It’s a bit hard to look beyond New York Restaurant Week – which I’m happily enjoying – but I did want to point out there’s another Restaurant Week going on: Hudson Restaurant Week.
Why Hudson County decided to do Restaurant Week at nearly the same time as New York is beyond me. Who wants to get a cheap meal at Hoboken’s Gaslight when you can be eating cheap at Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit. Mario Batali’s Lupa, Tabla or The Modern at MOMA. In fact, why do we call these Restaurant Weeks at all? They always last for at least a couple of weeks, and NYC is going all summer long, now that NYC Restaurant Week has been extended through Labor Day.
But I digress. What I actually wanted to write about was the dearth of creativity in the Hoboken dining scene and all-round lack of cool factor among the city’s restaurants. I lived in the mile-square city for nearly 10 years before moving to Sydney in 2001, and since my return in May, I’ve mostly been disappointed about my eating options.
Yes, there are still some good old-school places like the pizza at Benny Tudino’s and the amazing sopressata-and-mozzarella sandwiches at Fiore’s, but take any restaurant that has opened in the past 10 years and you’ve scavenging through slim pickings. Aside from a rare eatery like the wood-fired South American restaurant, Cucharamama, most other Hoboken restaurants are about as innovative as a highway diner. And, well, given that the now-resigned mayor of Hoboken was caught taking bribes via numerous meals at Hoboken’s Malibu Diner, maybe the corrupt food palate starts at the top.
So when one looks for innovative eating in Hudson County, where does one turn? Well, Jersey City, it seems.
I’m hearing more and more from local foodies that there’s more happening in Hoboken’s less-renowned neighbour, with Grove Street being ground zero. I’m still doing my research, but if Beechwood is any indication, Jersey City is off to a good start. Beechwood would be a standard place in Williamsburg, but it’s special on the Jersey side because it has a combination no Hoboken café has: good coffee, good food and a cool, relaxed vibe that makes you feel comfortable to kick back and hang around. If hipsters still exist in Hudson County, you’ll find them here. In fact, there’s thankfully little sign of the baby-stroller mafia that’s taken over Hoboken. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Sarah and I met a friend visiting from Australia, who was staying with a friend living right next to Liberty State Park (he’s got a great view of the Statue of Liberty’s buttocks). My friend ordered the nicely cooked steak and eggs, Sarah scored the oatmeal with brown sugar, raisins and pouring cream, a I indulged in the corned beef hash, which had a nice, chunky texture, rather than those diner versions that blend the corned beef to a near-paste (or maybe that’s how it comes out of the can). The coffee is drip, but what an exceptional drip it is – I’ve heard that Beechwood roasts its own beans, and that’s the only way I can explain the richer, nearly wood-smoked flavour of the cuppa. Combine that with outdoor seating facing a leafy corner in front of City Hall, and you’ve got a great place to hole yourself up with friends or a copy of the Sunday Times.
There’s plenty more to check out in this slice of Jersey City, including the reputedly authentic Taqueria, the top-rated Chinese eats at Grand Sichuan, and the estimated 142 beer taps at the new Zeppelin Beer Hall. There seems to be so much cool stuff going on in JC, I hope the Hoboken establishments start to wake up, forget about showing the sports score on flat-screen TVs, stop catering to the bridge-and-tunnel crowd that can’t be bothered paying the toll, and up their game. I’d love to have a great meal without thinking about hopping on the light rail.
Beechwood Café & Market, 290 Grove St, Jersey City, NJ, +1 (201) 985-2811