My Hometown: Harlan Coben

By Yorio, Kara | The Record (Bergen County, NJ), March 17, 2013 | Go to article overview

My Hometown: Harlan Coben


Yorio, Kara, The Record (Bergen County, NJ)


His go-to dish is the Kung Pao chicken, but on this dreary day in early March, author Harlan Coben is focused on the specials menu, particularly the salt-and-pepper calamari salad.

The Ridgewood resident is at Baumgart's Cafe on Franklin Avenue, sitting in a booth around the corner from where his signed photo hangs on the wall. A few minutes earlier he had ducked in from the cold and the staff greeted him like the old friend he is.

"A lot of scenes in my books take place in Baumgart's -- Ridgewood in general, but Baumgart's especially," says Coben, whose 24th book -- a stand-alone thriller titled "Six Years" -- will be out Tuesday .

The best-selling crime fiction author has 50 million copies in print in 41 languages and multiple bestsellers. He is signing copies of "Six Years" on Wednesday at Bookends, one of his other favorite places in town. The independent bookstore is one of the first places he mentions as he narrates a virtual tour of his favorite North Jersey spots from the Baumgart's booth.

He begins with the places where he has written; soon his mind is winding through the streets of Ridgewood and neighboring towns. Coben doesn't write well at home and likes a little white noise, so he has penned his best-selling work at public places all over Bergen County. He would write at Ridgewood's Starbucks or the Ridgewood Coffee Company until productivity suffered.

"There are some people who go to look at me like I'm a museum piece, but it's more that I've lived in Ridgewood so long now that I know so many people," he says. "Everybody would come in, stop by for a quick hello. I love a quick hello but I lose my train of thought, and now I've got to get back to it."

It wasn't easy, so he had to move on.

The Ridgewood Library was a productive workspace .

"I wrote there a lot," he says. "There's a lot of good nooks and crannies. Brings you back to your old college days studying, you find a little cubby hole."

These days he has a spot in Montvale.

His critically acclaimed novels continue to include scenes in this area, but North Jersey isn't just Coben's muse; it's his makeup. Born in Newark, raised in Livingston, he has spent most of his adult life in Englewood and Ridgewood.

He and his wife, Anne Armstrong-Coben, came to Ridgewood for "all the classic reasons," says Coben.

They wanted more space. They wanted a decent school system for the kids that would come in the future (and four did, ranging in age from 11 to 19). They wanted to stay in Bergen County and had heard good things about Ridgewood, but could have just as easily ended up in Glen Rock or Ho-Ho-Kus or any of the neighboring towns.

"We came out and we really sort of fell in love with it," he says of Ridgewood, which they moved to in 1992 and found another house across town in seven years later. "Having a real town center was really cool. I love the mixes of old houses and new."

A mini Zagat's guide

Coben is not disappointed with his calamari choice this day, making a mental note to persuade Baumgart's manager Tracy Fong to put it on the menu permanently. After joking that they could maybe name the item after him, he pieces together the other notable local places in his life ,and what follows is a mini Zagat's guide.

Best of Everything on Oak Street for the thin-crust pizza, usually plain but sometimes with eggplant. Bamboo House on South Broad for the specials. Ho-Ho-Kus Sushi Cafe for its firecracker shrimp. Cafe Amici in Ho-Ho-Kus for the buffalo chicken salad.

Then there's Janice A Bistro in Ho-Ho-Kus for veal Milanese, special family dinners and date-night escapes.

"Anne and I go there when we want an easy romantic getaway where we can walk home if we've had too much wine," he says. "Their veal Milanese is my comfort food. We just go there and they know when we walk in, we're both going to order veal Milanese. It's midweek date night."

But it all begins at Baumgart's. …

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