2012 Jersey Choice: The Best of NJ—Food and Drink.

We asked our readers to list their favorite places to eat and drink, and they responded. Read on to find out which places our readers feel are the best in the state.

There’s nothing like biting into the perfect bagel. For many in New Jersey, that means a visit to Bagels-4-U. Says Jody Glick of Livingston: “Bagels-4-U have the best bagels—with perfect crust outside, perfect chewiness inside and just the right taste.” (11 NJ locations; bagels4u.com)
Bagel Masters, Shrewsbury
Bagel Chateau, 3 NJ locations
Delicious Bagel, Point Pleasant


“Convection ovens are extremely efficient,” says Anthony Calandra of the 50-year-old
Calandra’s Bakery, winner of the best bread category. “Ninety percent of all bakeries use convection ovens. Our stone-deck ovens,” he adds proudly, “are extremely inefficient in terms of cost to operate, because a lot of the heat goes up the chimney.” There must be a catch, right? Here it is: “The problem with convection is that the bread doesn’t get crusty enough on the bottom. You only get that by cooking on stone.” That lusty crust is one of the attributes that have made Calandra’s bread our readers’ favorite three years in a row. (Newark, Fairfield and Caldwell; calandrasbakery.com)
Joe Leone’s, Point Pleasant Beach, Sea Girt; Cait & Abby’s, South Orange/Millburn; Sickles Market, Little Silver
New Jersey readers can’t get enough of John’s Meat Market in Scotch Plains, and it’s easy to see why. Barbara Johnson of North Plainfield writes, “John’s is the best of the best. Everyone on their staff is personable and, believe-it-or-not, make buying meat and assorted groceries fun.” Adds Linda Stender of Scotch Plains: “Walking into John’s Meat Market is like walking into a room of old friends. They know your name and always make you feel welcome!” (389 Park Ave; 908-322-7126; johnsmarket.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Sickles Market, Little Silver; Garden of Eden Gourmet, South Orange/Hoboken; Okie’s Butcher Shop, Surf City
[NEW] If it’s a sweet tooth you need satisfied, Ricky’s of Red Bank has got you covered. “We have a lot to offer,” says co-owner Steve Tom, citing the store’s candy, ice cream and a little arcade. Indeed, says Ascencion Reyes of Old Bridge, “the nostalgic candy is a great treat and always leads to a wonderful conversation with my kids. The ice cream flavors are unbelievable and the quality is superb.” (86 Broad St; 732-842-4637; rickysofredbank.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Broadway Sweets (iPlay America), Freehold; Nagel’s Candy Barn, Randolph/Wayne; Caramel Shop, Ocean
As with its bread, the key to the popularity of the Calandra’s Bakery cannoli is that it is handmade from the best ingredients. In addition, the shells (hand rolled around wooden cylinders and baked that way) are filled “20 times a day,” says Anthony Calandra. “We never fill it and let it sit.”. (Newark, Fairfield and Caldwell; calandrasbakery.com)
Carlo’s Bake Shop, Hoboken; Rispoli’s Pastry Shop, Ridgefield; Del Ponte’s Bakery, Bradley Beach; Cipolli Cannoli, Collingswood
[NEW] Chocolate comes in all shapes and sizes at Enjou Chocolat. At the Morristown shop you’ll find traditional bars as well as novelty chocolates, including ones shaped as animals, sushi, pizza—even high-heeled shoes. “We’re continually adding new designs,” says Wendy Taffet, owner since 1986. (8 Dehart St; 973-993-9090; enjouchocolat.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Red Bank Chocolate Shoppe, Red Bank
Mrs. Hanna Krause Candy, Toms River/Paramus
Always surfing the crests of mixology, Watermark in Asbury Park has taken to making its own tonic from a late 19th-century recipe. “It’s very earthy and herbal and makes a hell of a gin and tonic,” says owner Russell Lewis. Given the reflexive popularity of vodka, “which has no flavor,” Lewis says gin needs standing up for. “We like to turn people on to gin,” he says. “It’s really an abused child on the playground, so to speak. People don’t realize that gin is the original flavored vodka.” Speaking of flavor, Lewis is also a big bourbon believer, and came back from a scouting trip to Washington, D.C., with a variation on a bourbon, grapefruit and simple-syrup cocktail, the Mermaid and the Walrus, made famous by the venerable Old Ebbitt Grill there. (800 Ocean Ave; 732-455-3447; watermarkap.com)
Martini Bistro & Bar, Millburn
Daddy O, Brant Beach
[NEW] Rockn’ Joe Coffeehouse and Bistro is the place to go for good music, great coffee and fun with friends. The regional chain’s specialty drinks include the Van Halen—an espresso concoction with vanilla and hazelnut syrups and steamed milk—as well as caffeine-free drinks like Dark Side of the Moo (steamed milk with chocolate sauce and caramel). Owner Kevin Brennan started the business in Cranford in 1993 and has since added five other Jersey locations. (908-276-0595; rocknjoe.net)
The Fine Grind, Little Falls
Mara’s Café & Bakery, Denville
Rook Coffee Roasters, Oakhurst/Long Branch
