I have a client meeting in Newark, New Jersey. Is there anywhere good to eat, or do we need to head into NYC?
— NJ Bound
Dear NJ Bound,
Believe it or not, there some great options in the Ironbound section of Newark, just a few short blocks’ walk from Penn Station. When dining in Newark, the way to go is Spanish/Portuguese. If you are lucky enough to be there in June, check out the neighborhood’s Portuguese Festival.
When it comes to eating Portuguese in Newark, there are two kinds of people: Those who dine at Fornos of Spain and those who prefer Iberia Tavern. Both of these restaurants are on Ferry Street.
Fornos offers the best sangria I’ve had anywhere. You can get either (or both) white sangria and red sangria. The three dining rooms and bar offer a somewhat rowdy dining experience, yet the service is white-tablecloth. Once you are seated, you’ll be served the house salad, family style. Depending on the season, it will include asparagus or hearts of palm, tomatoes, lettuce and a house dressing. Warm bread and olives will be brought to the table as well.
You really can’t go wrong with ordering anything at Fornos. Just two of my favorite appetizers are the Chorizos, which come sliced and pan sautéed with warm olives and the Clams Casino. The Clams Casino are large clams with hearty slices of bacon on top of the stuffing and dressed with a house sauce that includes balsamic vinegar. Despite years of trying, I still can’t pry the exact recipe out of them.
The entrees are ala carte, but the sides are served family style. The three sides are yellow Spanish rice, house-made potato chips and mixed vegetables. The potato chips are outstanding. For entrees, I usually opt for the Camarones al Ajillo (shrimp in garlic). While the shrimp are small, there are plenty. The sharp, warm garlic sauce soaks into the rice. It’s my favorite entrée, and what I usually get.
I also recommend trying the Soft Shell Crab (when in season), which you can sometimes get Al Ajillo style. Sticking with seafood, you can’t go wrong with the Mariscada Fornos, a large seafood medley served in a spicy tomato sauce. The Mariscada en Salsa Verde (seafood in green sauce) and the Changurro are also outstanding options. The Changurro is a Spanish/Portuguese variation of Coquille St. Jacques – basically scallops in the shell topped with crab meat and cheese.
If it’s meat you are looking for, I’d recommend the Filet o Porto (usually on the specials list) or the Ternera Siciliana, a veal in a cheesy cream sauce. The Filet o Porto is a large filet mignon, served with whipped potatoes and a demi-glace.
While you may not be able to finish your main course, be sure to leave room for dessert. My go tos are a Spanish Coffee and either the Leches Frita (fried “milk”) or the Flan. For something lighter, go with any of the fruit sorbets.
As I mentioned, I’m a Fornos person, but I know (and like) plenty of people who prefer Iberia Tavern. You’ll find a similar menu, great sangria and a festive atmosphere.
Both restaurants also serve the traditional Spanish dish, Paella.
Let us know which one you selected!