Eat, Drink, and Be Merry.

Saturday morning, as my wife and I ate breakfast, she handed me a blue folder and said, “Surprise!” I am not a morning person, so I needed a moment to process what I had been given. “Tim’s Saturday Birthday Trip!” was emblazoned on the outside of the folder. Within were six envelopes, each with a different destination. My wife had given me a great present: a day-long road trip. The rules were simple: get in the car, open an envelope, and proceed to the destination listed within. Once we had arrived at our destination, I was allowed to open the next envelope and discover our next stop.

This post will be a little different than my other writings. Today, there will be no historical overview and no lengthy introduction. Rather, I hope to capture in my writing the same sense of adventure that I experienced today. Without further adieu… let’s begin:

Blue folder that says TIM'S SATURDAY BIRTHDAY TRIP - photo taken inside 2012 Honda Accord.
What better way to start a birthday weekend than with a surprise road trip!

Envelope 1: The Clean Plate Kitchen

Map of North Jersey with a red pin in the location of The Clean Plate Kitchen in Clinton, NJ
Our first destination: lunch at The Clean Plate Kitchen in Clinton, NJ. The Clean Kitchen serves food made with ingredients from local farms. In addition, the menu is very accommodating to people with dietary restrictions. For instance, every dish on the menu can be made gluten free. There are also a number of vegetarian and vegan options.
Interior of The Clean Plate Kitchen. Decorative plates hang on the walls above floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on a courtyard.
The interior decor was cool… both of my grandmothers would have loved the decorative plates that adorned the walls.
View of the courtyard outdoor patio of the restaurant.
However, on a beautiful August day, we chose to eat outside. The restaurant is located in the back of a large, historic building that is filled with small shops. It reminds me more of something you would see in New Orleans than something typically found in New Jersey.
View of the Rarity River.
The view from our table – the Raritan River runs beside the restaurant. The food was delicious- my wife went with the “You’re Bacon Me Crazy” wrap (bacon, eggs, mixed greens, avocado salsa, and tomato). I had a cheeseburger on a brioche bun with a side of french fried plantains.

Envelope 2: Downtown Clinton, NJ

Map of New Jersey, with a red pin in the location of the Red Mill Museum Village in Clinton.
We left my Accord parked near the restaurant and wandered through historic Clinton, NJ. Clinton was formally established in 1829, but had been settled long before that.
View of the Red Mill with the Raritan River in the foreground.
The Red Mill dates to 1810. It was built along the banks of the Raritan River so that the river’s current would power the wool mill. It is now a museum dedicated to preserving the history of agriculture and daily life in this section of New Jersey.
View of the Stone Mill. The Raritan River is in the foreground.
Across the river is the Stone Mill. The Stone Mill was built in 1836. It is now the home of the Hunterdon Art Museum.
The Main Street Bridge, crossing over the Raritan River.
To enter the town, we drove across the Main Street Bridge. Built in 1870, this is one of the oldest bridges I have ever driven (or walked) across. Made of cast iron, it is also one of the oldest metal truss bridges in the country (you can learn more about the Main Street Bridge on this website).
View of the Main Street Bridge from the pedestrian path on the side of the bridge. The Red Mill is visible to the right.
You can cross the 148-year old bridge by either driving or walking. To say it feels rickety is an understatement: the bridge noticeably shakes every time a car drives across it.
Panorama of the Raritan River, with the Red Mill on the left and the Stone Mill on the right.
The view from the middle of the bridge is terrific.

Envelope 3: Mount Salem Vineyards

Map of New Jersey with a red pin in the location of Mount Salem Vineyards.
Destination #3: a wine tasting.
Rural two-lane road in Pittstown, NJ.
Forget the NJ Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway, the strip malls, the McMansions… THIS is the New Jersey I know: rural two lane roads, forests, and farmland. The drive to Mount Salem Vineyard was comprised of a series of county roads that snaked through the countryside: hairpin turns, S-curves, and 50-mph speed limits… I had a lot of fun.
2012 HondaAccord in front of Mount Salem Vineyards.
Mount Salem Vineyards, established in 2005, is one of a growing number of vineyards in New Jersey. I learned that this section of NJ is very favorable for cultivating grapes – the climate is similar to grape-growing regions in Austria and France.
Casks of wine in a room in a barn. Doors look out upon the vineyard in the background.
These casks are for aging the wine. Mount Salem is a small vineyard, producing only 1,000 cases of wine per year.
Tasting room on second floor of barn.
All the wine-making happens in a two-story barn. The tasting room, on the second floor, will be closed in a few weeks. The vineyard has so little space that when new wine is produced in the fall, the tasting room is instead used for winemaking. We enjoyed the wines that the wine cellar master provided for us (and I’d highly recommend their Riesling).

