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A Local’s Guide To Eating Out In The Ironbound

When we lived in the Ironbound section of Newark or now when we tell people we lived there, the first thing people mention to us is the food.  It is a neighborhood famous for its Portuguese, Spanish, and Brazilian restaurants, especially for the big gaudy ones on Ferry Street like Iberia.  The food is indeed fantastic, and whenever I stepped out onto Ferry Street from our apartment above a bakery, the luscious smells of barbecue would waft into my nose.  Living in Maplewood now, it’s something I really miss.  While there are plenty of well-known restaurants in the Ironbound, places like Iberia are really geared for people who don’t live in the neighborhood.  If you really want to eat well in the Ironbound, you need to take some tips from the locals.  Here’s a list of places, some well off the beaten path, that you should try:

Delicias de Minas 168 McWhorter Street

The most interesting culinary experience you can have in the Ironbound is well off of Ferry street in the midst of a residential neighborhood at a corner place called Delicias de Minas.  I hail from the Midwest, and so really appreciate buffets, and this is the best I’ve ever had.  The best part about it is that you pay for your food by weight, not a flat fee.  (They weigh your plate on a scale after you go through the buffet line.)  This has helped keep me from overeating in order to “get my money’s worth,” a common buffet problem.  The main part of the buffet contains Brazilian favorites, but the grill off to the side is where the real magic happens.  Here giant skewers of meat roast over an open fire, and a nice man cuts off what you want with a large knife, everything from beefsteak to sausage to chicken hearts.  If you’ve never had Brazilian food before, this is probably the best place to start.

Delicia’s Bakery 167 Ferry Street

Delicia’s will not get rated by Zagat or ever be frequented by gourmands.  However, it is an essential Ironbound institution: the corner bakery.  This is where people come to eat coffee, have a bite, and chat.  Delicia’s was right by our old apartment, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve been there for empanadas or espresso.  It’s a great place to stop for dessert after eating out, and you can look out its big windows and watch the people on bustling Ferry Street.  It also happens to be my favorite place to get a gala~o, a sugary espresso and milkfoam drink that’s what a latte wishes it was.

Texeira’s Bakery 184 Ferry Street

Texeira’s is not as nice a place to sit down in, but that’s not why you should go there anyway.  Their bread is fantastic, and I practically lived on their Portuguese rolls and loaves of broa when I lived in the Ironbound.  They also always have a pot of delicious caldo verde brewing behind the counter, and on a cold day it is like medicine.  The best, and most famous item are the pasteis de nata, Portuguese custard cups that are like a little taste of heaven.  Legend has it that the bakery got its recipe by paying a million dollars to a bakery in Lisbon.  In any case, you would be missing out if you didn’t buy a dozen of them on your trip to the Ironbound.

Hamburgao 288 Lafayette Street

Quality hamburgers are all the rage these days, but there’s nothing out there like a hamburgao.  It is a Brazilian creation including a beef patty, ham, a fried egg, fried potato sticks, corn and a special sauce of indeterminate color.  Basically, it’s a heart attack wrapped in tin foil, but it will give you a happy death.  Man, I am craving one of these babies right now.

Sol Mar 267 Ferry Street

There are plenty of places to get Portuguese food in the Ironbound, but Sol Mar is by far my favorite.  It’s where I take my friends who’ve never sampled Portuguese food before, and every time it’s a big hit.  While the regular menu is full of delights like the veal scallopini in port wine sauce (my personal favorite), look for the specials menu.  I’ll never forget the time I had part of an octopus tentacle served in a roof tile.  It’s a friendly place with waiters who’ve been there forever and an owner who always comes around to ask you if you like your food.  That’s the spirit of bonhomie and care that makes the Ironbound special, and why I miss living there.

Coimbra 637 Market Street

Coimbra is a close second for me when it comes to Portuguese food, and maybe my favorite when it comes to seafood alone.  The grilled flounder is so good that I want to write it postcards of thanks for all its given me.  It also has the benefit of having its own parking lot, something that makes visiting from out of town a lot easier.

Pizza Village Cafe 311 Ferry Street

Of course, you don’t have to just eat Portuguese and Brazilian food when you go to the Ironbound.  You can also get that most New Jersey of foods done right: pizza.  The Pizza Village Cafe kept me well sustained during my time in the Ironbound, but it’s also a great place to grab a slice when you’re passing through.  It’s in a strip mall next to a supermarket, so parking is never a problem, as it can often be in the Ironbound.

