There’s just something about being a Jersey Girl that keeps me grounded. Perhaps everybody feels this way about their home state. Maybe being a Wyoming Girl is just as cool, just as delicious, just as fabulous. What I do know is this: living in Maryland during my early adult years, I quickly realized being a crab cake eating, Old Bay spicing, Natty Boh drinking girl ranks just as high as Jersey Girl greatness. Sure, they’re missing the pork roll and the beach badges, but they’ve got their own kind of loyalty they’d fight to the death to defend. This is why I consider myself mostly Jersey with a side of Old Bay. After all, I lived in Maryland for nine years and that’s a lot of time in Baltmore, hon.
Perhaps it’s embarrassing to admit, but I’ve never been to Pimlico, even after all of those years of building up my Maryland pride. Horse racing just wasn’t something I was familiar with, despite adoring an uncle who, upon his death-bed, was still talking about his racing stripes, and despite living absurdly close to Monmouth Park, our very own Jersey racetrack. It wasn’t until I got married and Paul took me to the races that I realized there was a whole lot of fun going on at the Jersey Shore that I knew nothing about.
You can be assured, I knew nothing about it. Across the board? Exacta box what? First time Lasix? I had no idea what any of it meant, but I will tell you, I won a good hundred dollars on a horse named Richie from ShopRite, and that’s only because my Dad loves ShopRite and I thought it was a good omen to bet a few dollars on him to win. It’s safe to say, I bet purely on how much I can connect with the name, then I cross my fingers, and hope my $2 long shot comes in first. But even if that doesn’t happen, the experience is what makes going to the racetrack worth all the money we are somehow always bound to lose.
On a typical day at the track, we first pack the cooler up with ice and frosty beverages. We then make our way to our favorite sub shop and top off our cooler with some delicious Jersey sub sandwiches. We call them subs here, not hoagies. No way, no how is anyone from Monmouth County eating a hoagie, unless they are visiting from South Jersey or Philadelphia, or they somehow got confused celebrating the HoagieFest at the WaWa. Next, we make sure to get to the track at least a half hour before the track opens. I wear my best pair of wedges and when the gates open, I race, just like the horses, for a picnic table by the fence. Despite my competition (men with actual sneakers and sometimes running gear), I always seem to claim a table. This becomes our home base for the rest of the day. Friends and family join us and it becomes one of the best ways to spend a summer day at the Jersey Shore.
Then there are those not so typical days at Monmouth Park. These are the special event days when we skip the subs and opt for lunch at the track. One of our favorite special event days is the Food Truck Festival. While this year it was the most crowded we’ve ever seen it, we never miss a chance at visiting one of our favorite food trucks, Toum, a New York City truck serving up delicious Lebanese cuisine.
We love the falafel sandwich, a thick, toasty wrap filled with fava beans and chickpeas, lettuce, tomato, parsley, onions, turnip pickles, and tahini sauce. If there’s a line, wait in it. It is totally worth your time and money to eat this sandwich. The best part is, you can follow Toum on Twitter and always know where to find them. Oh how I wish they’d park their truck right outside our house. Unfortunately, we only get the occasional ice cream truck rolling by and, well, that’s just not as delectable as Toum.
Monmouth Park also hosts other special events like beer and wine festivals, crab cake cook-offs, and even a day completely devoted to all things Irish. It is also a great place to spend Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, serving as a comfortable way to get the whole family together for good food and fun.
So the next time you are visiting the Jersey Shore, skip the beach and race to the track! If you need to fill your cooler with good subs, we recommend a visit to Vintage Subs on Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Order the #2 for a taste of true Jersey sub glory, but don’t hesitate to order any of their other delicious options, including their Vintage Specials, all named after famous Asbury Park landmarks.
And don’t forget to tune in to CNN tonight to watch Anthony Bourdain visit our little city by the sea. Our favorite traveler meets a Jersey Shore legendary town, rebuilding itself with the help of creative and ingenious entrepreneurs and restauranteurs who are hard at work making the city shine.