I fish a lot around the New York Bight for blues, bass, albies, etc. Picking a single all-purpose rig for these waters is tough. Ideally, I would pick two rigs -- an 8 wt. and a 10 wt. If you absolutely must pick only one, I would go with the 10, or split the difference and go with a 9 wt.
You can spend $500+ on a fantastic rod that will last you a lifetime, or you can get a perfectly adequate $250 rod that you will probably outgrow in a few years as your proficiency increases. Tough call. If you have the benjamins, get a great rod and think of it as a long-term investment. I would consider Redington's DFR and NTi, Loomis GLX or GL3, Sage RPLXi or XP, or similar rods from Scott, Orvis, Thomas & Thomas etc. Contrary to popular belief, beginners are better served by a medium action rod (mid-flex), rather than a super fast action rod (tip flex). These rods are more forgiving than the faster rods. The truth is you will rarely need to cast more than 60 feet, especially around the NY Bight, and while you'll be dealing with wind, it's not like you're going to be casting 12 foot leaders directly up wind to spooky tarpon in gin-clear water, the way you have to in the Keys. I own two DFR's and I absolutely love them. My 10 is light enough that I can cast it all day long. If I had to bring one rod on a trip, it would be the DFR 10.
There are a number of low cost alternatives to the high-end rods. Redington makes a fine travel rod called the Wayfarer that is under $200. It's a bit soft to my liking, but beautifully made, and as a bonus, it will fit in your suitcase. Sage makes its DS series. Orvis has its Clearwater series. There are any number of low-cost, reasonably good rods out there today.
Unfortunately, buying a rod is much like buying speakers for a stereo. It's the most subjective component in the system. You really have to try some of these rods on the lawn to get a sense for which rods match your style and ability.
My philosophy about reels is evolving. Up until a few years ago, my attitude was to spend money on the rod, and skimp on the reel. After all, the rod really does the brunt of the work. Many times, the fish is retrieved without ever having to get it on the reel. And even when you're playing a bass or bluefish on the reel, you don't need a space age drag and an enormous arbor to land the fish.
This said, if you're going to fish for tunoids (false albacore and bonito, typically), mediocre drag systems can get fried. I've never had this happen to me, but I've heard it happen more often than I'd expect. More importantly, the size of the arbor becomes more significant, because these fish tend to run straight back to the boat after a couple of runs in the opposite direction, and picking up the line fast enough is a major challenge.
The more significant factor in choosing a reel (to me) is maintenance. Fishing in the salt beats the crap out of your reels. They're constantly getting filled with salt, sand, weeds, etc. The simpler the mechanism, the easier it is to clear, the less lubrication it needs... the better. As it turns out, the top line reels (Abel, Tibor, Loop, etc.) tend to be the lowest maintenance reels. I love what Tibor says about maintaining its reels: "There is virtually no maintenance... nothing on these reels wil rust or corrode". Wow. I've owned a bunch of low end, decent reels, such as the Scientific Angler System 2 reels. The SciAnglers work fine, but I've had lots of problems with grit and sand and salt that got lodged in the dark recesses of the reel and spool. You can imagine how frustrating it is when you get out on the water and your reel freezes on you.... If money is no object, I would buy an Abel or Tibor. The Orvis Vortex is a fine reel, its only drawback being its weight. Some excellent compromie reels: Old Florida, Teton, Redington Large Arbor, Lamson. I have not owned an Old Florida, but I'm impressed by the build quality and the mechanics. Tetons have achived cult classic status, and they're fine reels. The Redingtons are a bit complex to me, and the spool release on the large arbors is surprsingly flimsy in my opinion. I would NOT buy an Orvis Battenkil Large Arbor. I owned one of these briefly, and despite the sexy looks, I found the drag to be really hitchy, and the mechanism to be flimsy.
This is by far the most overlooked component of the system. The right line will make all the difference in the world, both in terms of the rig's casting qualities, and in terms of its fish-catching capabilities. Most serious saltwater anglers would not leave the dock (or car) without at least a couple of different lines (rigged to a couple of rods, or loaded on extra reels or spools). For New York metro fishing, I find the best all-purpose line to be a medium-grain shooting head (250-350). Rather than a dedicated shooting head line, like the Teeny lines, I would get the traditional component line -- i.e. a standard flat running line fixed to a separate shooting head via loop to loop connection. The guys at Urban Angler or Orvis, or wherever you buy your rig can help put it together. This gives you the flexibility to change heads as needed. I usually carry 250, 350, and 550 heads with me so I can switch quickly as needed.
The second most useful line (to me) is a full intermediate sinking line. Unlike with a shooting head, where only the first 30 feet or so actually sinks, a full sinking line is weighted the full length of the line (typically around 100 feet). I like the intermediate lines because in a pinch they can be fished as floaters (for instance with a popper), but I can generally get them down to where the fish are when they're underneath. Even when fish are showing up top, crashing bait, etc., you will have a much higher hook-up rate fishing a line that gets down a bit. The fish that show are chasing bait to the top, but for the most part they are sitting below the surface several feet.
If possible, I would also buy a floating line. This is important if you're going to fish the flats or shallows, or if you want to fish with a popper or slider in skinny water. In fact, I rarely use the floater around here, but it's really fun when you have the chance to catch fish with it.
OK, so with all the pontificating out of the way, it's time to pick a rig. I'll give you two options:
Rod: Redington NTi 10 wt.
Reel: Tibor Riptide
Lines: Orvis Wonderline striper floating line, Scientific Angler or Orvis shooting heads, Scientific Angler Striper Taper (intermediate)
Rod: Redington Classic 9' 10wt.
Reel: Old Florida
Line: Sci Angler or Orvis 350 grain shooting head.
OK, I'm ready to get jumped on by all the other experts on this board, but at least I hung it out to dry!