Everybody knows that if you want to experience the hidden treasures of France or Italy on your next tour, you'll need a Michelin guide. If your travels take you across America it would be wise to get an AAA tour map. There's just no place to find out where the local pols in New Jersey are hanging out. That was, until now!
It's taken most of us a lifetime of dining around the state to figure this out but local political leaders tend to gather at the same spots to review the day’s activities or make the next deal. They might stray occasionally but ultimately they'll return like the swallows to Capistrano.
The South Jersey crowd is the most predictable. A quick meeting is always at Ponzios. They should just close down the Court House and move everybody over there. It's the real capital of Camden County. If you're looking for more serious conversation and the party elite, you might stop by Lamberti"s.
The Hudson boys culinary habits are as Balkanized as their politics. The Court House crowd has always gathered at Casa Dante. If you eliminated everyone from public office who secured their nomination at Casa Dante, we'd have fewer leaders than Baghdad. The North Hudson Boys don't venture far from home. If you want to plead your case some Saturday morning, go to the IHOP in Union City. The West Hudson pols are in denial about being part of the County and only venture east when required. You'll find them at the Plaza diner.
If somebody doesn't know where to find the Essex crowd, they don't know enough to vote. You're more likely to find an Essex County pol at Pal’s Cabin than a missing member of the foreign legion at an oasis.
You'd expect Lesniak to designate one of New Jersey's better restaurants as the Union County watering hole. No ordinary fare would do! You'll find the Union County crowd at Benito's. You can put it on Ray's tab.
Middlesex will have to adjust to John Lynch's current vacation plans. He used to hold court at Panico's before he traded it in for federal fare. The more modest local officials will be seen at The Reo, Edison or Colonial diners.
You'd expect Bergen County to operate a bit above standards. It's how we've always seen ourselves. The senior political leadership dines where most funds are raised for visiting dignitaries. It's always been the Stony Hill.
Mercer has to share their restaurants with the state-wide crowd. It's the burden of being the Capital City. You'll find the locals with the Trenton crowd. It's Marsillio’s or Lorenzo’s. Either could be placed in those high school civics books about "How a Bill becomes a Law". You can introduce legislation and you can get it posted for a vote but if it hasn't been discussed by someone at Lorenzo's or Marsillio's, it's unlikely to pass.
Everybody else has their own gathering spots as well. In Burlington it's Mastori's and in Atlantic it's the Knife and Fork. The Salem crowd (such as it is) gathers at the Salem Oak Diner. In Passaic they love diners. You'll find them at The King George or the Tick Tock while the Gloucester group will be at the Hollywood Cafe or Five Points.
I'd like a day added to my life for every meal that I had in one of these places but I wouldn't trade for a minute the things that I learned about New Jersey and its people while sipping my fourth cup of coffee in the corner booth.