Best of Jersey: Bragging Rights

More than 300 years after our founding, we’re still a state whose top and bottom halves rarely see eye to eye. When it comes to the Best of New Jersey, who’s got the edge? We weigh the evidence.

More than 300 years after our founding, we’re still a state whose top and bottom halves rarely see eye to eye. When it comes to the Best of New Jersey, who’s got the edge? We weigh the evidence.

Not since Scarlett O’Hara made a fashion statement with some velvet drapes has a fissure between North and South been so pronounced. In New Jersey, longtime northern dwellers imagine their culture-deprived southern counterparts to be living in a wasteland of farms and a monotony of McMansions replacing said farms. Conversely, southerners decry the north as New York City’s sixth borough, whose inhabitants are rude and obsessed with status.

To which we say, fiddle-dee-dee. In truth, both parts of our own little Balkans boast wonderful features. But which is truly best? We picked ten random categories and placed the tops for each region head-to-head, then arrived at our own subjective verdict. We expect the war to keep raging. After all, tomorrow is another day.

Tick Tock (Clifton) vs. Ponzio’s (Cherry Hill)
There’s nothing we love more than our diners, and that’s as it should be. While we’re blessed with dozens of artery-clogging faves—just try to finish a meal at the Mastoris in Bordentown—the Tick Tock and Ponzio’s stand out as two of the best. Ponzio’s rocks, not only for its meat loaf but also for its history as a flash point for South Jersey political dealmakers. As cool as we find Tick Tock’s neon sign that dares to exclaim Eat Heavy, we’re heading to Cherry Hill.

La Rustique (Jersey City) vs. Mack & Manco (Ocean City)
It’s easy to see why Mack & Manco is one of Ocean City’s few year-round boardwalk businesses; sitting at the counter with a piping-hot slice is as close to a religious experience as you can get from mozzarella. As for La Rustique, the pies are smaller than you’re used to and overpriced to boot, the staff borders on rude, the decor is Early Doctor’s Office, and there’s no decent seating—and of course we can’t get there enough. The boys at La Rustique know their way around a brick oven.

Belmar vs. Avalon
Yes, yes, we know that Island Beach State Park is the state’s prettiest, but it’s a park, for God’s sake, not a real beach with a town that goes with it. So it comes down to a battle between two towns that couldn’t be more different: party-hearty Belmar, with its glistening, oil-slicked bodies lying towel to towel, and sleepy Avalon, with its creamy, dreamy sands and 77th rank on Forbes’s list of the country’s most expensive zip codes. What’s your pleasure? Both, actually. But in the true battle for our hearts, we can’t resist the allure of the definitive Shore weekend, in which you and eighteen of your not-necessarily-closest friends pile into a shore house to get sunburned, drink too much overpriced lager, and forget your pain-in-the-ass boss until Monday morning. After all, isn’t that what the Shore is really all about?

Dick Codey (West Orange) vs. Rob Andrews (Haddon Heights)
It’s often said that the state’s north vs. south conflict is an unfair fight, since the north has most of the money and clout. Nowhere is this more evident than in state politics, where South Jerseyans bold enough to seek statewide office (Bill Gormley, anyone?) are regularly trounced. Codey stepped into a surreal scenario: Your predecessor leaves office in disgrace, not due to the political corruption that envelops him like a cloud but because he’s got a boyfriend. Then Codey did the incredible: made us all breathe again. Rob Andrews is a very effective, very intense congressman who will no doubt challenge Jon Corzine’s open Senate seat this year, but star power? As they say up north, fuhgeddaboudit.

Randal Pinkett of NBC’s The Apprentice (Somerset) vs. Jessica Velez of MTV’s Miss Seventeen (Glassboro)
Pinkett was a standout on the fourth edition of Donald Trump’s weekly boardroom brawl, showing grace under pressure and a considerable amount of charm to win the whole enchilada in December. Velez was equally endearing in Seventeen mag’s televised catfight for the cover of the February issue, a college scholarship, and an internship, only to lose in the final episode. Pinkett should be the clear victor here, but his refusal to bless Trump’s hiring of his final competitor smacked of churlishness and poor sportsmanship. We suspect sweet Jess would have gladly shared the cover.

Millburn Deli (Millburn) vs. Dino’s (Margate)
If anything, New Jersey knows how to make a sandwich. Up north, the Millburn Deli says its Sloppy Joe (three slices of light rye, roast beef, slaw, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing) is “world-famous,” and we believe ’em; once you taste it, it’ll be the sandwich you crave at midnight. But you cannot beat the feast of cholesterol that is the tuna sub at Dino’s, which for too long has languished in the shadow of nearby Atlantic City’s legendary White House Sub Shop. A symphony of tuna and mayo on a chewy fresh-baked roll, it’s worth the risk of angioplasty.

Lua (Hoboken) vs. The Borgata (Atlantic City)
Last year brought a splash of Manhattan flair to the Hoboken waterfront with the opening of Lua, replete with South American–influenced cuisine and a bevy of beauties sipping overpriced cocktails at the chic bar. For several years now the Borgata has been the casino of casinos in A.C., although recently its crowd has been a little more Monty Hall than Monte Carlo. We’ll give the nod to Lua—and raise a glass to the supper-club renaissance.

Jeremy Shockey (Giants) vs. Donovan McNabb (Eagles)
The contrast couldn’t be more stark: McNabb is a quiet, unassuming, unflappable quarterback married to a lovely college administrator and living in beautiful Moorestown. On the other hand, it’s fitting that the volatile Shockey is a tight end; he’s certainly pursued enough of them (New York magazine once called him “a nightclubbing, skirt-chasing, politically incorrect Okie.”) But c’mon, who would you rather hang out with?

Washington’s Headquarters (Morristown) vs. ATLANTIC CITY’s Boardwalk
Atlantic City, historic? Absolutely. It was Teddy Roosevelt who once said, “A man would not be a good American citizen if he did not know of Atlantic City.” And good Americans should know about the Boardwalk, the diving horses, Glenn Miller playing on the Steel Pier, Miss America, John Young’s crazy 1 Atlantic Ocean mansion on the Boardwalk, saltwater taffy…you get the idea. Despite the now constant clanging of the slots, A.C. is a living cultural anthropology exhibit. And while we are suitably impressed by the restoration of our first President’s military base during the Revolutionary War, how can you argue with the summer home of Mr. Peanut?

Pulaski Skyway vs. The Parkway South of Exit 114
We love the skyway. Really, we do. Why embrace a creaky old span above a smelly, impossible tangle of polluted rivers, rusty railroad tracks, and congested highways? While all that belching industry and all those cargo holds below feed the coffers of late-night comics, they also feed the coffers of our state treasury and remind us that New Jersey is a thriving economic engine. But that said, when we think about the quintessential Garden State drive, it’s a sojourn down the Parkway as you head into South Jersey. The road opens up, the traffic lightens up, and it’s just you channeling Kerouac.

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