East Coast Smorgasbord

Gourmet Girl - August 7, 2013

"Jersey sweet corn on the cob has the same effect on me that madeleines had on author Marcel Proust. One bite and I'm transported back to childhood summers at the Jersey shore..."

Jersey sweet corn on the cob has the same effect on me that madeleines had on author Marcel Proust. One bite and I'm transported back to childhood summers at the Jersey shore, where clambakes, barbecues and ice cream ruled my day and nights. I don't often get to taste that corn, but recently I feasted on some during a visit with family and friends in Princeton, New Jersey that also included plump Jersey tomatoes, grilled burgers and sausages made with locally raised meat, lobster rolls, mascarpone-stuffed squash blossoms and the famous ice cream from Princeton-based Thomas Sweet, where my teenaged niece has spent her summers scooping fragrant flavors like vanilla caramel sea salt.

There's a food renaissance taking place across The Garden State, which now boasts more than 140 farmers' markets featuring artisan cheese, breads, organic meat, savory and sweet condiments and so much more. The Double Brook Farm in Hopewell, just north of Princeton for example, recently opened the Brick Farm Market, filled with cured meats, prepared sandwiches and soups, handcrafted cheese, vegetables, pastries, breakfast items and other delicious food. The West Windsor Farmers' Market, just south of Princeton, was bustling on a recent Saturday morning, offering Jersey sweet corn, luscious peaches, fresh-baked bread, produce and crepes made on the spot, including a divine lemon, lavender sugar crepe. Princeton and Montgomery also host farmers' markets and  Kingston has a Pennsylvania Dutch farmer's market. The Trenton Farmers' Market is the granddaddy of them all, with indoor stalls and a grocery store and more than 40 vendors.

Trenton Farmers Market

The restaurant scene is also thriving, and I had a chance to try out some new eateries in Princeton that were quite impressive, including EnoTerra, a restaurant and enoteca that used to house a sketchy pizza place and bar my family frequented when I was a kid and then an Italian restaurant called The Wine Press. My dad and I had longstanding tradition of dining at the Wine Press, and we revisited that tradition on the last night of my trip by sharing a delicious meal at EnoTerra, an award-eating eatery with a focus on local, sustainable ingredients. My dad and I shared the aforementioned squash blossoms as an appetizer, and I had an amazing pasta dish, Strozzapreti Mushroom Bolognese, featuring a hearty sauce made with mushrooms, warm spices and fresh mozzarella that was as rich as any meat sauce. My dad chose a light and flavorful Three Cheese Agnolotti, made with peas, fava beans, brown butter and spring onion. For dessert, the olive oil poundcake served with tomato relish, plums and Bent Spoon ice cream was superb.

We also did quite a lot of cooking using Jersey fresh ingredients when I was in Princeton, from scrambled eggs with freshly-laid blue-toned eggs given to me by a friend as he plucked them from the chicken coop to a salad showcasing Jersey's amazing peaches tossed with goat cheese, bacon and arugula. My stepmother, a wonderful cook, served up angel hair pasta with pesto made from basil in her garden as well as grilled steak marinated in vermouth and herbs. And my stepsister baked an amazingly fragrrant and delicious blueberry tart. Yum! 

Because I flew in and out of the Philadelphia airport, and spent a morning visiting the astounding Barnes Museum, I got to sample some delicious Philly food from acclaimed chef Mark Vetri's Broad Street restaurant, Osteria, a favorite spot of my uncle and aunt, who live just around the corner. We ate there twice during my trip, and each course was absolutely incredible, from the wood-grilled octopus with cured lemon, potato and chives to the parma pizza with mozzarella, fontina, arugula and prosciutto di parma, beet and goat cheese plin with tarragon and chicken liver rigatoni with cipollini onions and sage. The  caramel and ricotta cannoli with salted butter gelato were also delicious, and they reminded me of the cannolis my grandfather used to bring us from Philly whenever he and my grandmother came to visit us in Princeton. I plan to use Vetri's cookbook, given to me by my uncle and aunt gave me for a birthday present.

Marc Vetri

There were many other wonderful parts to this trip, from long walks and bike rides in the country to visiting with high school friends I hadn't seen in years. We even had a reunion of Princeton High School gals at the longtime favorite, Conte's, which serves up the best pizza in New Jersey! Luckily,  daily spin and yoga classes with my parents provided a great way for us to work off the calories we'd gained by eating so well. But the food remains a highlight, and I only wish I had thought to pack a few ears of that sweet Jersey corn to bring home with me, so I could bite into each one and savor not just the flavors, but the memories of cherished days from long ago.