Sunday, May 30, 2010

Jones mixes it with love and makes the world taste good

People with a sweet tooth unite! The Black River Candy Shoppe in Chester has all the confections you know and love — and some that you might not know at all.

"We have more than 900 items in the store," store owner Steve Jones says, standing in front of a cabinet stocked with Pez. "I have about 30 suppliers, and I get them (from) as far as California."

It's tough to know where to begin the list of his inventory.

"We're kind of broken down into different main candy areas," Jones says, spreading out his arm toward a plethora of bright candy wrappers. "The front of here is all what we call kiddie candy."

Think M&Ms and anything else that you can imagine a child chomping down on in front of the TV.

But Jones knows that candy is not just kid's stuff. He has a another whole section dedicated entirely to adults.

"Another big draw are our nostalgic candies," Jones says, taking a stroll down the aisle and passing a box of Moon Pies. "This is old stuff — candy buttons, wax bottles, flying saucers, and it just goes on and on."

The shop even sells an old-time schoolyard favorite, candy cigarettes, which Jones acknowledges might not be the most politically correct product these days.

"I call them candy sticks," Jones says with feigned innocence. "They're one of our biggest sellers."

He acknowledges that the primary buyers of his "candy sticks" aren't children, but rather adults who look back on them fondly.

"My philosophy has always been: I hope there are stronger influences within a family than what kind of candy they eat," Jones says. "I used to eat them when I was younger, and I've never smoked a cigarette in my life. But they're a huge seller."

The store also features a section of sugar-free items.

"I'm told by my sugar-free customers that it's a large selection," Jones says. "We have more than 120 different sugar-free items, and a lot of people come in and say that this is a better selection than they see in a lot of places, so evidently, it is."

Anglophiles who seeking a Curly Wurly Bar could actually find one here.

"We have one of the largest selections of U.K. candies," Jones says. "We keep expanding it because it's every popular."

That includes Cadbury chocolates. The ones sold in the shop are different from the Cadbury you might already know in the U.S., Jones explains.

"I brought in all the British Cadbury, and they sell like hotcakes," Jones says. "If you were to have one, you would taste how different the chocolate is."

Also popular are the store's bulk items, which allow customers to mix and match Jelly Bellies with some Salt Water Taffy, for example. And why not? The Black River Candy Shoppe has so many varieties of candies that the possibilities are nearly endless.

Jones didn't start out with a passion for the sweet stuff.

"I never was that into candy," he says. "I'd go out on Halloween and Christmas, and my parents would throw away my Halloween stuff, because I hadn't eaten it."

That's not the case anymore, though. Jones now travels to expos as far away as Chicago to try out the new best confection, such as coconut or pretzel M&M's.

"I eat candy more than I ever did, to be honest with you."

So, without the childhood yen, how did Jones — who celebrated his 11th anniversary of his store — get into the sweets biz?

"I had friends who had similar stores in the mountains of North Carolina years and years ago," says Jones, who came out of the pharmaceutical industry. "It kind of put the idea in my pocket, and things worked."

The shop's location itself is a sweet spot for Jones: "I love Chester. That's one reason I opened here."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Review: Super Mario Galaxy 2

Believe it or not, but Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the very first direct sequel to a Mario game that we’ve ever gotten in this country on the same home console. Now, before you start pointing fingers and saying, “Well, what about,” or, “Now, that’s not true!” Just hear me out for a moment.

On the NES, we got Super Mario Bros. 2, but cartridge pictures were deceiving, as our SMB2 was nothing more than a game called Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic in Japan with the original characters substituted in with Super Mario characters. It felt very different from the first Super Mario Bros., and it was different, and in that way, it felt like a brand new game to us on these here parts. The REAL Super Mario Bros. 2 didn’t come out over here until we got Super Mario All-Stars, as Super Mario Bros. 2: The Lost Worlds was the game that we were originally supposed to get. The thing was, Nintendo thought it was too hard for us puny Americans, so they gave us the modified Doki Doki Panic instead. But, upon playing the original, Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2, you kind of get the feeling that it’s a nice little experiment and all, but if we had gotten it back then in this country, would we have really been that enthused about the series when SMB 3 came out and harkened back to the love we had for the first game?