Envelope 4: Beneduce Vineyards

Map of New Jersey with a red pin in the location of Beneduce Vineyards.
Our fourth stop was for a second wine tasting at Beneduce Vineyards.
2012 Honda Accord in front of vineyard.
Beneduce is a much larger vineyard than Mount Salem, producing a greater variety of wines and far more of them.
View of wine tasting room from a table. A wine menu is on the table in the foreground.
The tasting room at Beneduce can host several hundred people. The casks in the background are not for decoration – each oak barrel contains wine that is being aged. Once the wine’s taste reaches its peak, it will be bottled and sold.
Stainless steel metal aging drums in tasting room.
The tasting room is also the site of wine production. These stainless steel metal drums are also used to age the wine. If you’re curious about aging wine, this website provides a great overview as to why some wines are best aged in wooden casks, and others are better done in these metal drums.
Two glasses of wine on a tabletop, with a cheese platter in the foreground.
We were provided with a meat and cheese tray to pair with our wines. From left: cow’s milk cheese, bread (with olive oil in the cup), salami, a flower (which was edible and best paired with a glass of pinot noir), a fig, and sheep’s milk cheese.
Wine passport book, open to Beneduce Vineyards page.
NJ winemakers have collaborated to create a passport book – visit a vineyard and get a stamp in your book (over 40 different vineyards are participating). 
View down a row of grape vines.
The grounds are open to the public to visit. We ambled through the vineyard after our tasting was finished.

Envelope 5: Duke Farms

Map of New Jersey, with a red pin in the location of Dukes Farms.
Our second-to-last destination: Duke Farms.
2012 Honda Accord in front of Duke Farms Orientation Center.
Originally built as a private estate by Gilded Age industrialist James Buchanan Duke, Duke Farms is now a 1,000 acre nature preserve and conservatory. This building was originally the Farm Barn – it now serves as the visitor center. Does James’ last name sound familiar? In 1924, he gave a $40 million endowment to Trinity College in North Carolina (which would be worth over a half billion dollars today). The college renamed itself Duke University in his honor.
Hay Barn structure.
This is the Hay Barn, built in 1905. It burned down in 1915, leaving only the stonework remaining.
Sculpture Garden in the remains of the Hay Barn.
James Buchanan Duke’s daughter, Doris, inherited the estate upon her father’s death. She made the estate her permanent home. She transformed the remains of the Hay Barn into a sculpture garden.
Exterior of the Orchid Range.
Built in 1900, the Lord & Burnham Conservatory is now home to the Orchid Range, which specializes in subtropical and tropical plants native to the United States.
Interior of the Orchid Range.
Despite being far smaller than Longwood Gardens or the Como Conservatory, the Orchid Range was still a worthwhile visit. The varied colors and shapes of the orchids caught our attention.
Pink and white orchids.
Indulge me as I share a photo of an orchid that caught my eye…
Orange and red orchid.
…and another…
Pink and white orchid with green leaves behind it.
…and another…
Orange and red orchid with green leaf in the background.
…and another…
White frilled orchid.
…and another.
View of greenhouses in Orchid Range.
The greenhouses are used to cultivate orchids that are displayed in the Orchid Range.
Foundation of an Unbuilt Mansion.
Wandering through the park, we came across this: the foundation of an unbuilt mansion. James Buchanan Duke had originally planned to build a large mansion on the estate. He abandoned the building after his tobacco company, American Tobacco Company, was broken into several smaller companies by court order (it was found to be an illegal monopoly). James spent much of his remaining years in Europe.
Paved trail through Duke Farms.
The trails through the park are either paved or covered in gravel, and are all easily marked. Despite wandering for an hour through Duke Farms, we probably saw only about 10% of it. We will definitely have to come back!

