A Lot of New Jersey and Pennsylvania Pizza
…and my time living with Buster, a 19-year-old cat
Greetings from Halifax, Nova Scotia! I’m wrapping up my time with Gidget, who regularly tries to interfere with my typing by resting on my wrist.
I’m leaving Canada soon, and in early 2023 I’m headed to the Boston area.
Jul 26 – Sep 28: Rosemont, NJ – Buster
28 Sep – Nov 14: Lévis, QC – Freddy and Bubbles
Nov 20 – Dec 7: Halifax, NS – Gidget
Jan 11 – Apr 5: Belmont, MA – Yoshi and Kiku
I’ll also be in Minnesota over the holidays. Let’s catch up! I also do not have anything booked after April 5. What are your summer plans?
Buster hissed at me when I first approached him. At 19 years old, which is a gazillion in cat years, Buster was set in his ways and coexists with his normal cohabitants and nobody else. While Buster’s humans were off to England and I was moving in to Buster’s home, I learned that their two adult daughters would no longer take care of Buster even though one was within a short walk. Buster had urinated in protest with one, and the other swatted at the other so swiftly it caused a shoulder dislocation. Nobody seems to want to get anywhere near this cat! My start with Buster wasn’t easy either, and had to deal with a little protest marking as well (the bathroom rug spent the rest of the summer outside). But making friends with cats is my superpower.
As the weeks went by, I kept somewhat of a consistent schedule, and worked my way closer to Buster throughout the days without being imposing. Buster got used to me, and he eventually let me pet him, and eventually he’d sleep next to where I happened to be. While he never became the most friendly cat, we certainly got along and became great housemates. Eventually, he even let me put on a leash for a walk outside!
One of Buster’s humans’ daughters stopped by with her husband. Upon the sight of Buster and I walking in the back yard, they looked at me as if I’ve pulled off an impressive illusion or trick. Neither of them dare go near Buster, and the husband quipped that in the more than a decade he’s known the cat, he’s never seen him enjoy a leash, let alone not try to attack people near him. He asked – in that joking but not really joking way – if I was a real cat whisperer.
I also gave Buster a catnip banana, which I attest works with almost any cat. Buster hadn’t found interest in most toys in recent years, but the banana certainly turned him around.
Buster would wake me up each morning, and he would great me with meowing at the back door every time I came back home. I loved getting to know Buster, and I’d be happy to stay with him again.
Pizza in New Jersey and Pennsylvania
Buster lives in New Jersey close to the Delaware River, with Pennsylvania on the other side of it. Along the river are a bunch of cute towns and bridges and a lengthy trail system on both sides. I was about a half hour from Trenton and an hour from Philadelphia, and got to visit a number of friends and a couple relatives as they came through the region.
Of course, many of my meetups were over pizza. I had about thirty different pizzas in the area, and below are my favourites.
Porta, Asbury Park, NJ: A couple friends were giving me a quick primer on the beaches of New Jersey, and Asbury Park was at the top of the list. Tied to the recommendation was to check out Porta. They said it was really good, but I was surprised to find that this is easily one of the best pizzas I’ve had in the state. Deriving from a Neapolitan style, I found their crust slightly crispier and firmer than traditional Neapolitan, which is dialled into my preferences. Very fresh mozzarella cheese, and the whole pie felt balanced. I enjoyed walking it off a bit along the boardwalk just a block away.
Luca, Lancaster, PA: Lancaster is the main city in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country and in the centre of the country’s largest concentration of Amish and Mennonite communities. It’s a city rich with history, and a friend and I stumbled upon a massive outdoor beer garden and a popup indie art shop in the shell of old corner grocery. We bought art! The city felt like it had a lot more to explore, but we walked to James Beard-nominated Luca. It has a modern-rustic interior, and the pizzas themselves are distinctively beautiful. However, our party of five quibbled in agreement over the general heaviness, inconsistent crust, and imbalances that make these pizzas imperfect, but we were comparing this to the best pizzas we’ve ever had. Luca also felt like the place to be, and where I’ll go back to when I’m in Lancaster next.
Stroud Pizza, Stroudsburg, PA: I was tasked with a last minute-challenge: my aunt and uncle were traveling by car from Wisconsin to New England, a route within a couple hours from where I was staying. The President of the United States scheduled a last-minute campaign stop, closing some of the highways around Wilkes-Barre, directly impacting their route. I had to find a place to meet up on a revised route as well as find a place to eat. Stroud Pizza doesn’t have a website, but I caught a glimpse of some of the photos posted on Google Maps, and it seemed like I’d have better luck than anything else I found. Ends up this is certainly some of the best pizza in the area with fantastic New York-style slices and pies. The owner had been slinging pies in New York and New Jersey before middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania, and the town may not know how lucky they are. Compared to some of the best slices in New York, this would rank formidably.
Papa’s Tomato Pies, Robbinsville, NJ: The Trenton Tomato Pie is a regional style with a thin and crunchy crust with mozzarella immediately next, then any additional ingredients before the tomato sauce on top. It originated in its namesake, Trenton, but no longer has much of a presence there properly: the first establishment in 1910, Joe’s, closed down before the year 2000, and the more prominent proprietors of the Trenton Tomato Pie have moved to the suburbs. Papa’s is the “oldest continuously family-owned pizza restaurant in United States,” having first opened in 1912, and was also my favourite example of the Trenton Tomato Pie I tried. Just don’t call it a “pizza”!
Pizzeria Beddia, Philadelphia, PA: In 2015, Pizzeria Beddia was named the best pizza in America by Bon Appétit. I was able to visit in 2017 when Joe Beddia would only make 40 pizzas a day. To get one, you needed to queue before they opened to find out what time to come back to get your pizza to take out or eat over the single table in the room without chairs. The crust explores the whole palette: it’s a little sour, a little sweet, and a little salty. It’s crispy but soft. Chewy but not dense. I cannot think of how a pizza crust could be any better. Ingredients are high end and locally-sourced, and they are all topped with a Pennsylvania gouda called “Old Gold” from a small farm. Beddia has since reopened a few blocks away in a much larger space and has scaled to handle demand beyond 40 pizzas. The dough is apparently difficult to work with, but those making the pies are pulling it off. I can attest that it’s still one of the top five pizzas I’ve ever had. If you haven’t been, highlight it on your to-do list in Philly.
Sidebar: Cats in the Washington Post
Penny and Liddy, two cats I cared for a few times in 2017 and 2018, have moved to their new home in Japan! Their cat mom documented their complicated journey in “How to import a cat into Japan in 28 easy steps.”
After I got to Québec, I received an email with the below photo attached. “Buster is not quite sure how to deal with your absence. He has spent a lot of time at the back door looking for you.” 😿
My next email will be about Québec and Nova Scotia! Keep in touch!