When I made the forty mile drive from my home to Mitsuwa, I had a plan; I was going to sample the hot dog at the vendor called "Italian Tomato," considered by many to be one of the Garden States´ most unusual. This tube steak, said to be presented with all the elegance of a kaiseki service, is felt by some to be the most perfect expression of Japanese aesthetics in America. I was going to order it - except that I couldn´t.
Yes, I´d seen the dog once before, years ago, when I had to entertain the son of a friend who was a manga fanatic but only ate hot dogs. I kind of vaguely remembered it and I wanted to get another just to make sure. It was a great plan until I started walking through the Mitsuwa food court... Italian Tomato itself offered "Spicy Cod Roe Spaghetti" and the bakery next door had beautiful layer cakes out on display. Soon I was noticing green tea soft-serve, a Japanese/Chinese stall, ramen, katsu, soba, and fancy coffee drinks, and had completely forgotten the states´ most legendary food.
One of the great things about being out in the suburbs is the way you can create a whole environment from scratch. In the space of mega-mart or mall, everything extraneous can be eliminated and a sort of purity can be achieved. One can step through a door and leave the streets behind, fall through a hole in the time-space continuum, and wind up in a glorified, idealized version of a place you´ve never been to.
This is just what happens when you head over to Mitsuwa Marketplace, a Japanese shopping complex in Edgewater. Is everybody in Japan this well-dressed, kind, and clearly devoted to enjoying life? Or have I just spent too much time down in Edison?
I took a seat in the food court, pulled out my laptop, and found myself among families laughing over their katsu platters, teenagers with fancy tea drinks, and business people in suits conferring while licking soft-serve ice cream cones. Indeed, everything at Mitsuwa oozes a sort cheerful and warmly embracing Japanese-ness that doesn´t seem to exist anyplace else.
After moping around for a few minutes - I´m not stylish, not Asian, and not warm or friendly in any way, shape or form - I realized what was bugging me; I didn´t want to eat the spirit of Japanese aesthetics, I wanted to eat what Japanese people did. Therefore, I skipped the Italian Tomato, the ramen, the beef bowl and the mini kitsune soba lunch special ($6.50), and found myself in a state of wonderment at Tokyo Hanten, a Japanese/Chinese vendor right next to a beautiful display of Japanese language food magazines. After browsing the plastic food models, I realized that the most "real" offering was a platter featuring gyoza, a Salisbury steak, and a huge mound of white rice. I needed some sort of vegetable and wound up with big piece of grilled tofu, a heap of what was described as "kimchi," (although no Korean would agree with this) a bit of daikon with salad dressing, and a cup of broth; like most of the other platters, it was $8.99.
My meal was satisfying, the tofu had that Japanese sort of creaminess, the "kimchi" was really a sort of spicy/sweet stir-fry, and the broth seemed like a cross between miso and chicken. Even though part of me regretted not choosing one of the eleven platters that included "hamburg steak," I was satisfied.
In addition to the food court, Mitsuwa has a large supermarket and a nice selection of Japanese household goods. With amazing fish and every conceivable condiment, this is headquarters for the home sushi maker. There are also great selections of Japanese produce, tofu, and sake. This is also the only place I know where you can buy Styrofoam trays of imported Wagyu beef, and it´s even more marbled in person than it appears on television.
Mitsuwa is clean and wholesome in a way that might repel cynics and urbanites - you get the feeling that most New Jersey malls want their food courts to be this nice, but just can´t pull it off - so just take a deep breath, drop your guard, grab a green tea soft-serve cone, munch on a Tai Yaki, and let yourself have the same good time as everybody else.
Afterword: There is one more very unusual thing about Mitsuwa that bears mentioning; unlike almost every other Garden State food resource I´ve been to, it can be reached easily from Manhattan by public transportation. Just grab the hourly (Every half-hour on weekends) shuttle bus from gate 51 at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Adventurous souls can even sneak over to the Trader Joe´s store a few hundred yards north for the price of a bus ticket.
595 River Road, Edgewater NJ 07020; (map) 201-941-9113
All products linked here have been independently selected by our editors. We may earn a commission on purchases, as described in our affiliate policy.