You say tomato, I say Thai

After jumping out to an early 9-1 lead in the early days of the latest poll, Thai held off Japanese to be the choice of Rahway Rising readers:

“What type of restaurant would you like to see downtown?”
Thai 38 percent (17/44)
Japanese 27 percent (12/44)
Indian 15 percent (7/44)
American 9 percent (4/44)
Chinese 4 percent (2/44)
None; plenty as it is, 2 percent (1/44)
Other 2 percent (1/44)
French 0 percent (0/44)

The poll results were record setting, smashing RR’s previous high of 30 votes — a 46-percent increase! (Of course, there’s no way to know if someone just ran around voting from different computers, but we’re on the honors system here!)

The choices in the poll leaned Asian as I tried to avoid offering choices that are already in the area (Portuguese, Mexican, Irish, etc.). Not sure if there’s a Thai, Japanese or Indian place on the way, but the four readers who favored American might be in luck. And to those two who favored Chinese, there’s still hope.

2008 could be the year of the restaurant in Rahway. On top of Cubanu and Luciano’s, another new addition could join the scene. Developers of Carriage City Plaza are in “serious talks with a steakhouse operater that is a New Jersey institution,” according to a representative of Elizabeth-based Silcon Group. “New Jersey institution” — any guesses? My first thought was Tiffany’s, but that’s more known for ribs, no? Another reader suggested Arthur’s, which has three New Jersey locations, none very close to Rahway.

UPDATE: You’ll have to come up with some new guesses. According to a representative of Silcon, they were approached by Tiffany’s and “rejected the concept as not being upscale enough.” Same goes for Arthur’s, though “we never talked to them.”

A 6,000-square-foot steakhouse (more along the lines of a Lone Star) also is planned to accompany a new 72-unit Sleep Inn to be built near the Best Western at East Milton Avenue and Routes 1&9. That project was re-approved by the Planning Board last month after several years of being tied up at the state for waterfront development permits, among other things.

Speaking of the hotel, Silcon is in the final stages of negotiations with a fitness center/spa that will open along with the Hotel Indigo in June. Other potential retail tenants might include a bank, dry cleaner and “several coffee house concepts,” among others. Homeowners are expected to be moving in some time in May. More than 100 of the 209 condos at Sky View have been sold, the representative said, and expect “to be sold out very soon.”

P.S. In case you’re interested, here are Rahway’s presidential primary results from Tuesday night.

More redevelopment areas under consideration

The Rahway Redevelopment Agency might consider more areas of the city for possible redevelopment. City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier asked commissioners at their meeting last month to think about other areas for redevelopment to discuss at their next meeting. The agency next meets Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall.

Continue reading More redevelopment areas under consideration

Luciano’s open for business

Luciano’s Italian Ristorante & Lounge opened for business Thursday after an invitation-only grand opening the previous night. It’s the second restaurant to open downtown in the last month or so, joining Cubanu.
If you’re having trouble finding anything about it on the Web, you’re not alone. A fruitless Google search led me to make a phone call for the Web site, which has a menu (senza prices) and hours, but not much more . A woman answering the phone suggested dinner for two with a bottle of wine might run about $100. Strangely, the Web site displays their location about five blocks too far up Main Street, at Elizabeth Avenue.
The three-story building at Main and Monroe streets also houses 14 rental apartments and had been open for private parties late last year.
Keep an eye out for a review in the coming weeks. Ciao.

Housing market, bad; rail towns, good

The Transit-Friendly Development newsletter is one of those wonk-ish things that probably doesn’t get much pub outside of public policy and bureaucratic circles. So, of course, I subscribe.

A joint effort between NJ Transit and the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University, the newsletter publishes three times a year. In the previous edition, it reported on the Town Center plans and has featured Rahway in the past. The January edition reported on a presentation at the League of Municipalities Conference last fall by a real estate appraisal and research group. Basically they said the housing market is a nightmare — with one exception:

“Affected by the strength of the Manhattan housing market, as well as a national trend showing distinct preferences among 20-somethings and baby boomers for live-work-play locations such as New Jersey, one bright spot in this slumping sector is housing in transit-rich locations. While expensive suburban homes languish on the market, with 48 weeks of inventory, housing near locations with excellent rail connections to Manhattan is flourishing with less than a six-month supply of unsold homes.”

The piece fails to mention either the North Jersey Coast Line or Northeast Corridor, instead pointing to Glen Ridge and Montclair on the Montclair-Boonton Line; South Orange, Maplewood, Millburn, Summit and New Providence on the Morris & Essex Gladstone Branch; and Roselle Park, Cranford, Westfield and Fanwood on the Raritan Valley Line.

Granted, most of the towns cited are more affluent than Rahway to begin with. However, say what you will about NJ Transit or its service, the city probably has better rail connections than any of them. It’s one of the few places Rahway can be mentioned in the same breath as those (and one thing it has in common with Summit, which like Rahway is where its two train lines split). While the Morris & Essex line also has a train to Hoboken, the Raritan Valley only goes as far as Newark Penn Station and weekend service doesn’t exist on the Montclair-Boonton.

P.S. The newsletter also has an update on downtown redevelopment efforts further down the Northeast Corridor line in nearby Metuchen.

