A Short Guide to Jackson

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There is some debate over the existence of Central Jersey. During colonial times, the state was divided by the Keith Line, which separated East Jersey from West Jersey. Today, it’s more clearly divided geographically by the line drawn by Giants fans or Eagles fans — and those who refer to our state’s signature meat like Taylor ham or pork roll in a northern demarcation and South Jersey only. Benjamin Franklin called New Jersey a two-ended barrel because of its location between New York and Philadelphia. The middle of this “barrel”, the area that is basically equidistant from the two towns that define the loyalties and inclinations of many Jersey residents, is Jackson Township.

Located in Ocean County, Jackson is big: it’s just over 100 square miles. In addition to the township’s main draw, there are classic dining establishments with devotees that look just as big.

The upside down pizza at Brooklyn Square Pizza in Jackson. Photo courtesy of NJ Advance Media

There are plenty of great pizza places in New Jersey, and Jackson certainly has its fair share of pizzerias, none garnering more positive press than Brooklyn Square Pizza. Pietro Grippo’s family made the migration that many others have – from southern Italy to Brooklyn to New Jersey. He commuted from Brooklyn for years, working at another location before opening his own.

Grippo can claim his pizza as “out of this world” and not hyperbole it; one of his creations accompanied astronaut and New Jersey native Garrett Reisman to the International Space Station in 2010. When he was named the best pizza in Jersey in Pete Genovese’s 2017 pizza showdown, Grippo exclaimed that a restaurant “in the middle of nowhere” for many could become one of the state’s destinations. (It’s not in the middle of nowhere, of course, it’s central Jersey.)

Bella Italia Pork Store in Jackson offers a range of prepared foods, imported specialties and more. Photo courtesy of NJ Advance Media

Another Jackson business that caters to Italian food lovers is Bella Italia pork shop. It literally serves but also provides a wide range of prepared foods, imported specialties, freshly slaughtered meats, baked goods and more. The Sgroi family also made the move from Italy to Brooklyn (with a stop in Staten Island) to New Jersey, opening Bella Italia in 2009 and quickly becoming a mainstay in the community.

There’s one place to keep in mind if you’re heading to Jackson early in the day, with an emphasis on early. Village donut shop opens at 5am and stays open until they sell out. This means that the baked goods red awning hut often closes at noon. Be warned: Many of your favorites may sell out much sooner, so get there early and buy a box.

Tacos y Alitas offers visitors acclaimed Mexican-American dishes and wings. Photo courtesy of Tacos y Alitas

Some businesses are located in Jackson; this one is centered in Jackson. Tacos and Alitas stands for Tacos and Wings, and this hugely popular food truck run by the Angeles, a father-son team, offers visitors acclaimed Mexican-American dishes and wings. Follow them on social networks because they sometimes raise the bids and leave for festivals and private parties.

Within 100 square miles in the middle of the state, you can also expect to find farms. Jackson is home to many horse farms, but for Jersey-grown fresh produce there are options too. Look for Farms I and G, an 80-acre farm and garden center, for its locally grown fruits and vegetables. People come from all over, not just central Jersey, for the corn.

We’d be remiss not to mention one of the largest theme parks in the world, occupying over 500 acres in Jackson. great adventure was conceptualized by a New York businessman who saw the Jackson area as an ideal location due to its location between New York and Philadelphia. His LeRoy adventures opened some of New York’s most splashy dining establishments at one time: the Tavern on the Green, the Russian Tea Room, and Maxwell’s Plum.

Fatburger, the famed Los Angeles-based burger restaurant, is expanding to Six Flags Great Adventure this summer. Photo courtesy of Fatburger

Alas, the food situation at Great Adventure has never reached such heights, and while some may think a full stomach and death-defying rides don’t go well together, a fun-filled day of food fits right into the thrill. park attractions for many more. You’ll find many categories of expected and desired treats throughout the park, from familiar trade names to regular visitors and new additions every year. This year, the park will have a fat burger, the famed Los Angeles-based burger restaurant that continues its eastward expansion. This will be its first theme park location, and many fans will see it as an elevated and most popular culinary ride.

Or check out some of these other local Jackson businesses before you go to or leave the park.

Hank Zona regularly writes about wine, spirits and a range of other topics such as food and culture. He also pour wine and spirits events of all kinds for over a decade.

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