Krug’s Tavern 118 Wilson Avenue

The Ironbound was not always dominated by immigrants from Portugal, Brazil, and Ecuador as it is today.  It began as a predominately German neighborhood in the mid-1800s, and was later home to a large Italian population.  There are still pockets of the neighborhood’s past, especially at Krug’s.  It’s a classic tavern (with a German name) and a neon sign that hasn’t changed since the 1930s, and Jake LaMotta memorabilia behind the bar (a member of his family owns it.)  While there are plenty of other places around to get a pint, Krug’s has succulent burgers the size of your head.  If you need a burger and a pint and some random conversation with some real characters, this is the place to go.

Burger Bound 62 Van Buren

What’s that, hipsters?  You don’t want a big greasy, old fashioned burger, you want something grass-fed, cute, and organic?  Well you’re in luck, since Burger Bound is one of the newer additions to the Ironbound restaurant scene.  It’s located on an isolated corner in a residential neighborhood, so you have to get off the beaten path to find it.  It’s well worth it, not just for the gourmet burgers, but for the tasty milkshakes, too.  It’s like Shake Shack, but better, cheaper, and less overrun with annoying people.  That’s right New Yorkers, I said it.

The Guy Selling Nuts At Ferry and Adams

I’ve only been talking about restaurants so far, and that creates an incomplete picture of the Ironbound, since there’s plenty of street food, too.  When I walked home to my apartment from Penn Station, I would often grab a snack from the peanut vendor on Adams and Ferry.  His roasted and candied peanuts always hit the spot, and he also always had a smile for my dog when I took her out for a walk.

The Ironbound is rightly known for its food, but the famous places barely scratch the surface of the tasty cornucopia on offer.  In fact, this list itself is incomplete, I could add many more, like Ferry Street Barbecue, Spanish Sangria, and many others.  If you are in search of a good meal and are willing to explore Essex County, seek out the Ironbound, and you will be happy for it.

-Jason

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Why Essex County?

I got this site up in late June, but have been sidetracked by summer activity and my other blog, Notes From The Ironbound.  That hasn’t been such a bad thing, since Lori and I have had a chance to spend many days exploring Essex County this summer.  We’re both teachers with two toddlers to entertain, so that’s meant exploring a lot of the nooks and crannies of northern New Jersey with the kids.

You might be wondering a bit why I’ve chosen Essex County in particular as a site to explore.  After all, New Jersey as a whole has been the butt of jokes for years, supposedly full of either toxic sludge, mall hair, the GTL crowd, or mobsters.  I’m a child of the Midwest and absorbed all of these stereotypes over the years.  Until I met my Jersey girl wife, I never once would have thought I’d end up in the Garden State, but here I am.  I have learned to love it with a love that can confuse and astound my friends and family.  I might be blinded by the fact that in the words of Tom Waits, “Nothing matters in this whole wide world, when you’re in love with a Jersey girl.”  I don’t think it’s just that though.  If I drive an hour from my house I can be in the mountains, on the beach, or in America’s greatest metropolis.  Not too many people in America can say that.

Okay, what about Essex County then?  It happens to be where I’ve settled, first in the Ironbound section of Newark, then in our current home in Maplewood.  While I have been known to cross the border into Paterson to get Texas weiners and down to Asbury Park to enjoy the shore, I find Essex County to be a small universe unto itself, including New Jersey’s biggest city along with mountains, suburban subdivisions, and several towns in between.  There are almost 800,000 people who live here.  A quarter of the residents were born abroad, contributing to the county’s cultural diversity and amazing array of food.  Having grown up in Nebraska, where corn is a vegetable and cheese is a spice, I am overjoyed to have Brazilian barbecue, amazing pizza, Italian pastries, and tasty bagels a stone’s throw away wherever I go.  (Trust me, we’ll be talking a LOT about food on this blog.)  Essex County is a place that has quietly given the world a great deal while flying under the radar.  Thomas Edison had his workshop in West Orange, Philip Roth (perhaps America’s greatest living author) grew up in the Weequahic neighborhood in Newark, Amiri Baraka hailed from Brick City too, as have singers from Sarah Vaughn to Whitney Houston to Frankie Valli.

There doesn’t seem to be a week that goes by that doesn’t contain a new discovery here, from restaurants to historic sites.  We have made a fetish out of traveling to far flung lands to do our explorations, but there’s plenty to discover close by if you take the time to look.  I think Essex County’s bounty is greater than most locales, even the most exotic.  I can’t wait to start sharing the fruits of our explorations.

-Jason

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Welcome!

We’re two teachers living in Maplewood, recently arrived from the Ironbound in Newark.  We have spent years exploring and loving the nooks and crannies of Essex County, New Jersey, a place full of all kinds of interesting people, foods, history, and sites.  Living in the shadow of New York City, these wonderful things can be easy to miss.  This site is for all those explorers who wish to discover hidden treasures in their Essex County environs.

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