MILK SHAKE Trust us when we tell you we know our way around a soda fountain. And the charming old-school version at McCool’s Ice Cream Parlour in Madison whips up a chocolate shake gooey enough to send you into blissful diabetic shock—and keep you coming back for more.
BREAD At Pecoraro Bakery in Jersey City, two Czech brothers make loaves so good, you’ll be convinced that man can indeed live by bread alone. Try the Italian sausage loaf—one word: outrageous.
BANG FOR YOUR BUCK (Fancy Dining Dept) Romantic and intimate, the candlelit Stony Hill Inn in Hackensack serves up the warmth and elegance of the Colonial age with distinctively modern and delicious cuisine.
BANG FOR YOUR BUCK (Comfort Food Dept) The Irish village pub lives on in all its glorious authenticity at St. James Gate Publick House in Maplewood, where the juicy burgers, piping-hot and delish soups, and steady stream of frosty, lager-laden pints always make you glad you came. Ce’ad mile failte!
FRENCH FRIES The spuds at Hot Dog Johnny’s in Buttzville are not to be missed. Grease is the word.
ITALIAN (Fancy Dept) Yes, it’s a lot to pay for dinner, but every Neapolitan bite at Chatham’s Scalini Fedeli is worth it.
ITALIAN (Mom and Pop Dept) At Hoboken’s Augustino’s, Chef Buddy Yandoli and his acerbic wife, Sharon, provide yummy checkered-tablecloth–worthy comfort food as well as a floor show, as anyone who’s ever heard Sharon’s off-color jokes can attest. Close runner-up: Garfield’s family-run Latona’s, serving the real deal, from bread to dessert to salads of octopus and squid to their own balsamic vinegar. Mangia!
ITALIAN (Takeout Dept) Severino’s in Westmont is the place. You would never dream that channeling Mario Batali could be this easy.
BURGER (Burger Joint Dept) The juicy rendition served at the Barn in Wyckoff is enhanced by the surroundings, a former barn with cozy booths in the horse stalls.
BURGER (Upscale Dept) Anthony Bucco’s mouthwatering classic at chichi Stage Left in New Brunswick is so good, you won’t feel out of place ordering a burger.
HOT DOG Forget Oscar Mayer. You haven’t lived till you’ve eaten an incredible grilled wiener with fried green peppers and potatoes on an Italian roll at the Casino Restaurant in Trenton. Sounds gross. Tastes great.
TEXAS WEINER For a more traditional take, the dogs piled with kraut and onions at Libby’s in Paterson draw devotees from as far away as, well, Texas.
WINE SHOP An exhaustive, top-flight inventory, knowledgeable and helpful sales people, and a killer Web site combine to make the Wine Library in Springfield the go-to store for oenophiles.
SPECIAL-OCCASION SPOT There’s a reason Middletown’s Restaurant Nicholas is regarded as the best New York City restaurant outside of New York City. Chef Nicholas Harary, aided by his gorgeous wife, Melissa, has created a marriage of cuisine and atmosphere—along with the best wine list in the state—that’s worth the tab.
CHINESE Although its name sounds like a homage to the Gilligan’s Island siren, Tina Louise in Carlstadt is the brainchild of two sisters—one named Tina, the other Louise—who know how to wok and roll.
JAPANESE Sagami in Collingswood regularly ranks among the Top 10 of those in the know. If you knew sushi like they know sushi…
ATMOSPHERE The northern Shore’s bold and beautiful can’t resist the Asian fusion cuisine and inviting feng-shui decor at Elements in Sea Bright.
COMFORT FOOD Princeton-based Linda Twining and Kathy Herring’s Twin Hens chicken potpies have been written up in almost every major food magazine, and with good reason: Their made-from-scratch pies, available online and at discriminating retailers, are the ultimate comfort food.
BAKERY Specialty cakes from the Macaroon Shop in Avon-by-the-Sea include the signature Hamburger Cake, but the 16- to 18-inch-high holiday varieties are also festive and delicious. Our fave: the Thanksgiving Stuffed Turkey (yellow cake with chocolate-fudge filling and buttercream frosting), which looks so much like the real bird, you might not know it’s a cake until you carve it.
ICE CREAM As a state, we’re blessed with lots of fabulous ice cream, but a special nod goes to Van Dyks in Ridgewood. Sure, they make their own flavors, but they go the extra mile, with seasonal choices like pumpkin and peppermint stick, the latter with pieces of candy blended in. Yum.
SEAFOOD James Laird attracts fishy devotees from all over to his stately Restaurant Serenäde in Chatham. Save room for the famed pecan-crusted warm chocolate tart, which is just as good as the entrées.
STEAK With locations in Edgewater, Mahwah, and Fair Lawn, the River Palm Terrace cooks up juicy beef of Flintstonian proportions, guaranteed to sate the palate of the most discriminating carnivore.
COFFEE SHOP To-die-for desserts and a casual, sit-back-and-read-the-paper atmosphere make Café St. Honore in Nutley the quintessential java-lover’s retreat.
BEST REASON TO NEVER BECOME A VEGETARIAN Webster’s New World Dictionary defines the word pyrogenic as “producing, or produced by, heat or fever.” Butch Lupinetti says it’s the perfect term to describe his addictive barbecue sauce, which he sells over the Internet in 18-ounce bottles for $5.45; Superpyrogenic sauce goes for $6.45. The owner of Butch’s Smack Your Lips B-B-Q in Mount Laurel, Lupinetti uses the sauce to dress some of the hottest ribs and brisket around. In September he beat out dozens of the nation’s foremost rib roasters at the “Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off” in Sparks, Nevada, on the heels of victories at both 2003’s and 2004’s “Great American Rib Cook-off,” where he took home awards for Greatest Sauce in America and Greatest Ribs in America. A big part of Lupinetti’s secret recipe, he says, is his “magic dust,” the dry spice rub he fingers into his ribs before grilling. But the key ingredient in his acclaimed sauce isn’t an ingredient at all, but the aged wood of New Jersey hickory trees. Lupinetti carried a big supply of it to Nevada to fuel his stunning performance at the Nugget. “My rub, my sauce, and my New Jersey hickory smoke,” he says. “That’s one great marriage.”