Maybe, maybe not, it’s debatable, but the fact of the matter is, it wasn’t a direct sequel, and it made the series seem like it was constantly changing, constantly on the move. It’s for that reason that later titles in the series, like Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine (Even though, many people still call it to this day Super Mario 64 with a water gun) and Super Mario Galaxy seemed like the next huge step for Nintendo because they never did the same game twice, and were always reimagining the platformer with each new installment in the series. If you don’t believe me, then look no further than Yoshi’s Island, which many people don’t even realize is fully called, Super Mario World 2.: Yoshi’s Island. Honestly, did you that Yoshi’s Island was the sequel to SMW? They’re completely different games!

So, why did I bring all that up? Well, it’s because even though Super Mario Galaxy 2 is heavenly, divine, and perfect, it’s NOT as mindblowing as the first Super Mario Galaxy.

That’s not to say that Super Mario Galaxy 2 isn’t better than the first game, because it is, 100% so even. But a direct sequel on the same system just doesn’t have the impact as the original game did because in many ways, I feel like I already played this game before only a few years ago, and I did, so I’m not as thoroughly impressed as I originally was. Still, with every first-party Nintendo game, and especially with Mario, Nintendo doesn’t mess around when it comes to sequels, so while, yes, this game doesn’t blow me away like the original SMG did, it’s still the best game to be released for the Wii since then.

Now, I’m not going to even talk about the story (Princess Peach gets captured by Bowser yet again), but I do want to talk about the structure of the game, as it is quite different from that of the first title. Whereas the first game was set on a space station that you wandered around to get to other planets and galaxies, this game is now set up with a world map, a la, Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World, and that makes the game 100% more accessible and more fun than the original game. In this installment, the planets can be traveled to in a spacecraft that is actually shaped like Mario’s head (as one of the characters in the game notes, though, it looks more like Luigi than Mario since it's mostly green).

Oh, and speaking of Luigi, he’s no longer a secret at the end of the game anymore and shows up sporadically to take over at times if you choose him. Yoshi makes a reapparance, too. Controlling his tongue takes some getting used to but he’s an absolute blast to play with once you get the hang of him. He adds many layers to the overall wonky physics of the game, with Yoshi running up walls with one of his power-ups. It really takes the game to new hieghts.

The co-op mode isn't really updated all that much from the original Super Mario Galaxy. Player 2 takes on the role of an orange Luma who can't move on their own and basically just shoots out stars at enemies from the Wii-mote. I guess the mode is intended for your girlfriend or little bro who might be intimidated by all the wacky physics going on in the game, so I won't say that it's COMPLETELY worthless, but I wouldn't say that it's entirely entertaining, either. Whatever the case, it's probably best if the mode is left alone as it doesn't really provide much to the game and still seems like a bit of an afterthought in the long run.

Don’t worry if you liked the bee suit, the boo suit, and the spring suit in the original, as they all return in SMG2. But added to the list of power-ups are the drill suit, the cloud suit, and the boulder suit, which all feature prominently into the overall gameplay. The drill suit is definitely my favorite as it allows you to burrow right through the middle of planets and get to the other side, which is a good way to find special power-ups and secrets that layer the game. Next up is the cloud suit, which is just okay as all it does is allow you to make three clouds as platforms. It’s decent, but I was expecting a bit more from it. And finally, there’s the boulder suit, which allows you to plow right on through things with ease. It takes a bit getting used to navigating it on the round surfaces, but it’s a blast to use once you get the hang of it and I love it, so I have no complaints with that.

The number of planets has been greatly increased this time around. Instead of being stuck on a planet and having like five or six stars to find on it, you now only get about three or four stars on each planet, with two of them usually being secret. This means you get a lot more variety this time around. I have a hard time deciding which planet is my favorite, but the water ones are a clear contender.

Also new are the Comet Medals, which unlock the secret competitions of the first game. For example, you might race somebody or try to avoid the brand new Mario clones. The clones, by the way, are cool in that they make you feel like you’re in a parkour chase.

