Sunday, June 17, 2012

Main Street, NJ

A friend who visited me recently described Nassau Street and thereabouts in Princeton as what she imagined the East Coast would be like before moving to the region. Which struck me as a perfect description: the lacrosse shop, the Ralph Lauren, the understated upscaleness, the small-scale pseudo-Europeanness, it's got hints of New England and Old South, as well as various blue-state cultural leanings, as well as an Ivy League university across the street. It is very East Coast-as-someone-from-elsewhere-might-picture-it.

It's also designed to make you, however square you are, feel as though you're this huge counter-culture rebel even if it's for wanting something like a Gap rather than a Lilly Pulitzer. Nassau Street is proudly edge-less, and will not have you edgy. It will taunt you with 50% off racks of shorts out on the sidewalk that, yes, say "Princeton," but they're not that bad, are they?

What I hadn't quite known, until today, was how Nassau Street evolves once you continue on that street, as it becomes Lincoln Highway. I'd been on a small bit of this (up to Kingston) by bike, and had heard that if you went far enough in that direction, there would be a huge Asian supermarket, but managed to get exhausted on the bike long before any Asian supermarket. This time, we went by car, all the way to Highland Park. A Thai restaurant, Pad Thai, that Chowhound recommended - and that turned out to be amazing - was on that-which-Nassau-becomes, so we decided, on the way there, to take the easy-but-slow route.

And the street... morphs into so many other main streets. First there's a long stretch very much like Devon in Chicago, with food from all over the world (Afghanistan, Jamaica...) in the kind of nondescript strip malls that promise great "ethnic" food, and that deliver, in my experience, about as often as their urban equivalents, but that are at any rate probably a cut above spending $50 for bland on Nassau. Also: a very 1950s looking - and not "retro," just old - roller rink,. Then, right before Rutgers, the immigrant culinary lineup becomes a neighborhood that ought to be shown to anyone who doubts that food deserts exist - a grocery called something like "Meat Mart" specialized in, it seemed, meats and cigarettes. Then there's part of Rutgers, then Highland Park, which is like Ditmas Park or some other upbeat but not hipsterish part of Brooklyn. So close! Have I mentioned the Thai food?

Along with Thai food, an Orthodox Jewish community. A store promises modest attire for the preadolescent.

This juxtaposition, from earlier in the day, during the tentative beginnings of a serious search for a car. The combination in store when we cease to bike everywhere. My thoughts after the uphill bike ride to the car-sharing car: bring it on.

And back in the town of princes. The Whole Foods checkout is actively trying not to tempt customers.


Jenny said...

I lived in Highland Park for 4 years and ate at Pad Thai and Midori (the sushi place) all the time. There is a fantastic Ethiopian restaurant on George Street (right off 27 as you drive through New Brunswick). Now I live in Edison, home to dozens of cheap amazing Indian restaurants and grocery stores. If you take 27 all the way through Metuchen and past the intersection with Parsonage, you'll find Sigiri, a wonderful Sri Lankan place.

Phoebe said...


Thanks for the pointers! We just got a car, so Sri Lankan food and more await...