Brown and Dead…The Trail or The Pizza?

Since indoor activities are so limited in these Covid days, we layer up and suck it up and get outside to do some hiking instead of sitting in front of the idiot box (credit to my mom for that one) or on our phones all day. On this day we went to the Watchung Reservation. Alan is no stranger to the Reservation but it’s only my second time there and I have not hiked on the trail we have chosen. We chose the purple, yellow, and white combination of trails as together they measured to be 3.8 miles. We parked in the parking lot which is about ¼ full and find the trailhead.

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There were some hills and parts were rocky but still a fairly easy hike. Because of the recent rain and since it was 30 degrees during the hike, parts of the trail were slightly muddy with icy patches but easily manageable. Starting out on the purple trail we were far enough into the woods where you couldn’t hear the traffic so that’s always a plus for me. There were a few foot bridges and we came to a huge gully with a pretty stream and where someone left a rope swing tied to a tree. I was able to coax Alan into swinging from it and even gave him a little push on it after he asked me not to (wink wink).  We approached a sign explaining how copper was mined there back in the 1600’s. Across the chasm was another trail where we saw other hikers. There were a few water features and streams that were quiet and picturesque. Watch your step though. Most of the trails have roots sticking up so there are a lot of tripping hazards.

As far as crowds, the first half of the hike we were alone. Once we came to the gully, we saw more hikers, dogs, and families. But it wasn’t to the point where we were all over each other. For the most part everyone was conscious of the social distancing and would mask up when approaching. 

The trails were greatly marked and easy to follow with varying distances. At the nature center, the trail head, and also in the parking lot, there are maps showing the distances and colors of the trails. If you go to you can see the map, but the distances are not indicated and the new mobile map is not yet completed on the site.  

Also on the site, numerous historic places are listed that you can visit in the Reservation as well as a lake. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of winter hikes only because everything is dead and brown but I would definitely do a little more homework and go back to explore some more of the Reservation. Overall a nice hike, considering how cold it was. Definitely a great hike with kids because of the well-marked trails and fairly easy terrain. 

On to the pizza!

Now I’ve read reviews and articles about Santillo’s Brick Oven Pizza in Elizabeth and I know it’s rated one of the best in New Jersey. I know it’s an “experience” to go there and to trapse down the alley way to get your pizza. I know people rave about it and its owner and how “different” he is. Blah Blah Blah.

Sometimes establishments or experiences are over-rated and other people just jump on the bandwagon so they can sit at the cool kids’ table. I had that experience with the Broadway show Wicked. Everyone carried on how it was the best show they had ever seen and when I saw it I thought it was great but not the best.  

Anyway, back to Santillo’s. This was my first time there but Alan had frequented this place before. He warned me. I knew there was no indoor seating (even pre-Covid) so I called ahead. I told them I was placing an order to pick up and they asked my name, and then they asked how many pies (one Sicilian), and what I wanted on it (plain). Then I was asked, “When do you want to pick it up?” What the fxxx kind of question is that? I want it next Friday. I said, “I don’t know, 20 minutes?” He responded with a stern “No, it has to be 30 minutes and bring exact change, $25.” Then why the fxxx did you ask me when I wanted to pick it up??? There was no “thank you,”… no “see you soon”…just a click of the phone.

Hey let me tell you something, don’t treat me like you’re doing me a favor. Like I need you. It’s fxxxing pizza.  It’s not some Michelin star restaurant where you can cut the filet mignon with a fork cause it’s like “butta.”  IT’S PIZZA. We live in New Jersey. There’s a pizza place in every damn strip mall from bow to stern in this state. Don’t act like you’re holier than thou. I understand you have a long history and your pizza is famous (insert eye roll) but that doesn’t give you the right to be rude on the phone. Or maybe it does. Because so many people think that because they have something you want they can treat you any way they want. OHHH I know! The arrogance is part of the “experience”. Ok, ok, now I get it.

Now I have a bad taste in my mouth before I even get to Elizabeth. I start ranting and raving in the car on the way there. Naturally, we arrive 15 minutes earlier than when the pizza will be ready so we wait in the car. Ok, I see the alley way that you have to walk down to get your pizza. Big deal. More of the “experience” I guess.

We wait in line with a couple of people in front of us (also first-timers because one of them wants to take a picture of the other carrying the pies down the alley). The sign on the half-open storm door states something about exact change only and if you need change it will be Venmoed to you. Ummm ok.

I tell them my name and hold the exact change in my hand as I have a flashback to the soup Nazi  episode of Seinfeld. Well this was close. I had to place my exact change into a Home Depot bucket held by the lower half of the storm door that had the bottom window removed. He called it the “Covid bucket” and I’m sure it’s for Covid protection so I don’t have a complaint about that.  I am handed the pizza box through the bottom half of the storm door (also Covid-related so I get it) and off I go. No “thank you” once again. As I walk down the alley I say out loud “This better be the fxxxin’ best pizza I ever had cause these guys are rude.” 

We drive home and open the box. The cheese is burnt – brown and bubbly. Not exactly what I was looking for. Some people like their pizza that way, but not me. Personally, the pizza is all about the sauce and this sauce was just ok. I prefer my sauce a little sweeter. I’ve had better but I’ve had worse. The crust was good, a little on the thinner side for a Sicilian. Thin enough to fold it in half and eat it like a regular slice. I like it to be thicker. By the second piece I had to remove the burnt cheese because it wasn’t tasty.

Overall, it was ok. Personally, I think it’s overrated – the pizza AND the experience. A little humility and appreciation go a long way. But once again I guess you can afford to have a chip on your shoulder when you’re “the best.” I’ll take my chances with this review and I will not be sitting at the cool kids’ table.

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