Corrections or additions?
This article by Pat Tanner was prepared for the April 13, 2005
issue of U.S. 1
Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Taste of the Nation
‘New Jerseyans are more passionate about food than any other subject –
more than politics, traffic, development, even sports," writes Peter
Genovese, reporter and author, in his new book "Food Lovers’ Guide to
New Jersey." In an phone interview, he goes even further. "I’ve been
to a lot of other places, and New Jerseyans are the most forthright
people, sometimes even in-your-face. You never doubt what’s on a New
Jerseyan’s mind, especially when it comes to food. There are so many
food places in the state, and everyone has a favorite. God forbid
yours is different from someone else’s!"
When Genovese comes to Princeton on Monday, April 18, as celebrity
guest host of this year’s Taste of the Nation food and wine benefit at
the Doral Forrestal, it will be something of a homecoming. "I was born
in Trenton, grew up in Ewing, and lived in Plainsboro when it had
exactly two apartment complexes and one small shopping center," he
says. He even remembers when the Doral Forrestal Hotel & Spa, the site
of this year’s event, was Scanticon.
But perhaps the real star of the event is the food. It’s like going to
two dozen restaurants all at once. Now in its 14th year, Taste of the
Nation has gained a reputation as one of the top social events along
the Route 1 corridor, as literally hundreds of working professionals
and foodies nibble and drink their way through the area’s finest
restaurants, which serve up their signature dishes at informal tasting
stations. Attendees can also bid on a range of silent auction items,
including a stay at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco, including
airfare, and a week at a villa in Tuscany for 10 people, courtesy of
Tuscan Hills in Princeton.
Genovese (pronounced Jen-oh-VEEZ) lived in Plainsboro during the years
he worked as a reporter for the (then) Home News in New Brunswick.
After earning a degree in journalism from Marquette University in
Milwaukee in the early 1970s, he started out at the Milwaukee Tribune.
"But somehow New Jersey drew me back," he says. For the last seven
years Genovese has been a feature writer for the (Newark) Star-Ledger,
the state’s largest newspaper, where, among other things, he oversees
and writes the wildly popular Munchmobile series and writes a weekly
food review column, "Eat with Pete."
Genovese will be the first-ever celebrity guest at Taste of the
Nation, signing copies of "The Food Lovers Guide" as well as his four
prior books. Taste of the Nation is one of a network of fundraisers
across the country under the umbrella organization Share Our Strength.
One hundred percent of all proceeds from Taste of the Nation,
including sales of Genovese’s books, will benefit area food banks,
including HomeFront, Isles Inc., Mercer Street Friends Food
Cooperative, and Trenton Area Soup Kitchen.
"Food Lovers’ Guide to New Jersey" ($14.95) has just been published by
Globe Pequot Press in Connecticut, which also published Genovese’s
"New Jersey Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities, and
Other Offbeat Stuff." The Garden State is more than Genovese’s "beat,"
it is his passion, both as reporter and author. Rutgers University
Press published his other works, "The Jersey Shore Uncovered," "Jersey
Diners," and "Roadside New Jersey."
"The Food Lovers’ Guide," he writes in the book’s introduction, is "a
culmination of years of wandering New Jersey as a reporter both for
stories and, well, places to eat." But the book is not just a
compilation of restaurants. Rather, it is Genovese’s take on where to
find the best of everything related to food and drink in New Jersey –
local products (pork roll and peanut brittle, for example), specialty
stores and markets, farms and farm stands, eateries (modest and
grand), annual festivals and events, wineries, and brew pubs. Some
area venues that garner mention as among New Jersey’s best include
Burrito Royale in Monmouth Junction, Lucy’s Ravioli Kitchen & Market
in Princeton, Bon Appetit in Princeton, Michele Lorie Cheese Cakes in
Trenton, and Porfirio’s in Trenton. He even throws in recipes,
including Pam Mount’s apple rhubarb slump from Terhune Orchards in
Lawrenceville and Garden State Seafood Salad from Jim Weaver of Tre
Piani in Forrestal Village.