Overall, Super Mario Galaxy 2 doesn’t blow me away like the first game did, as it’s too similar to the last one to really feel like it’s the next step in the Mario franchise. But with the first Super Mario Galaxy already being one of my favorite games of all time, is that really such a bad thing that I get so much more of it and thensome? No, no it is not. Super Mario Galaxy 2 may not be the transition from Super Mario World to Super Mario 64 that you might be hoping for, but it’s a better game (I know, heresy) than both of those games combined and definitely one of the best games I’ve ever played in my entire life. Pick this game up now. It's legendary.

Players: 1-2
Platform(s): Wii
Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB: Everyone

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Chester DQ offers Blizzards, more

Honestly, who doesn't love Dairy Queen? Seeing that red DQ logo up in the night sky is usually enough to get the part of your brain that enjoys eating to send a signal down to your taste buds to get you salivating in seconds.

And Chester's Dairy Queen owner, Jeff Weininger, knows exactly how you feel.

"I love ice cream," Weininger says. "I grew up between two Dairy Queens. So when I decided to change careers, I didn't look any further."

And when he looked, he just so happened to find this particular Dairy Queen in Chester, of which he's been in charge for more than 20 years.

"Our business keeps building," Weininger says. "We have a good, high-quality product, and people like us. We're glad to give the best service we can."

That product is known all over the world, from Canada to Thailand to right here in Chester, as many people frequent this DQ on Main Street, probably purchasing many of the same products that people enjoy all the way over in the Philippines.

"The Blizzard is our signature product," Weininger says. The sweet blend celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

"We're actually having 25 flavors for 25 years," he says.

Some of their most popular Blizzards are ones that you've had over the years if you've frequented the chain.

"Peanut butter cup is the most popular, followed by Oreo cookies," Weininger says. "The rest of the spectrum is pretty well-spread."

He says that flavors you might have had when you were younger that seem to have disappeared from the menu can be prepared again if the store has the materials on hand.

"We can make pretty much make any flavor that Dairy Queen's had over the past 25 years," Weininger says. "People request them, and we'll make them on request. And there are hundreds."

Selling to the community and making people happy is what this Dairy Queen is all about, and Weininger and his crew have been rewarded by the company's headquarters for upholding those standards, earning such titles as the "Silver Scoop Award for Outstanding Sales Performance," "Queen's Choice Hard Ice Cream Sales" and the "Silver Yogurt Award for Outstanding Sales Performance in Yogurt Sales."

"Dairy Queen comes in, and we give them our sales records, they track us, and then they come in and they check us for excellence and cleanliness and different things," Weininger says. "If you fail in any categories, you don't get any awards. So we try to keep it up."

The shop's custom-made ice cream cakes are especially popular.

"We still do basic cakes and stuff like that, but we've kind of gotten into more customs," says manager and ice cream cakemaker Danielle Bifalco, who has been working at the Chester DQ since she was in high school. She says the shop is working with customers a lot more, "designing different things that are crazy."

One such crazy cake recently depicted a three-eyed monster with squiggly eyebrows and an even more squiggly mouth.

As to why Dairy Queen doesn't sell its ice cream cakes in the supermarket like rivalCarvel does, Weininger has a simple answer.

"We like to keep it right here," Weininger says, "where we have quality control. And we like to make personalized contacts so we can cater to what you need. A supermarket is just very general. Everything from Dairy Queen is made right here for

And when it comes to catering to Chester itself, Weininger has some kind words for the town: "Chester is a really, really nice town. It's just a very pleasant place to be. I probably have just as many friends here as I have at home."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sisters co-chair 2010 Mansion in May benefit

Want the proud satisfaction of helping to add a $25 million expansion to the Emergency Department at Morristown Memorial Hospital? Want the fun of touring a beautiful mansion?

At Mansion in May, an event run by the Women's Association at Morristown Memorial Hospital, you can do both at the same time.

"Mansion in May is the signature fundraiser for the Woman's Association at Morristown Memorial Hospital," says Susan Bruen, who this year, along with her sister, Anne Rooke, is a co-chairwoman for the event, "We've found an exceptional property here in Harding Township, and it's going to be the site of our 15th Mansion in May."

