What I liked about Esquire’s article ‘100 restaurants America can’t afford to lose’ is that the piece addressed the real threat of pandemic restrictions head-on. The article directly talks about executive orders forcing businesses to fail “a real threat all year, with the relentless tragedy of COVID-19 leaving many American restaurants, even established classics, on the brink of bankruptcy. The threat will only intensify as winter progresses and restaurateurs have to abandon the outdoor dining that has kept them treading water for months.” They don’t choose sides. They don’t take a position on economy over lives. They simply recognize the all-around tragedy of it all.

Among a list of 100 restaurants so special that America cannot afford to lose them you’ll find five right here in New Jersey. They don’t rank them. They are merely listed alphabetically along with what makes them special.

The first was Cowan’s Public in Nutley, NJ. Esquire describes it as craft beer, proper drinks and good food in a beautiful Art Deco environment. The historic building was erected in the 1920’s, was impacted by the misguided prohibition years but has been home to taverns ever since according to their website.

Next is Egan and Sons in Montclair, NJ. (I immediately wondered if Stephen Colbert hangs out here) This British-Irish pub received high praise for its soccer bar, great food and overall atmosphere. The even have a snug! What’s a snug? Egannsons.com offers this definition:

The Snug


The snug was for patrons who preferred not to be seen in the public bar. Ladies would often enjoy a private drink in the snug in a time when it was frowned upon for women to be in a pub. The local police officer might nip in for a quiet pint, the parish priest for his evening whisky, or lovers for a rendezvous.

And yes, you can reserve your very own snug. I love this!

Nanina’s In The Park in Belleville, NJ is actually an Italian banquet hall that looks out on Branch Brook Park. Generations of Italian-American families in that area have countless memories of weddings, anniversaries, graduations, you name it. Speaking of weddings, their site shares they’ve been included in Top 10 venues in bestofnj.com as well as receiving multiple awards from NJ Bride, Manhattan Bride and the very prestigious The Knot. After more than three generations of weddings it would be tragic for this place to go under because of the pandemic.

The Shrimp Box in Point Pleasant Beach, NJ. It’s been described as the Jersey Shore’s best kept secret, but there it’s been overlooking the harbor and offering great seafood in a casual atmosphere for years. And it came back from Sandy when five feet of water invaded the restaurant so let’s hope the pandemic won’t do what the storm could not.

Finally, the Squan Tavern, in (where else?) Manasquan, NJ. It’s an incredibly popular place with some of the best Italian food anywhere. The backstory according to their website is really inspirational. A guy and his wife served the genuine Italian food he had grown up with from a little corner of the Squan Tavern after he worked all day cutting meat in a Long Branch grocery store. That was 1964. By 1975 they bought out the owner and it’s stayed in the family ever since. A true Jersey story.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski. Any opinions expressed are Jeff Deminski's own.

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