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Robin Friedman : author and journalist


On a roll

Munchers find that Jersey breakfasts begin with pork

By PETER GENOVESE | The Star-Ledger | Friday, July 14, 2006

Call pork roll the unofficial state meat. Practically unknown outside New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, pork roll — a pork product generally sold in 1-, 3- and 6-pound tubes — is a diner and luncheonette staple. Most people call it Taylor Ham regardless of its origin, but the name accurately fits only pork roll made by Taylor Provisions in Trenton.

Which makes the state capital Pork Roll Central because the other big name in the pork roll biz — Case's Pork Roll — is headquartered in Trenton.

“That smell — salt, grease, cholesterol,”

Muncher Robin Friedman said as she sniffed the air at the Summit Diner in Summit.What the [self-proclaimed Jersey Girl] was smelling was pork roll, egg and cheese sandwiches — Sliders, as they're affectionately called at the classic diner, presumably for the way the greasy-good sandwiches make their way through one's digestive system.

Grease and the Munchmobile? Say it isn't so! Our latest Munch trip was a search for first-rate examples of the unofficial state meat — and breakfast sandwiches in general. We visited diners, coffee shops, luncheonettes, even general stores throughout the Garden State, making quick work of these cheesy, chewy, not-just-for-breakfast- anymore sandwiches.

“Out West, no one knows what you're talking about when you say pork roll; it's a New Jersey thing,” said Donna Beers, co-owner of Pork Roll Xpress, a Port Murray pork roll supplier.

“I've been eating pork roll since I could eat,” Cathy Urglavitch noted. No surprise, considering her blood lines. Her grandfather, George Washington Case, began selling pork roll at his farm in Belle Mead in 1870. His company, the Case Pork Pack Co., would become the Case Pork Roll Co.

Pork roll and the Munchmobile, greasy — if not perfect — together. For the full report, slide your eyes down the page.

Summit Diner, Summit

Our journey began at this barrel-roofed, wood-paneled diner, one of the state's oldest. Eight stools on one side, nine on the other. You not only can see your food being cooked, you can smell it; cooking is done on a grill out front. Sliders are the Summit's signature sandwich, but like any reputable diner, your choices are many.

“My mom said, you're not going to eat everything,” Muncher Michelle Rossi recalled. “I said, Watch me.'”

We watched as Rossi made quick work of her Slider. It was perfectly constructed, the two thick slices of pork roll, plus egg and cheese, melding as one inside a nice Kaiser roll. “Good meat-to-cheese ratio, but not too slimy,” Maryann Topping said. “This is great!” Friedman exulted. “It's hot and salty and crunchy and soft!”

Mike Mincey had designs on his pork roll. “I wanted to put mayonnaise on this, make it a Southern pork roll, egg and cheese,” he said.

First out of the gate, the Slider looked like it might be tough to beat. But several worthy contenders lay ahead, sizzling on the grill.

The Coffee Shop, Bernardsville

“Those pancakes look really good,” said Topping, casting covetous eyes on flapjacks in this tile-floored luncheonette.

This neighborhood haunt is run by Fro Andronikou and her sister, Isabella. Their dad, Jim, has owned it for 22 years. Our search was for breakfast sandwiches of all kinds, and the sausage and egg sandwich here is a winner — long, tasty, sausage links in a Kaiser roll. “Unconventional,” Topping said.

The pork roll, egg and cheese sandwich was not on the Summit's level — it seemed too salty and not as well put together. It was thinner- sliced, which seemed to lessen its appeal.

But the bacon and egg sandwich was superior to the diner's version. And the bacon got raves. “Excellent,” said Muncher Frank Cangelosi.

Allenwood General Store, Wall Township

Eat your pork roll sandwich and shop for antiques in this 72-year- old, wooden-floored general store, stocked not only with massive 6- pound logs of pork roll but vintage signs, copies of Boys' Life magazine, rotary phones and dried-out wasp nests, which we're pretty sure are not for sale.

“The greatest place for a pork roll sandwich,” e-mailed Donna Palmer. “Try it. You'll be charmed to even think a place like this exists in New Jersey.”

We made Topping happy by ordering a stack of pancakes. Make that ecstatic. “By far one of the best pancakes I've ever had,” she said.

She called the sausage sandwich “unbelievable,” although Friedman was not a fan. “Crumbly sausage,” she noted.

The pork roll, egg and cheese sandwich had admirers and detractors. Topping called it “great,” with a top-notch roll, but Mincey said the egg was “overcooked” and the overall sandwich didn't quite live up to its billing.

One must here: the “rustic cole slaw,” different and distinctive, with radishes, mayonnaise, tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers. It's made by Kim Giannascoli, girlfriend of owner Jeff Herbert.

We hated to leave the general store, but there was more pork in our immediate futures.

Frank's Deli and Restaurant, Asbury Park

This is one of the biggest, and busiest, luncheonettes down the Shore or anywhere. The faded blue facade, tile floors, booths and stools lend a step-back-in-time feel. We found the biggest, though not the best, breakfast sandwiches here.