The mansion is at Fawn Hill Farm, and it is up for sale by its owners, the Glatt family.

"The house was beautiful, and it has been well-maintained and beautifully owned by Herbert Glatt for almost 30 years," Bruen says, "They were interested in selling. That's what we hope to bring to them with our 20,000 visitors for Mansion in May — prospective buyers."

Mansion in May usually is presented every other year, but it sometimes has been scheduled three or four years apart until the perfect location is found. The proceeds help Morristown Memorial Hospital and contributed $5 million to the cause since the event's 1974 inception. The event also helps the interior decorators and landscapers who are hand-picked to give the mansion a make-over as their work is on display for all to see.

"We're all volunteers, and nobody gets paid on our committee. We really keep our expenses down," says Rooke, who was part of the search committee this year and also is a nurse.

In addition to funds raised by the mansion tour, other revenue comes from food sold in the garages of the mansion, as well as items sold by the interior decorators that can be purchased once inside the house.

While this may be the sisters' first mansion that they've been fully in charge of, it isn't their first foray into the fundraiser.

"I moved to this area in 1982, so I probably started getting involved in Mansion in May in 1988 when I joined the Board of the Women's Association," Rooke says, "My sister joined around that same time."

Both live in Morris Township.

"We started small just doing small little things," Rooke says, "Our father is a physician, and our mother's a nurse, so when we were growing up, we were very entwined with the hospital community."

Both say that in addition to being a great cause, Mansion in May is also a great deal of fun.

"I have to say, my sister, Anne, and I like to work together, and in most cases, we have," Bruen says, "It's just a fun project. There's the camaraderie and the sharing and you catch that mansion fever. It's very fun.

"We enjoy organizing things," Rooke, adds, "We keep coming back because it's a lot of fun."

The tour runs through May 31. Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Sunday. The cost is $30 for adults and $25 for senior citizens. For more information, visit

Experienced chef in the kitchen at Asian Gourment & Hunan Wok

Every neighborhood Chinese restaurant has many of the same menu items, but each restaurant has a different story.

"Why are we in New Jersey?" asks Zhong Zheng, the 22-year-old manager of Asian Gourmet and Hunan Wok, "Well, New Jersey is closer to New York," he answers, explaining that his parents are older and have many relatives in New York City. His family started out in Colorado, moving to this country around 2001 with the intention of opening a large-scale restaurant.

"My father and my mother were young then, so they wanted to open a bigger restaurant, like a buffet or something," says Zheng, who was about 13 at the time. "They opened it in Colorado, and it was all right, but they're getting older now, and they like the New York area more, so they moved back."

Zheng says Colorado was an ideal location then because there weren't as many Chinese restaurants there as there are here.

"We were around New York, and we moved to Colorado because there is more space for a Chinese restaurant there," Zheng recalls.

After a few years over out West, the Zheng family decided to move back to New York, and they found a spot in Long Valley after using one of the best resources they could find: a Chinese-language newspaper.

"We took it over in 2006 or 2007," he says.

Zheng says that the standard Chinese favorites in other restaurants are all favorites here, too: "General Tso's chicken and chicken and broccoli," he says.

Zheng doesn't cook but has taken it upon himself to be the restaurant's personal taste-tester.

"I taste the food, and I give suggestions to my father, like, maybe American people like it this way, or maybe they like it that way. I eat Chinese food, too."

His father, Chunrong Zheng, who owns the restaurant, is also one the chefs.

"My father has been in this business for, I think, 15 or 16 years already," says Zheng, who is proud of his father's cooking. "He started as a lower level chef, and he's now the chef. He can make everything on the menu and other items that are not on the menu. He's a very experienced chef."

He must be, as they've certainly been welcomed into the community with their stellar food, and Zheng feels the same way about New Jersey — and Long Valley in particular.

"This location is very nice, all the trees and all the neighbors," Zheng says, taking a look outside at the beautiful weather, "It a nice place to work; a nice place to have a restaurant."