More traffic changes afoot

While the Irving-Fulton realignment continues, plans also are in the works for assorted traffic changes around downtown, including:
* Signalization of the five corners intersection near the Union County Arts Center;
* Two-way traffic on Main and Irving streets; and,
* Reversing some one-way streets in the other direction, including West Cherry and Coach streets.
The Fulton-Irving realignment project is expected to last through April, completed around the same time the hotel is planned to be ready.
The City Council earlier this month approved a $114,000 contract for city engineers to develop modifications and signalization for the intersection where Irving, Main and Hamilton streets meet Central Avenue. The project will commence once traffic is converted to two-way on Main and Irving streets, and includes widening Irving Street opposite the arts center, modifying the Civil War monument island at West Main and Central, and constructing a triangular island at Hamilton and Central. City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier said the projects should be completed by July.

Concerts and comedy

For the second straight time, our poll ended in a tie, with two options garnering a strong majority of the votes.

“What would you like to see at the Union County Performing Arts Center?”

Concerts, 36 percent (9/25)
Standup comedy, 36 percent (9/25)
Plays/musicals, 16 percent (4/25)
Movies, 8 percent (2/25)
Other, 4 percent (1/25)

The last poll also finished in a tie, and there was no word on what that “Other” vote might have been. Feel free to use the comments section to fill us in.

It was interesting that “standup comedy” finished first considering the plans to create a black box theater and performing arts space down the street, that’s always been talked about for a comedy club. The question also remains, what kind of concernts might people want to attend? There’s been no shortage of Paul Anka or Dar Williams at the arts center over the years; is that filling a need, or are people looking for something else? Interesting that plays/musicals only garnered four votes, as the center’s expansion included making more space for larger productions (as well as adding air conditioning for year-round use). Personally, I love when old-school movies that you’d never see on the big screen anywhere else, like Easy Rider or Citizen Kane, are screened at the UCAC.

The arts center likely will reopen next month following a year-long, $6-million expansion by the county. The 1928 facility will have an “updated” name, adding “performing” to its moniker. Check out the new poll question to the right, as well as the new option to subscribe to the blog via email.

Cubanu: A review

I’ve been meaning to check out the latest addition to the downtown, Cubanu, a new restaurant/lounge at the corner of Main and Lewis streets. Some might remember the previous tenants of the corner bar: Eighty Eights and Fat Tuesday’s.

I’m not all that picky when it comes to food (I’m one of those people who was raised to clean this plate), so it would take a real effort to serve up something I didn’t like. Given that my girlfriend Kathleen and I were excited to finally try Cubanu since it opened late last year, I expected that we wouldn’t be disappointed when we paid a visit Friday night. We were far from disappointed.

Two things jumped out at me when we got there. Though the physical layout isn’t much different from the previous bars, the decor was nice; it just fit really well. Loved the entrance way between the dining room and the bar, and later we both admired the colorful wall tile behind the bar. Maybe it was just the tableclothes and silverware, but as soon as I sat down I already had the impression that this was going to be one my best dining experiences in Rahway. Spanish versions of “I Will Survive” and “Hotel California” also just cracked me up; they embodied the whole evening, something different in Rahway.

To start, we went with the Cha-Cha Sampler so we could select three of the tapas chioces. We chose the Maria Rosa, Empanadas and Cubanitos. Kathleen’s favorite was the Maria Rosa, basically two balls of mashed potatos stuffed with meat and deep fried. I loved the Empanadas, perhaps the best I’ve ever had, though admitedly, I haven’t had all that many in my time. All in all, the apps were terrific.

For her entree, Kathleen selected the Paella el Malecon and I had the Pollo Tropicano. When I first viewed Cubanu’s menu on the Web, it was little pricier than I expected. But the portions are pretty healthy and you also get to choose two of about six sides. Though my chicken at first was a touch dry it got better and we both ended up with plenty of leftovers to enjoy for lunch the next day. I thought a very unique touch was being presented with the check in a cigar box. It’s definitely different from cookie-cutter casual dining places.

If there was anything I didn’t like about our visit, it was extremely minor, like keeping water glasses full, but the number of staff and their friendliness more than made up for that very minor critique. There weren’t many selections of wine by glass, and we probably would’ve been better off getting a bottle.

The very next night, I happened to meet friends (from Rahway and out of town) for impromptu drinks in Cubanu’s lounge. Our party of about six all had good things to say and were pretty excited about a new choice in downtown nightlife. The lounge was a bit warm and it was actually easier to have a conversation while the live Latin jazz trio played than when they were on break and the music was blaring. All in all, we had very good things to say about our experience in the lounge.

If people want to talk about Rahway being “the next Hoboken” or “the next (fill in the blank),” it needs more destinations, places that give people a reason to come. No one’s coming from out of town to go to The Waiting Room, Flynn’s or The Back Porch; all great neighborhood joints where everybody knows your name, but Cubanu seems like the first place in awhile that could be a destination. At the very least, it’s something different, and that’s what any downtown needs: diverse options.

Have you been to Cubanu? What’d you think? Good, bad, indifferent? If you plan to go, feel free to send comments this way. In the meantime, keep an eye out for a new poll question this week and maybe an update on the traffic projects downtown.

A blog about all things redevelopment

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