponsored youth anti-smoking campaign in partnership with RJ Reynolds. DiMaria, who suffers from asthma, gently reminded the company that almost a quarter of high school kids light up in part because of their easy access to RJR products. There she is!

CAREER CHANGE Paul Gaffney, the president of Monmouth University, took over in 2003 after retiring as a vice admiral in the U.S. Navy. He’s as crisp as his students are scruffy, but the university is growing and gaining prestige through its Polling Institute, athletic programs (the hoops team made the NCAA tournament last year), and, most importantly, academics.

HUMANITARIAN EFFORT New Brunswick’s St. Peter’s Hospital delivers the most babies in the state; now it has sent a team to Guatemala—which ranks among the nations with the highest infant mortality rate (45 in 1,000)—to bring help and hope.

PET SHOP Jake’s Dog House in Marlton, Deptford and Atlantic City, sells anything you need to pamper your pet, like gourmet hand-made dog treats and pricey outfits. At the Marlton shop, you can even have your dog’s nails done. Eagles green is popular among male dog owners.

COLUMNIST He looks more like Jimmy Olsen than Edward R. Murrow, but the Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran combines keen insight, timely commentary, and the occasional withering zinger in his observations of the loony landscape that is New Jersey state politics.

AUTHOR Princeton-born John McPhee, winner of the 1999 Pulitzer for literature, paints the human experience in precise, lyrical strokes. He’s a hall of famer for The Pine Barrens alone, but his latest, Uncommon Carriers, fortifies his reputation.

DO-GOODERS (TIE) The state is full of committed people pulling off miracles large and small in order to make a difference. A few that have caught our attention: The Center for Non-Profits, in North Brunswick, which spreads the wealth to those who need it, even in the face of ever-dwindling resources; the Midland School, the North Branch home to specialized programs for those with developmental difficulties; and Arts Unbound, the Orange-based organization headed by executive director Catherine Lazen that provides educational and studio space to the physically and mentally disabled.

TELEVISION SHOW Those ever-watchable Sopranos get all the ink, but if anyone was going to take James Gandolfini’s Emmy (nomination and statue), Hugh Laurie and House, set in the fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Hospital, is worthy.

REVIVAL Bruce Springsteen’s We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions—both the CD and the concert tour—show an artist still surprising and challenging us. Who’d have guessed the Boss would headline a show that featured a kick-ass tuba solo?

TUNE The syrupy lyrics of “(Who Says) You Can’t Go Home” by Jon Bon Jovi may be one step above High School Musical, but the song’s got a great beat you can really dance to. The state agrees: It’s now the official jingle for travel and tourism. Rock on.

PLACE TO LIVE Arthur Stern’s renovation of 1180 Raymond Blvd in Newark is a 36-story treasure. Abandoned for 22 years, the building has been transformed into one- and two-bedroom apartments with amenities like four bowling lanes in the basement, Xbox stations with 50-inch plasma screens, billiards and card rooms, and a workout center. And the views of New York? Fabulous.

2006 LEGISLATION The state’s long-awaited smoking ban in public places is a breath of fresh air for all, unless you’re stuck working in—cough! cough!—an Atlantic City casino.

WINE CELLAR The clubhouse at Crystal Springs in Hamburg boasts more than 40,000 bottles. Would you like some aged cheese with that?

BLOG PoliticsNJ.com has all—and we do mean all—the latest gossip from the Statehouse and beyond. Former Yankee pitcher Al Leiter possibly running for Frank Lautenberg’s Senate seat in 2008? Who knew? Evidently, they did.

VIEW From the Port Imperial Ferry Terminal in Weehawken, you’ll almost wish you lived in Manhattan. Almost.

COMPANY In an age of ubiquitous corporate avarice, Johnson & Johnson, the New Brunswick–based health care giant, remains the model of the huge conglomerate good neighbor. Last year, it gave away almost $600 million to good causes. Here’s to its health.

NATURE TRAIL The towpath of the historic Delaware and Raritan Canal, stretching from Baker’s Basin in Trenton all the way to New Brunswick, is a ribbon of natural loveliness that includes everything beautiful about New Jersey—historic dwellings, natural wildlife, and arresting scenery.


Click here for more on the Best of NJ for Food & Drinks, Hall of Fame, and the Worst of NJ

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