Mincey — Mince Dog to his friends — called the mammoth pork roll and egg sandwich a “a man-eater's pork roll,” and bursting with a pork roll flavor the others lacked. But Cangelosi thought the meat-to- cheese ratio was off — too much pork, not enough cheese, and subpar cheese at that.

The bacon and egg sandwich contains a heart-stopping amount of bacon, but it's not otherwise special. Skip the peppers and egg sandwich — you can do much better elsewhere.

Fortunately, it wasn't a beach kind of day, otherwise we'd have been tempted to walk the few blocks to the ocean. There was only one rational thing to do. Eat more pork roll.

White Rose System, Linden

There is nothing finer than a Jersey diner, and one of the more atmospheric ones is the White Rose, nestled in an industrial area of Linden. Look for the row of American flags flying out front; the specials are written on pieces of blue and red construction paper, ruffling in the hood fan-whipped breeze. Pastrami and cheese. Roast beef and fries. Franks and beans. Hot grits every day.

And pork roll. The Complete here — pork roll, egg, cheese and potatoes — was a total success.

“The potatoes rocked!” Topping raved. “It's a smart addition to pork roll.”

Munchmobile photographer Tim Farrell gave the Complete his best-of- day award. Mincey judged the basic pork roll sandwich “damn good, as good as the Summit Diner's.”

The day's best bacon, with a distinctive, smoky taste, was found here.

Colonial Restaurant, Fords

This long, narrow luncheonette — we've seen shorter bowing alleys — seemed a appropriate way to end our pork roll odyssey.

“When I came (to this neighborhood), it was only me and a pizza place,” said Chris Arvanitis, owner the past 23 years.

New Brunswick Avenue is now chock-a-block with food options. And surprises, judging by the first-rate waffles here. Yeah, we know it's not pork roll, but variety is part of every good Munch diet. “Amazing,” Rossi said. “The waffle was banging,” Topping added.

The pork roll and egg sandwich? Not up to the waffle's standards; the egg seemed lost, and the roll was inferior. The bacon and egg sandwich, with sturdy, smoky bacon, was superior. Good French toast, too.

“A great finish,” said a happy Mincey.

The only thing missing on the ride home was the banging version of Ween's “Pork Roll, Egg and Cheese:”

So mom if you please pass me the pork roll egg and cheese, If you please on a Kaiser bun.

Munch team profiles

Frank Cangelosi

Said he would have applied for the Munchmobile earlier but “who wants to get up early on a Saturday when you're in your twenties? As it appears the Munchmobile has no matchmaking aspirations this summer, I am sure my wife will not mind.” This past year has been eventful -- he got married, turned 30, bought his first house and earned his MBA.

“What better way to cap off an amazing year than a trip on the Munchmobile?”

Robin Friedman

Teen and children's book author (www.robinfriedman.com). Books include “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.” Compiled a list of Top 10 reasons she should be chosen for the Munchmobile, including: “I only weigh 102 pounds, so I don't take up a lot of room,” “I do impressions,” and “I'm a Jersey girl; I had big hair all through the'80s.”

“That smell -- salt, grease, cholesterol.”

Mike Mincey

Physical education teacher, also a Realtor for Coldwell Banker. Known to friends as “the Mince Dog.” His Munch application began: “I'm one of those guys who has come crawling on both hands and knees begging forgiveness and hoping you might have an open slot for the Greatest Food Show on Earth.” We were not sure if he meant him or us.

“I'm going to dream of a giant pork roll chasing me down the street.”

Michelle Rossi

“The first thing you learn as a freshman at Mount Saint Dominic Academy in Caldwell is that life revolves around food,” she said. “My friends and I take turns bringing in snacks to share. These are anything from bags of chips to bagels or even something healthy -- gasp! -- like a fruit platter. Anything bad we eat gets burned up running up and down stairs all day.”

“My mom said, 'You're not going to eat everything.' I said, 'Watch me.'”

Maryann Topping

Describes herself as a mom who is a “firm believer in food appreciation.” Favorite foods include fried chicken, ice cream, hot dogs and sausages. “I'm of Hungarian descent, so pork products of all kinds flow through my veins.” Considers herself a hot dog connoisseur; loves chili dogs in particular.

“My son drinks his milk, eats his veggies and loves his Cheerios now, but it will only be a matter of time before he can appreciate a chili dog from Rutt's Hut or an Italian ice from the Lighthouse.”

Where we munched

Allenwood General Store, Allenwood-Lakewood Road, Allenwood (Wall Township); (732) 223-4747. Hours: 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

The Coffee Shop, 23 Olcott Square, Bernardsville; (908) 766-6806. Hours: 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

Colonial Restaurant, 366 New Brunswick Ave., Fords (Woodbridge Township); (732) 738-0554. Hours: 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

Frank's Deli & Restaurant, 1406 Main St., Asbury Park; (732) 775- 6682. Hours: 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

Summit Diner, 1 Union Place, Summit; (908) 277-3256. Hours: 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday.

White Rose System, 1301 E. Elizabeth Ave., Linden; (908) 486-9651. Hours: 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday.