"I have a theory that everyone's favorite pizza is the one they grew up with," claims Anthony Ewing, the Maplewood resident who recently launched the website EthnicNJ.com. Ewing will be exploring this and other ideas about food preferences, geography and ethnic identity on his website, which celebrates the different groups that make up New Jersey's population by focusing on their cuisines.
Ewing came up with the idea for the site two years ago after being frustrated in his search for good places to eat on his way back from soccer games. "There was a lot of information on the web, but it was hard to sift through," he recalls. Hence, the goal of EthnicNJ.com is to put this information "all in one place" so that someone hungry for Peruvian chicken, Thai spring rolls, or even American hot dogs—"People in New Jersey really care about hot dogs," explains Ewing—has only to click onto the site's interactive map to find a good restaurant nearby. Ewing also reviews and ranks restaurants, from "my favorites" to "worth a visit" and the tactfully put "I didn't like it, but you might."
An important criterion for these rankings is authenticity. According to Ewing, a restaurant offering a certain national cuisine should serve food that someone of that background would both "recognize and appreciate." But there are other tip-offs that you are eating in a place that is the real deal. In an authentic Italian restaurant, for instance, you should not only hear Italian spoken but "at least one of the waiters or bartenders should be over 60, and a few of the customers should be dead-on Sopranos casting-call types."
As a fourth generation Italian-American himself, Ewing believes that New Jerseyans are passionate about ethnic food because so many of them are hyphenated Americans. Such identities remain strong "no matter how long they or their families have been in the country." In the case of Ewing, his own Italian-American identity has deep roots in the South Orange/Maplewood community. One set of great-grandparents who immigrated to this country settled in South Orange on Third Street.
At the moment EthnicNJ.com features eight different cuisines, but Ewing is in the process of adding more, including Vietnamese and Costa Rican. Ewing also encourages those using the website to write in and share their own favorite ethnic restaurants. The towns with restaurants featured in EthnicNJ.com range from Cape May to Montclair and Maplewood, and as the project continues, there will no doubt be many more. Among other things fueling Ewing's enthusiasm is the fact that the "pizza patrol" led by The Star-Ledger's Peter Genovese judged DeLucia's of Raritan to have the best plain pizza in New Jersey. DeLucia's is the top pizza pick of EthnicNJ.com too and is, perhaps not surprisingly, located near where Ewing grew up.
And what about the danger to a restaurant reviewer from all those calories? It may then not be a coincidence that, in addition to being a food connoisseur, Ewing is also an avid runner.