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Review: Super Street Fighter IV

I don’t know, man. I just can’t get INTO Street Fighter IV. And even though all my friends say, “It’s just like Street Fighter II, it’s just like Street Fighter II,” I just don’t feel it, man. It seems far too awkward compared to SFII for my tastes, and it definitely feels like a step backwards after the stellar Street Fighter III. If you want to see me rant some more about it, you can find my thoughts on it here, as all my complaints for Street Fighter IV remain the same for this latest incarnation.

Still, I know a lot of people liked Street Fighter IV, and more power to them. So I’m going to review this latest entry in the series as if I was one of those people, because if you’re a fan of the last game, then you’re going to love the hell out of this one.

Now, before I get started, here’s a brief history. Back in the mid-90’s when Street Fighter II was bigger than Jesus, every couple of years you’d find a new version popping up in arcades with some added new feature that wasn’t advanced enough to make the game considered a true blue sequel. First, there was Street Fighter II: Championship Edition, which allowed you to play as the four formerly unplayable boss characters: Balrog, Vega, Sagat, and M. Bison. It was a worthy entry in the series that, at the time, seemed entirely necessary. Next, Capcom made a super fast version with the suffix Turbo, which everybody really liked. Next, they added four MORE characters in DeeJay, Cammy, T. Hawk, and Fei long and plugged another new title to the mix, calling it SUPER Street Fighter II. Swell, okay, so where’s Street Fighter III already? And finally, they made yet ANOTHER addition to the franchise, calling it, are you ready for this, SUPER Street Fighter II TURBO, which pretty much solidified the fact in gamer’s hearts that Capcom was basically saying, "Screw you, you’re not getting a true sequel and that’s that."

Now, back in the 16-bit era, if you wanted four new characters or faster gameplay, you pretty much had to buy a brand new game which was pretty much the same as the last one that you already had but with a few new additions, which totally sucked. But, lo an behold, now we’re living in the age of downloadable content, and we don’t NEED to suffer through any of that garbage anymore. All we have to do now is just plunk down a few extra bucks on our credit card accounts, and voila, revamped game without ever leaving the house. Isn’t technology wonderful? But the reason I bring all this up is because somehow, Capcom found a way to essentially make you pay for the exact same game all over again with a few extra bells and whistles like they used to do back in the 90’s. How is this even possible? Granted, it’s a whole $20 less than the copy you probably already have in your library, but really, you’re pretty much paying for the EXACT SAME GAME. So, what should you do then? Should you buy Super Street Fighter IV, and feel screwed all over again just like you did when you were a kid, or should you say, "Screw you, Capcom, I’m not giving you anymore of my money." You’re not screwing around with ME anymore. Oh, no, I’m much wiser now. And stronger! Well, I can honestly say that you should choose the former option over the latter in this case, as Capcom truly went the extra mile with this one. Honestly, I actually can’t believe that they’re not charging FULL price for this baby, as they truly overstuffed it this time around, making for a fully complete game.

Let’s start out with the characters first, shall we? Now, in all honesty, there are really only two new characters if you’re a Street Fighter junkie like myself, as all of the others characters have been in previous entries in the series before, most notably, Street Fighter Alpha, and Street Fighter III. This is just fine with me, as playing as Dudley and Adon is the naz. But I do have one problem with this: Guy and Cody, both from the Alpha series just don’t feel like they did back in the day. They feel slowed down to fit the whole SF IV momentum, which is just fine if you’ve already settled into that groove, but if you haven’t and you’re expecting the ninja quickness of Guy in the Alpha series, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed, as he moves about as fast as his animation will allow him to.

Still, when added in with the other characters who were already on the roster, that makes it a total of 10 new faces in SF IV, which is quite a bit of characters for an update and much more than would be suitable for downloadable content, so I guess the price is just about right for all the new characters you’re getting. But as for the REAL new characters, I’m a little torn if I really actually like them or not. Juri is a master of Taekwondo, and she’s a good character, but I find her a little boring and don’t really find myself satisfied with her on the roster. Oh, well. The other is Hakan, a Turkish oil wrestler. I think I like him quite a bit more because he’s a bruiser, making him fit comfortably with say, a Zangeif or an Abel, but he’s also quick, like a Ryu or Ken. He’s also a truly unique character—sliding on the floor and grabbing you, only to have you slip out of his greasy grasp—and I can see myself using him in online tournaments…as soon as I get to those, I should say.