During Genovese’s formative years in Ewing, a family favorite was
Marsilio’s restaurant in the Chambersburg section of Trenton.
Genovese’s mother, Connie, a homemaker who will turn 82 this summer,
recalls that she and her husband, who died 10 years ago, would take
all six of their children there about once a week. "And those kids
didn’t move from the table. Pete likes to say to me, ‘You just had to
look at us and we knew to behave,’" she says.
Peter Genovese, whose tall, lanky but physically fit frame belies the
amount of eating he does for a living, says that food played a key
role in the family. "It really was at the center. You know, that whole
Italian family thing where you don’t ever walk away hungry, you have
pasta on Sunday. We weren’t poor – we were solidly middle class – and
my mom was always in the kitchen. She was a proud cook, and cooking
was her chance to shine. I’m not saying I loved everything she put on
the table but I did love all the Italian stuff." In fact, his
dedication to "The Food Lovers’ Guide" reads, "To my mom, best cook in
Trenton, who always made me eat my vegetables."
Connie Genovese tells a slightly different story. "There were things
the children wouldn’t eat, like broccoli rabe, so I didn’t make it.
But now that it shows up on restaurant menus and is expensive, guess
what? Now they eat it!" She and her husband, an engineer who designed
airplanes during World War II for a company in Trenton, sent Peter and
four of his siblings to area Catholic schools, Incarnation and Notre
Dame, for elementary and high school. One daughter, Gina, who has Down
syndrome, lives with her mother, who recently moved north to Union
County after 56 years in the Trenton area.
Peter Genovese continued the family’s educational tradition by
choosing Marquette, a Jesuit institution. "But I broke the mold in
other ways," he says. For one thing, he decided at an early age to be
a writer. "I don’t know why exactly. I read a lot but so do a lot of
kids who don’t go on to be writers." The subjects of his books derive
in most part from his own passions and ideas. One exception, though,
is a book that is not solely about the Garden State. "The Great
American Road Trip: U.S. 1, Maine to Florida" grew out of a newspaper
article he wrote. "This book was the publisher’s idea," he says. "I
only knew Route 1 through New Jersey, from going to my aunt’s house in
Philly for Sunday dinner. I didn’t see the possibilities so I took two
weeks to drive U.S. 1 from Maine to the Florida Keys and fell in love
with the road." He calls U.S. 1 "the most democratic of highways. You
can see the whole country on it. Think of how different Maine is from
Florida. It keeps changing character, not to mention climate and
Even this newspaper gets a mention in the book: "U.S. 1, a central New
Jersey-based community newspaper started by Richard Rein in 1984 is
named after the road." Genovese goes on to describe another namesake
publication. "U.S. 1 even had its own comic strip back in the 1980s.
The main characters of Marvel Comics’ ‘U.S. 1’ included Papa Wheelie,
Wide Load Annie, Taryn (Taryn down the Highway) O’Connell, and Ulysses
Solomon Archer, a tall, handsome trucker who could tune in CB
transmissions through a metal plate in his head, the result of a
near-tragic accident." The comic book, he notes, lasted only 12
The Star-Ledger’s roving food patrol, the Munchmobile, is Genovese’s
summertime preoccupation. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, this
big white van with an eight-foot hot dog on top travels all around the
state looking for the "best" eats, from thin-crust pizza to ice cream
to chocolate. The idea for the Munchmobile, which has been in
operation since 1998, originated with Star-Ledger editor Jim Willse.
Genovese credits its popularity to two factors. "First, it’s about
food, and not high-brow food. Beyond that, it’s entirely reader-driven
– the public has direct input." In fact, readers suggest places for
the Munchmobile to go, by writing letters, sending E-mails, and
calling the Munchmobile hot line (which goes directly to Genovese).
