Lured by the magic of being grandparents for the first time, my husband and I relocated to the Chicago area three years ago. That cuddly promise was the best reason to leave behind all that was familiar in New Jersey and settle in Evanston, a community on Lake Michigan, near our daughter and her family.
Baby Gracie quickly captured our hearts, but we still miss New Jersey: our family, friends, neighbors and our old Mickleton home. In summers, we miss the Shore with its beaches, boardwalks and saltwater taffy. Truth be told, it’s the Jersey food that I yearn for most.
In those first weeks, as I wandered the aisles of a local supermarket, I was struck by the lack of Turkey Hill and Friendly’s ice cream. Bachman Jax cheese curls were also missing. When I lamented the absence of my favorite cheesy snack, my sister had a container of the crunchy stuff delivered to our door.
Even my favorite brand of seltzer was nowhere to be found. In fact, it is difficult to find any seltzer with the orange essence that I enjoy. More than once in those first months, I gripped the shopping cart, fighting back tears as I struggled to finish my excursions up the aisles. Everything was unfamiliar; I needed my comfort foods!
Hard rolls with their crispy crusts and soft, aromatic centers also have not made it to the Chicago area. Add them to the list of Jersey staples we long for. Enjoying quality breads of any kind is reserved for visits to the Garden State. Bagels are no exception. Even at a Jewish deli in Illinois, the bagels are a disappointment.
Leaving New Jersey has given us an appreciation for having the subs of North Jersey or the hoagies of South Jersey at our fingertips. In the Chicago area, that flavorful combination of ingredients piled high on a fresh hard roll eludes us. I asked for a hoagie at one chain establishment here. I was served a blank stare. I thought perhaps I did not speak clearly enough, so I repeated myself. Then came the voice in my head: You’re not in New Jersey anymore.
Chicago is famous for its deep-dish pizza, and yet we miss New Jersey pizza, with its thin, chewy crust. At first, my husband and I were impressed by the hefty, deep-dish crust cradling a mound of mozzarella cheese. The flavor is delicious—almost luscious—but then the weight of all that cheese lands, and our enjoyment wanes.
My husband misses pork roll, and who can blame him? The first year in Illinois, I surprised him with a dozen packages for his birthday. Shipping is triple the cost of the savory meat, so now, after visits home, a discerning nose might detect the faint aroma of pork roll tucked into my luggage as I depart Newark Liberty Airport.
Two summers ago, Gracie, now three, experienced a week at the Jersey Shore with her parents. Half of the vacation photos showed Gracie eating ice cream. A girl after my own heart.