Oh, and about online play. Now, a lot of people I know thought SF IV was pretty good online but had a few snags to it, mainly unbalanced characters who could be exploited to the extreme. But I’ve been reassured by all my friends that SSFIV fixes all those problems and is much more balanced this time around, so Sagat users won’t be cleaning house so much anymore, which is good, because Sagat sucks.

Also, for all of the previous characters, new ultra combos have been added, as well as new story modes, so even if you beat the game with Ken before in the last game, you might want to play as him again so you can see what happens next with his pregnant wife, Eliza, and his family. I mean, it’s not like the story is any better than it was before, but if you’re like me and have to see EVERY single ending in the game, then it’s nice to see that new ones have been added. Again, it’s just another sign that Capcom went the extra mile with this ass-kicking baby.

So, overall, if you loved Street Fighter IV, then you will be head over heels for this latest installment, as its new characters, new stories, new moves, and more balance, make it worth the $40. But if you’re like me and are in the stark minority who DIDN’T really love the original Street Fighter IV, then this one’s not going to make you a true believer either. Still, the price is certainly right, so get it. You know you want to. Hadouken!

Players: 1-2
Platform(s): PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360
Developer: Dimps/Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
ESRB: Teen

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Chester Meat Market: Service and quality

If you're roasting, grilling, braising or stewing, you need meat. And if you want the best advice and the best meat, you may already frequent the Chester Meat Market.

"We've been in Morris County for 40 years. We've been in this location for 28 years, and we're in the retail meat business," says proud shop owner Louie Gross.

"We have service and quality, we cut fresh meat into our showcase, every day, all day, six days a week, and whatever you want, we do. We're completely service orientated."

Gross and his four employees all enjoy their work.

"Service and quality," employee Glen Boralsky says. "That's our motto."

They like their own products, too.

"I like everything. I like rib-eye steaks, I like New York strip, I like rack of lamb. I like it all, really. I'm very carnivorous, I only eat meat," Gross says.

In glass cases sit delectable meats cut that very morning, ranging from hot dogs to kielbasa to some of the choicest ground beef you've ever tasted, perfect for making into juicy hamburgers.

"We cut almost a 40-foot showcase of meat every day, and it goes," Gross says, "We push stuff out all day long, and we have a good rapport with our people. The whole key is to love what you do."

He said the shop sells equal amounts of different meats. A lot of ground beef gets sold, along with specialties including sirloin beef patties and special hot dogs.

He also knows the best ways for customers to use his products.

For example, grilling season is here, and Gross says any meat can be grilled.

"Pork chops are good on the grill, steaks are good on the grill, we do lamb chops on the grill, everything actually lends itself to grilling," he says.

"If you're going to cook a roast, then you should always preheat your oven, and should let the piece of meat stand out in room temperature for a little while so it warms up and you're not putting in a cold piece of meat into a cold oven," he advises, "And start off with the proper piece of meat. That's why you should go to a good butcher who can guide you."

A butcher's shop has more control over its products than a large supermarket, he explains.

"We can select ourselves, and we have complete control of what we bring in. If we don't like what we bring in, then we'll send it back, whereas a lot of places can't do that because it's bought by buyers. Here, we do our own buying."

And while some places are switching to Canadian, New Zealand or Australian meat because it's cheaper for the consumer, Gross says he's sticking with American products because of their better quality.

Gross is a third-generation meat man.

"I worked in Newark, I worked upstate New York, I worked in Chicago. I worked all over the world. I've always been in the meat business and never wanted to do anything else," he says. "My father was in it and my grandpa was in it. I like the excitement in it. I meet nice people, and that's a big, big part of it."

Gross and his fellow workers specialize in being a meat market, but the shop also has a fully stocked deli. But the shop doesn't advertise that. The shop doesn't advertise at all — its reputation alone attracts plenty of business.

"We do big word of mouth business," Gross says, "Our whole object is, if you're happy, you'll tell somebody else. And it's worked for us all these years."