They sometimes even get to ride along, like on a recent chocolate
outing for singles only. This reporter spotted the Munchmobile on
Vandeventer Street in Princeton last summer, where it turned out to be
on its way to check out the coffee at Small World Coffee on
Genovese recently moved from Bloomsbury to Little Egg Harbor, in part
because he missed the Jersey shore and in part because as an avid
runner he missed flat land. "The shore is the most identifiable thing
about Jersey," he says. He doesn’t get back to his old stomping
grounds in Mercer County much these days, he says, other than as a
by-product of covering the state as a reporter.
The former Plainsboro resident says he was delighted to be pegged a
"celebrity" by the organizers of Taste of the Nation. Some of the
restaurants mentioned in the guide, such as Anton’s at the Swan in
Lambertville, Rat’s in Hamilton, and Tre Piani, will have tastings at
Some county residents might, in fact, take issue with one puzzling
aspect of "The Food Lovers’ Guide." The book is divided into chapters
by geography: north Jersey, central Jersey, south Jersey, and Jersey
shore. While this breakdown seems straightforward, residents of Mercer
County towns such as Princeton, Hopewell, and Kingston might be
startled to find they live in south Jersey. Genovese explains, "One
constraint of the book was that you couldn’t split up a county, so I
had to choose. Mercer is the one county that sort of straddles central
Jersey and south Jersey. Trenton has always been a dividing line. If
you go to Allentown, Crosswicks, and that area, nobody there considers
themselves part of central New Jersey."
— Pat Tanner
Share Our Strength’s "Taste of the Nation," Monday, April 18, from
6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Doral Forrestal in Plainsboro. $75 in advance;
$85 at the door (if available). Visit www.princetontaste.org or call
Somerset County Park Commission seeks volunteers for the therapeutic
recreation department TRAILS program offering adapted riding
instruction for children and adults with developmental disabilities.
No experience necessary. Call 908-722-1200 ext. 234.
James Tolin Memorial AIDS Benefit seeks actors for "The Odd Couple."
Performances are June 17 and 18. Auditions are Saturday and Sunday,
April 16 and 17. Call Tracy Antozzeski at 609-291-8123. Productions
are in June.
CAPPS invites New Jersey playwrights to submit works for consideration
for public reading. Call 609-490-7550.
The Salvation Army seeks donations for New Jersey Flood Relief. Checks
may be sent to Salvation Army, Box 3170, Union 07083. To become a
disaster service volunteer call 908-851-8256.
Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission offers a history
grants workshop at East Jersey Olde Town Village, 1050 River Road,
Piscataway, on Wednesday, April 20, at 6:30 p.m. Open to non-profit
organizations interested in apply for history grands to fund projects
taking place July, 2005, through June, 2006. A Help Clinic is also
available by appointment. Visit www.cultureheritage.org or call
Princeton HealthCare System offers a 24-hour physician referral
service about physicians and programs available. Call 888-PHCS4YOU.
Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County offers
funds to assist families with the expense of the Passover holiday
beginning on Saturday, April 23. Call 609-987-8100. Contributions from
community members are welcome.
Hunterdon Art Museum has launched class registration for spring
classes ending June 17. Classes offer creative and instructive choices
for adults and children. Call 908-735-8415.
ECHO (Energetic Citizens Helping Others) is sponsoring a five-day bus
trip to 1000 Islands on June 20 to 24. $545, double occupancy with all
breakfasts and dinners, for ages 55 and older. Call 609-695-4151.
Need a Friend for senior singles, ages 55 to 75, meets every Thursday
at 7:30 p.m. at the Prestige Diner, Route 33 East, East Windsor. Call
Joyce at 609-448-3378 for information.
Washington Crossing Audubon Society offers a full scholarship to the
Audubon Workshop for Educators, July 17 to 23, in Maine. The award
covers the fee for the workshop including room and board. Any educator
may apply. Call Herb Lord at 609-443-3981.
Corrections or additions?
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