[NEW] “Everyone’s sweet tooth is different,” says Chris Peseka, co-owner of Sugarush. The Red Bank bake shop proudly claims to be the first in the state with a cupcake bar. Here guests can have their favorite cupcake, custom stuffed and dressed with an array of toppings, icings and candies. The shop offers an ever-changing variety of daily specials. Even sweeter, the shop donates a portion of the sales from their eponymous Sugarush cupcake to a different charity every month. (37 East Front St; 732-414-9044; experiencesugarush.com)
Mr. Cupcakes, 4 NJ locations
The Stuffed Cupcake, Nutley
The Cookie Cab, Toms River
At Harold’s New York Deli, sliced meats are a volume business. The Edison eatery—which has been in business for almost 15 years—sells a combined 16,000 pounds of homemade pastrami and corned beef each week. To accompany its overstuffed sandwiches, Harold’s offers 10 different types of pickles. “We call it the world’s largest pickle bar,” says owner Harold Jaffe. (3050 Woodbridge Ave; 732-661-9100; haroldsfamousdeli.com)
Eppes Essen, Livingston
Irving’s Delicatessen, Livingston
Kibitz Room, Cherry Hill
“We bake our own roast beef, turkey and ham, and we overstuff the sandwich,” says Anthony Calandra of the heroes at Calandra’s Bakery. “But the bottom line to any sandwich is the bread. We don’t use a sub roll, we use a loaf of our real Italian bread. It costs three times as much, but since we make it ourselves, we don’t have to charge a ridiculous price for it.” (Newark, Fairfield and Caldwell; calandrasbakery.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Millburn Deli, Millburn; Joe Leone’s, Point Pleasant Beach/Sea Girt
For the past 17 years, Ibby’s Falafel has been serving its fried balls of ground chickpeas with imported spices to its loyal customers in Jersey City. Owner Adnan Kwara borrowed the recipe for his specialty from his mother and kept the family in mind when he named his establishment after his son, Ibrahim. Ibby’s also operates in Freehold and its newest location in Hoboken. (303 Grove St; 201-432-2400; ibbysfalafel.com)
Beyond Pita, Montclair
Mamoun’s, Hoboken/New Brunswick
Uncle Jack’s Good 2 Go, Ocean
[NEW] Gourmet and fast food are concepts that don’t typically go hand in hand, but they’re a good fit at the WindMill, the iconic Jersey chain with eight locations. “Our fries don’t sit under a heat lamp,” co-owner Rena Levine Levy says about the WindMill’s crinkle-cut beauties. “They’re pulled right out of the basket and served directly to the customer when they’re still piping hot.” The WindMill’s special oil and cooking technique remain a closely guarded secret. (732-870-8282; windmillrestaurantsusa.com)
Curley’s Fries, Wildwood
Biggie’s Clam Bar, 3 NJ locations
Hoffman’s Ice Cream in Point Pleasant has been delighting visitors down the Shore since 1976. Along with their most popular flavors, S’mores and Cookie Monster (blue vanilla ice cream with cookie-dough balls and Oreos) Hoffman’s offers a giant Octopus Sundae with eight scoops of ice cream and eight different toppings. Eat the sundae in under eight minutes and you’ll win a t-shirt and have your picture posted in the store, says manager Kim Karkovice. Look out this spring for Hoffman’s newest addition, an ice cream truck. (Also in Spring Lake and Little Silver; 732-892-0270; hoffmansicecream.net)
RUNNERS-UP: Applegate Farm, 8 NJ locations; Denville Dairy, Denville
Holsten’s in Bloomfield makes its own ice cream. Of course. Been doing it the same way since 1964. But it also makes its own syrups—vanilla, coffee, chocolate, strawberry, you name it. Blend ice cream, syrup, a little milk—and even a topping, like fresh strawberries, if you’d like—in a steel container, and you have an unbeatable thick shake. Most popular is vanilla, followed by chocolate. About a quarter of all shakes are ordered malted, vanilla again the most popular. When he makes one for himself, Ron Stark, one of the owners, leans toward cookies-and-cream ice cream with vanilla syrup. “You get a little extra texture,” he says. (1063 Broad St; 973-338-7091; holstens.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Bobby’s Burger Palace, 3 NJ locations; Hoffman’s, 3 NJ locations
[NEW] Nothing really needs to be new at Star Tavern in Orange, where owner Gary Vayianos says the thin-crust pizza stems from “recipes that span eight decades at this point.” But the winner is not standing still. It has added the option of whole-wheat crust and sells about 300 whole-wheat pies a month—which sounds like a lot until you consider that Star sells about 10,000 regular-crust pies a month, each handmade. Customers can look forward to one other new wrinkle: chicken sausage joining the list of toppings. (400 High St; 973-675-3336; startavern.net)
Pete & Elda’s, Neptune
Arturo’s Osteria & Pizzeria,Maplewood
Mack and Manco, 3 NJ locations
[NEW] Despite its name, many people come to the original Toast in Montclair simply for the buttermilk pancakes. The breakfast-oriented eatery serves its flapjacks unadorned, or with chocolate chips and toppings like fresh strawberries or blueberries. There are seasonal specials like pumpkin and sweet-potato pancakes. Toast also has a gluten-free version on its everyday menu. Last summer, owner Amy Russo Harrigan opened a second location in Asbury Park, serving breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch.
