A recent article in NYC Zagat’s touted Jersey City’s “culinary revolution,” recommending seven local spots worthy of a trip across the river. Big-city talents from Nobu and Momofuku have set up shop at Cocoa Bakery and Thirty Acres, respectively. These Manhattan stars have found lower rents and sophisticated diners here. Both made the Zagat list, along with Top Chef alum Dale Talde, who plans to open a JC version of his Brooklyn restaurant. He’s working with local contractors and HGTV stars Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri (see story in the Fall/Winter issue of Jersey City Magazine) to create a 135-seat restaurant within an urban-style food market, to be called Carrino Provisions.
Of course, Jersey City has lots of longstanding restaurants with plenty of personality and appeal. Many, including Azucar Cuban Cuisine, Edward’s Steak House, Ibby’s Falafel, Komegashi, Komegashi too, Ristorante Porto Leggero, Puccini’s Restaurant and Catering, and Sátis Bistro—have Zagat ratings. The recent infusion of creative talent—not just from New York City, but from all over the Garden State—is giving locals more choices than ever before.
So what’s attracting all this talent and making such a buzz?
Ingredients that our established restaurants have appreciated all along: Waterfront views, lower rents, locally sourced food, charming neighborhoods, knowledgeable customers—and the ineffable vibe of JC.
On the Waterfront
The management team behind Mediterranean Seafood Restaurant Battello was lured by the chance to open a super-sized restaurant on the water. In the Newport Marina, it occupies the spot that formerly housed Michael Anthony’s. That team is a who’s who of Jersey talent. Executive Chef Ryan DePersio is the owner of Montclair’s celebrated Fascino. Cory Checkett, the man behind Hoboken’s Madison Bar and Grill and the Turtle Club, oversees the cocktail and wine lists. The Carrino/Colaneri cousins are behind the design, which accentuates the glorious water views, which are especially enticing at sunset, enjoyed with a cocktail in hand. Need to impress out-of-town guests with a little bit of glam and a big, show-stopping view? No need to venture to Manhattan, thanks to Battello.
Another waterfront restaurant with a Zagat rating has been on the Newport marina for the last 14 years—Komegashi too. The name is synonymous with fine Japanese cuisine. Its sister restaurant, Komegashi, has been a downtown institution for two decades. Much has changed at its Montgomery Street locale, but Komegashi has stayed the course, serving the city’s burgeoning financial district. Japanese cuisine, with its emphasis on fresh vegetables and fish, has been in the vanguard of the healthy, sustainable food trend.
Komegashi too is part of the Restaurants at Newport, a group of 12 eateries near the waterfront. Cuisines include Italian, Spanish, American, and Indian. Confucius Asian Bistro, for example, is an upscale Chinese restaurant whose steamed and vegetarian dishes presaged the healthy-food movement.
From the Heights to the Hook
At least one restaurant is benefiting from being an up-and-comer in an up-and-coming neighborhood. Childhood friends Sam Fertik and Aaron Nemani, both 24, are co-owners of Olive and Orange Caterers and Chef’s Table.
Forgoing a pricy rent downtown for premium space in the Heights enabled them to build out the open, pristine kitchen of their dreams, perfect for tasting menus for their catering clients, or for the 12-seat Chef’s Table Dinners. “I’ve worked in so many dive kitchens,” says Fertik, “and I knew when I opened my own place, I wanted the kitchen to be beautiful. And I love being in the Heights. I’m excited to see what we can do to help this neighborhood.”
Unlike the Heights, the Paulus Hook section has long been home to a variety of popular eateries, including Honshu, Shanghai Best, Sky Thai, and Sátis. The first time Hoboken resident Sam Kirk visited Paulus Hook, he knew he’d found his perfect neighborhood. In 2013 he opened Sam AM, serving breakfast and lunch seven days a week. It’s been a hit with local freelancers, moms, and off-duty workers, who love the homey yet hipster vibe and the exceptionally good food. It was a natural progression, then, to open a once-a-week supper club, a BYOB affair held on Thursday evenings. Sam AM Chef Francis Samu shares the current industry obsession with buying locally, as do many Jersey City chefs. Judging by the popularity of our farmers’ markets and the commentary on local message boards, many residents share this appreciation for fresh local foods.
Noodles on Newark
Sourcing regionally is a very traditional concept, say Union Republic co-owners Noah Sexton and Greg Torrech. “We are located in the old Village neighborhood downtown (on Newark Avenue), and the tradition of buying everything locally is something we are trying to carry on,” says Sexton. After splitting with their former partner and closing MAE (Modern American Eatery) on Communipaw Avenue, the two envisioned a neighborhood restaurant that focused on local, sustainable, and organic practices. The ramen accent came after an auspicious meeting in Japan. “I met with a top ramen chef who was so encouraging and explained that there is no one ‘authentic’ ramen, that ramen changes everywhere,” says Torrech, who is UR’s chef. The secret to making excellent ramen lies in superior, fresh, local ingredients. The noodles at UR come from Sun Noodles in Teterboro, which drops them off each morning before delivering to Momofuku and other top restaurants in town. There is also an in-house butcher, specialty groceries, and plenty of options for Jersey City’s vegetarians and vegans. The local mom mafia goes crazy for UR: It’s a score when there is healthy food that you and your kids want to eat.
Back in the day, the JC restaurant scene was best known (if at all, let’s face it) for old-school Italian restaurants. Casa Dante has closed, but many are going strong, including Rita and Joe’s, Puccini’s, Laico’s, and Presto’s, not to mention the legendary Pecoraro Bakery. Pizza, of course, is prized in Jersey City. Helen’s and Rustique are among many popular pizzerias, and Razza Pizza Artiginale is new to the scene. Chef and Co-owner Dan Richer buys the best local produce and makes his butter fresh each day, courtesy of cows from Lancaster, PA. “I’m a curator,” he says, “not a chef. It’s all about the cows, and the ingredients.” A Matawan native, Richer bought Arturo’s in Maplewood in 2006, earning a James Beard Rising Chef nomination. Since 2012, Richer and his partner Fred Shandler have been shuttling back and forth between the two spots. “Jersey City is so young and energetic,” Richer says. Off duty, he likes to take a break from Italian, citing Thirty Acres among his faves. Same goes for Raymond Fiore of Roman Nose on Newark Avenue, who on a rare night off visits Sátis and Subia’s Market, among others, a nice change of pace from his authentic trattoria menu inspired by the Fiore family’s native region of Lazio, between Naples and Rome. Like Richer, Fiore travelled extensively throughout Italy, and his menu, wine, craft beer and cocktail lists reflect that. We are a city full of beer zealots, and Fiore takes “special pride” in introducing people to Italian craft beers.
Our restaurant scene is a good metaphor for Jersey City as a whole: quirky, unpretentious, diverse, and full of flavor.—JCM