There is a term my father in law used the other day after a day trip in a NJ city. The term was urban appreciation. Now what NJ city do you think we toured? Jersey City, Hoboken, Newark. No, it was Paterson.
It’s been over 5 years since I set foot in Paterson. I worked in this city for over a year as a neighborhood planner in the north side with Paterson Habitat for Humanity. I formed a connection with the city and community during that time. Going to the falls during my lunch time, walking the historic Streets and eating the delicious food. It was a long time coming for me to head back to Paterson.
So why after all these years what was my impetus in going back to Paterson? It was one person. The new mayor Andre Sayegh. I met Andre during my days working in Paterson and have been following him on social media with his exuberant personality, political aspirations and most importantly his promotion and the appreciation of Paterson.
I was thrilled when he won the mayoral election of Paterson. As the way he is, Mayor Sayegh did not take a break after he won the election. He went to work right away to put Paterson in full drive growth mode. One thing that caught my attention was an article he had with North Jersey titled NJ Food Crawl with the Fun Loving Mayor of Paterson. Reading the article combined with the mesmerizing food descriptions I was sold. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I went back to Paterson.
My family headed up the GSP and took route 19 into Paterson. What should everyone’s first step be in when they go to Paterson? The Paterson Falls of course. As we head to the Falls, the first thing that struck me was there was no parking at the visitor’s center. All my years going to the Falls I’ve never seen the parking lot at capacity. We took a right out of the parking lot to another parking lot and that too was nearly full.
We walked up to the falls and there were a myriad of visitors walking with and past us speaking a multitude of different languages. The falls are striking. They are the second largest on the east coast. As the mist fills the air, we cross the overpass bridge and see the water glistening off the rocks. I never seen so many people at the falls before. As we continued, we came to the new Mary Ellen Kramer park. Here you can feel like you just reach out and touch the falls. It was as a sight to see the falls alive with visitors. Now it’s off to get some food.
From the falls we drove down Main Street, the epicenter of the food crawl as referenced in the article. As we drove down Main Street the wondered delicate smells of food resonated throughout the air. As we parked our car, three were men smoking hookahs outside a restaurant. There was a smile on their faces as they told us we did not need to feed the meter. I would like to think the smile on their faces was an appreciation that my family was coming to their cultural food enclave.
We walked up the street to Al Basha our restaurant destination and walked in. The restaurant was bustling with people. There was an approximate 15-minute wait which gave us time to study the menu and peruse the offerings on everyone’s plates. As we are seated within a mere minute a basket filled with thick pita bread is dropped off on our table. The waiter comes over and we begin to order an array of food. The waiter looks at us and says “unless you’re really, really hungry you may have ordered too much food. Taking his advice, we scale back our order. As the food comes our table is filled with food. We don’t know where to start.
We take a deep breath and begin to dig in to the mixed grill of meats, the perfect textured rice, the vegetarian options of hummus, falafel, salads and spreads of cucumber, babaganoush and peppers all accompanied by the fresh pita. We enjoyed every bite.
As we looked around the restaurant there were smiles, enticing smells and mix of all ethnicities enjoying the wonderful food of Al Basha. In a time where there is a misunderstanding of different ethnicities in our country, I think to myself it is food that brings people together. It’s nice to see this melting pot in person.
Our bellies are filled to the bone, but one can always find room when it comes to dessert. We slowly waddle like donuts out of the restaurant and head for some sweets.
In we walk into Al Basha Sweets. The man behind the counter welcomes us with a big smile. As we look at the endless array of sweets our curiosity exceeds us. We point to each dessert and ask what’s this, what’s that is it yummy? The man smiles again and says “it’s all yummy”. As we point to each dessert, he puts it on a plate for all of us to sample. The taste buds of honey, nuts, phyllo dough fills our taste buds. Wash that down with a fresh brewed Turkish coffee and our meal is complete.
As the day comes to an end and we head back to our car we see the same men smoking the hookahs. The smile is on the men is still on their faces. I would like their smiles were a result of our urban appreciation.
There is so much appreciate in Paterson. From the history of Alexander Hamilton laying the foundation of the city, to the historic structures, to the beauty of Paterson falls, to melting pot of multiple cultures to the wonderful food that accompanies it.
It was a day of urban appreciation. I hope you take foot in Paterson and experience this for yourself.