Saturday, November 26, 2011

Wasteland Wonderland

Ten miles south and across a river from the Indian conclave of Edison, NJ lies a no man's land of central Jersey. It's so nondescript that the area doesn't really have a proper name. Call it Somerset, or call it North Brunswick, what it mostly is is the wasteland to your right as you drive down the clogged artery of Route 1 between New Brunswick and Princeton. It's all strip malls and sterile housing developments where an enormous unseen hand has plunked down ghastly cookie-cutter abodes in tight, nervous clusters. Welcome to freaking nowhere!

The surprising news is that "freaking nowhere" has the most exciting food scene I've found in years. I spotted a dozen Indian restaurants of scattered regionality, serving a new community of Indians fleeing Edison (Indian immigrants tend to cluster, then develop an irresistible urge to disperse but then all wind up together again in some new enclave....rinse and repeat).

But there's way more than just Indian food. I spotted the following great-looking spots, shopping strip holes-in-walls all, which my chow-dar pronounced killer: Luca's Ristorante (2019 Rt 27, Somerset, NJ; 732-297-7676), an unsettlingly authentic-looking Ischian spot right next to La Casa De Tortilla (2017 Rt 27, Somerset, NJ; 732-398-0660), which appears to offer that rarity of rarities: good Tex-Mex. Just north of those two is a brand new Afghan restaurant (which doesn't google, but I think it was called Chopan). And my chow-dar perked up big time at Istanbul Restaurant & Patisserie (1000 Aaron Rd, North Brunswick Township, NJ; 732-940-1122), right next to an Egyptian grocer, and also at Szechuan Ace (1721 Rt 27, Somerset, NJ; 732-937-9330). Amid all this wonderment is also (as I discovered later, via web search) a location of that great Hyberbadi restaurant I raved about in Norwalk CT. This branch is Paradise Biryani Point (1980 Rt 27, Somerset, NJ; 732-821-6300).

One amorphous "town" south, I'll bet Pho 99 (3151 Rt 27 Unit K, Franklin Park, NJ; 732-821-1828) makes terrific Vietnamese soup, and Aroma Royal Thai (3175 Rt 27, Franklin Park, NJ; 732-422-9300) and Paratha Hut (3191 Rt 27, Franklin Park, NJ; 732-940-1005) are worthy, as well (of course I'm a sucker for anything with "Hut" in the name, Pizza Hut being the obvious exception). Even further south on the same road, I actually got to try Main Street Eatery & Gourmet Bakery (56 Main Street, Kingston, NJ; 609-921-2778), and found their brownies and raspberry bars excellent, though a couple notches two sweet. Their cookies, though, are primo.

But none of this is the really big news. That - the find of the year - will have to wait till Monday.

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