“A lot of restaurants, even though we are in 2017, they don't serve you parmigiano,” Carputo said. “They serve you other cheeses from a different country. It's no gimmick here.”
Carputo also offered Italian luganica pork sausage with provolone cheese for hungry passerby.
His was one of over 20 local restaurants and stores at the annual event at the Secaucus Ice Rink. Visitors were able to get hearty samples for just $5 a pop, including La Casa de Los Tacos, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Bareli’s.
“This is a way for us to thank the restaurants in our town, and also to highlight them, so that neighboring communities can come in and see what Secaucus has to offer,” said Lee Penna, the town's special events and community outreach coordinator.
Penna said she sat down with Mayor Michael Gonnelli years ago to discuss local businesses and how they could highlight them and show how great Secaucus is. That brainstorming, she said, led to the event's creation.
“It's such an awesome event, because we have town workers who get together with buildings and grounds, DPW, the mayor and Town Council, who sponsor this event,” she said. “It's truly a gathering of community here.”
Ivy Schwartz, wife of former Secaucus Reporter Art Schwartz, was enjoying the non-meat options at the event.
“I recently became vegan, so they have different types of vegetarian dishes that I enjoyed,” Schwartz said.
In particular, she enjoyed the vegetable biryani and a cauliflower dish from Indian restaurant Dhoom’s table, and cited the freshness of their naan bread.
A food tart from the Ez Foods table and a salad side from Cheeseburger Paradise also satisfied her palate.
“I look forward to this event every year because we see friends there,” she said.
Felicia Moglia, a Secaucus native from a “foodie” family, came to the night with her cousin, mother, aunt, and her aunt’s friends.
They tried everything from La Reggia’s pasta to beef tacos from La Casa de Los Tacos. “There was not a thing that we didn’t like,” she said.
And she was enthusiastic about the evening in general. “I always think they do an amazing job on Restaurant Night, above and beyond,” Moglia said.
“It’s changed over the years and it gets better. Now that it’s in the ice rink, it’s more cozy and organized. The crowd has gotten so big, it’s overwhelming.”
Nearby, Mix Platters Halal Boys was waiting with a variety of ingredients to make basic halal platters, including chicken, onions, and their homemade white sauce made from yogurt, garlic, and mayonnaise.
“We just opened about six months ago, and honestly, this town is just a great environment,” said Gina Fayazi, a cashier at Mix Platters. “We love the people of Secaucus so much. Halal food is something new to bring to Restaurant Night.”
Town favorite Bareli's also came out to share their best dishes, including eggplant rollatini with ricotta cheese and parsley.
“We like to give back to the community and have other people within the town try out our food,” said a sous chef at the restaurant, shortly before he began slicing up scrumptious braised pork loin, served with pecorino potatoes.
Bareli's has been participating in the event for the past four to five years, he said.
The Bonefish Grill, another longtime town staple, also marked their presence at the event, selling out of food for a third consecutive year. They offered their signature, crispy Bang Bang shrimp and potato bites.
“We love the people here, and we'd do anything to help out the community,” said Bonefish associate Dana Brown.
Not all the offerings were strictly dinner fare. Dilian Guzman, co-owner of Sweet & Flour, presided over her store's red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. The store specializes in custom desserts, such as cake pops, cookies, and cupcakes.
“We always love to participate in anything the town is doing,” Guzman said. This year marked Sweet & Flour's third Restaurant Night, she said. “I would say we have really great cookies and cakes, and a great variety of things.”
Not too far away, Dhoom showcased paneer makhani, chana masala, chicken masala, and aloo gobhi.
“We've been coming here for four years,” said owner Vicky Kumar. “A lot of people who come here, they always know us and our restaurant.”
He said the restaurant sold out of food after three hours. Proceeds from the event not only go back to the restaurants, but also local town organizations such as the Hygiene Project and SAIL. The Hygiene Project distributes hygiene kits to those in need through 16 states and 10 countries, and SAIL is a learning initiative teaching local students to be more community-service oriented.
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org