Rules for Tri-State Italian food

Piers emails me:

    You’re a NJ native and great at finding good restaurants.

    So what are the rules for finding good old school American Italian restaurants? Not like modern farm to table places full of natural light in Brooklyn or SF, you know what I mean?

    Review aggregators are useless. Horrid “egg noodles and ketchup” places get high scores just for being family run.

It is harder and harder to find such places. I think the Latino-ization of the New Jersey heartland largely has been a good thing, and also a good thing for food (Peruvian!), but it hasn’t helped Italian dining very much. More and more New Jersey Italian places sell to the upper middle class, rather than to the diehards. I have two pieces of advice:

1. Go to a classic heartland road, such as Rt.17 or Rt.46, and try to learn which places still have Mafia ties, or had them recently.

2. Go to a town in the heartland, and ask a person working at a fire station. Heed the answer only if that person has a New Jersey accent.

As a side remark, the good places have either “too good but tacky” decor, or poor, not good enough decor. Either way, it should not feel pleasant, that is a sign the ravioli and lasagna will be ordinary. And you can always resort to Staten Island, the Bronx, and parts of Connecticut, in that order.

If you need to ask what “the heartland” means, you shouldn’t even be trying to eat this food, just drive to Kearny and opt for the lomo saltado or maybe something Brazilian, Dominican or Puerto Rican in Paterson.

Rules for Tri-State Italian food

Originally posted on Marginal Revolution – click to see comments and suggestions.

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