(973-509-8099; toastmontclair.com)
Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, 8 NJ locations
Country Pancake House, Ridgewood
[NEW] If you’re from New Jersey, chances are you’ve eaten at a Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse. A prime attraction is the Farmer’s Market Salad Bar, which includes more than 60 fresh produce items—locally grown when “seasonally appropriate,” says Marianne Minko, of the chain’s marketing department. Other popular salad-bar items include chicken-liver pâté, fresh-baked raisin bread and homemade specialty salads. (17 NJ locations; charliebrowns.com)
What’s Your Beef, Rumson
Garden of Eden Gourmet, South Orange/Hoboken
You don’t have to love sports to enjoy Kelly’s Tavern in Neptune. Serving the Jersey Shore for the past four generations, Kelly’s has more to offer than sports on 18 flat-screen TVs. Try one of their signature Irish dishes, like the Blarney and the shepherd’s pie—both open-faced sandwiches. New this year is Kelly’s King of the Reuben contest, wherein contestants attempt to devour a 5-pound Reuben platter in under an hour. “We haven’t had anyone who has successfully done it yet,” says restaurant manager Chris Lynch. (43 Rt 35 S; 732-775-9517; kellystavernjerseyshore.com)
Miami Mike’s Sports Bar, East Hanover
Biggie’s Clam Bar, 3 NJ locations
PJ Whelihans, Sewell
Sushi Lounge has smartly named its signature sushi rolls after its three locations: Hoboken, Totowa and “Motown” (Morristown). Along with creative names, the Sushi Lounge menu offers an array of sushi delights, hibachi entrées and kitchen specialties. Daily drink specials include half-price Sake & Sangria Sundays and Martini Wednesdays. (sushilounge.com)
Yumi, Sea Bright; Taka Restaurant, Asbury Park; Ikko, Brick
Rosie’s Wine Bar in Garwood is celebrating four years in business—and they’re still innovating. Starting this spring, Rosie’s will host a release party on the first Tuesday of every month, featuring five new wines added to their growing inventory. Currently, Rosie’s offers 50 wines by the glass and 350 by the bottle. “It’s my goal to expand that number to over 500 some day,” says owner Joshua Rosenberg.
(514 North Ave; 908-518-WINE; rosieswinebar.com)
Daryl, New Brunswick
Bin 14, Hoboken
Annata Wine Bar, Hammonton
There’s no better place to learn about wine than the Wine Library in Springfield. “You can find almost everything you need to entertain your family and friends,” says reader Alexandra Cook of Union. The store also is notable for its website, which features a variety of wines, accessories, beers and spirits, as well as 1,000 educational videos from proprietor Gary Vaynerchuk. (586 Morris Ave; 888-980-WINE; winelibrary.com)
Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, 3 NJ locations
Bottle King, 14 NJ locations
Moore Brothers Wine Company, Pennsauken
[NEW] When Adam Richman of the Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food stopped by the Chicken or the Egg in Beach Haven, he chose the chicken—the Ludicrous Buffalo chicken-wing challenge, to be exact. The legendary LBI eatery first opened its doors in 1991 and has built a loyal following serving wings and breakfast 24/7 in season. With 15 sauces—including favorites like Bee Sting and Ludicrous—you’ll be sure to heat up your Shore experience. “Chicken or the Egg is the quintessential Jersey Shore eatery,” says reader Dave Hershberger of Ringwood. Be the judge of the fiery wings yourself. (207 North Bay Ave; 609-492-3695; 492fowl.com)
Biggie’s Clam Bar, 3 NJ locations
Tommy’s Coal Fired Pizza, 3 NJ locations
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