Envelope 6: Yestercades

Map of NJ with a red pin in the location of Yestercades in Somerville, NJ.
Our final destination for the trip: Yestercades, a vintage video game arcade, in Somerville, NJ.
Exterior of Yestercades.
Knowing of my love of all things 80’s, my wife gave me another opportunity to relive my childhood at a vintage arcade.
Video game machines, including Asteroids, Double Dragon, and Street Fighter 2.
Asteroids! Double Dragon! Super Mario Bros! Paperboy! Outrun! Spy Hunter! Pole Position! Pac Man! Ms. Pac Man! Pinball! Air Hockey! I was surrounded in 80’s nostalgia.
A row of pinball machines.
We had fun playing pinball, too. You do not feed the machines with quarters or tokens. Instead, when you enter Yestercades, you receive a wristband. As you leave, the cashier scans your wristband and sees how long you were in the arcade. You are charged for the duration of time you spend in the arcade.
Atari 2600 on top of a vintage television. The game E.T. is displayed on the screen.
I absolutely loved the working Atari 2600 video game system, complete with late 70’s color television.
Display including copies of Nintendo Power, a Nintendo Entertainment System, Robot Boxing, and stuffed animals.
A glass display case near the entrance had many of the toys I grew up with… A Nintendo Entertainment System, hand-held video games, a slinky, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots…
Display case including a Speak and Spell, a super soaker, and a Sega Genesis.
… and raise your hand if you had a Speak And Spell. It’s the mark of being an 80’s kid.
Downtown Somerville, NJ. People sit at tables beneath umbrellas eating at various restaurants.
After the arcade, we went to dinner at Alfonso’s Family Trattoria & Gourmet Pizza, a local Italian restaurant, and then wandered around downtown Somerville for a bit.
Exterior of Carols' Creative Chocolatez.
As we headed back to the car, we saw a sign for Carols’ Creative Chocolatez, billing itself as the “Best Chocolates in New Jersey.” We decided to stop in and test their claim…
Display case of chocolate decorations, including chocolate paintings, bowls, flowers, and animals.
…and yes, the chocolates were excellent. While we can’t say for sure if they are the “best in New Jersey,” Carol (who was behind the counter) is certainly talented. Everything you see in this case is something she made from chocolate… including the paintings.
Odometer reading 113347 TRIP A 86.7
Back home, at the end of a great night. DH continues to roll along. I took the Accord for an oil change and tire rotation earlier in the week, and the mechanic at the Honda dealer reported that the car was in good shape.

I hope you enjoyed following along with the fun adventure that my wife created for my birthday weekend, exploring a section of New Jersey that I had never visited before today. Through six envelopes, I was able to enjoy delicious food, walk around a historic town, enjoy two wine tastings, explore a country estate, and play 80’s video games until my heart was content. If you choose to visit any of these places, you should know that it can be a very affordable way to spend a day. A wine tasting at Beneduce is $5 for 5 wines. Duke Farms is completely free of charge to the public. Yestercades charges $8 for an hour of as many 80’s video games as you can possibly play. If you are visiting New Jersey, grab a map, lace up your hiking shoes, cleanse your palette, and set off for this very cool section of my home state.

Thanks for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!

‘Til next time.






14 thoughts on “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry.

  1. This is a true treasure hunt, and a most delightful read! I believe I could have walked around the grounds of the vineyard for hours (or run); the shades of green are so very enticing. Your wife is a clever woman! This is an excellent idea for a birthday gift for someone who is dear, and she obviously knows you well and did all her research beforehand. Five stars!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tia! Yes, it was a wonderful trip, and my wife did a great job planning it. The vineyard grounds were terrific, and full of great views (especially since they were both at higher elevations than much of the surrounding countryside). Glad you enjoyed it!


  2. Seriously, best birthday idea ever. How awesome is that! Love the flower pics from Duke Farms, and both wine-tasting experiences looked exquisite (that meat & cheese board caught my eye, yum). Yestercade is a blast from the past. Hope you had a great b-day – it definitely sounds like a winner!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Tyson! Yeah, I was surprised by the road trip, and each stop was terrific. We only saw about 10% of Duke Farms- definitely need to make a return trip. And Yestercade was simply terrific.


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