A Taste of Newark
Newark’s Four Corners, where Market and Broad Streets meet, was dubbed the busiest intersection in the world in the late 1920s. It’s still a city nerve center, especially on weekdays when sirens and traffic and voices create a distinctly urban song. “It is like walking into a time-warp of what New York must have looked like in the ’70s, small businesses and street vendors selling anything you can think of,” says Newark transplant Julie Godfrey. Walk a mile in any direction, and the same can be said about the food.
Newark’s culinary scene is vast, reflecting the palates of both newcomers and those who have long called the city home. Take the Ironbound: “It has been able to thrive primarily because of Spanish and Portuguese immigration that took place in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s,” says Tony Martinez, owner of Mompou Tapas Bar & Restaurant. Yet, it isn’t immune to change. These days, Martinez sees a mix of cultures, and enjoys the blend of perspectives. “A lot of the work that Newark has been doing to try to bring new companies to the city has really helped the businesses that are here—particularly the restaurant businesses.”
“Newark is a cultural mash-up,” Godfrey says. “What differentiates Newark from other food centers is that even though the city is undergoing a transformation . . . you can still see glimpses of the old city.” This is a good thing, especially when it comes to food. Yet, to wander the Central and East Wards is to see a city in evolution. For every classic like Hobby’s Deli or soul-food hotspot Vonda’s Kitchen, there’s a Playa Bowl arriving on the scene. Come hungry and take notes for your return trip.
FROM TOP: Marcus B&P; Manager Adam Bergo makes a latte at Black Swan Espresso
9am: Coffee Two Ways
T.M. Ward Coffee is a crossroads. There are the beans, globally sourced. Then there are the flight attendants on layover from Newark Liberty. Housed in a nearby high-rise, many head in to caffeinate before they fly—and yes, they like their coffee strong. Established in 1869 and in this location since 1951, the store is packed to the rafters with coffee, tea and rainbow-hued hard candy. Vera Barbosa, a 25-year employee, is as struck by the variety of coffee as she is by the variety of customers. “We meet a lot of different people,” she says, ringing up a double Portuguese-roast espresso for a regular. “I have people from the streets, judges, a lot of younger people, interns. Over the years, we’ve made a lot of good friendships.”
For craft coffee, hit Halsey Street, where the story of urban change is writ large. “It looks 1,000% different from what it once was,” says Buki Elegbede, a 20-something Newarker and host of Baked by Buki, an online cooking show on Create TV. Black Swan Espresso features beans from Intelligentsia and Propeller, plus iced-tea sippers in flavors like ruby (hibiscus) and black jasmine. Doughnuts come from Dough NYC, dubbed the nation’s best by Business Insider in 2017. The jewel-toned hibiscus doughnut is bright and topped with candied flowers. Sit by the window, look up and ponder the intersections of brick, glass and sky.
9:45am: Breakfast and Orientation
For another view of the shifting city, stroll through the Hahne & Co. building. Renovated to house chic apartments and Marcus Samuelsson’s B&P restaurant, it’s also home to Newark’s year-old Whole Foods Market. Yet the lingering impression comes via the 100 People of Newark exhibit in the light-filled atrium, commissioned in 2016 for Newark’s 350th anniversary. Amid portraits that reflect the city’s demographics and neighborhoods, you’ll meet people like Ramonita Rivera, matriarch of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, and Nyeeam Hudson, a young motivational speaker. For more on the city’s history, visit the Newark Public Library’s Main Branch. Recent exhibits have included a look at Newark’s role in World War I and stunning portraits from Akintola Hanif, whose work challenges stereotypes about poverty and communities of color.
FROM TOP: Black Swan Espresso; O’LaLa interior; Empanadas at O’LaLa on Market Street; the bar at Marcus B&P; Marcus Samuelsson’s Sticky Beef Ribs
11am: City Markets
On Tuesdays, you’ll find one of the city’s thriving farmers’ markets at Military Park. Watch for cooking demos from the Greater Newark Conservancy, which links environmental stewardship to quality of life. (Dates for 2018 were still being confirmed at deadline, but the market ran from June through October last year.) On Thursdays from May 24 through October 18, visit the NDD (Newark Downtown District) Common Greens Farmers Market. Featuring live music and ample reasons to linger, it boasts more than two dozen vendors, about half of whom call the city home.
12pm: Lunch Two Ways
Keeping with the green theme, downtown lunch options include everything from poke to smoothie bowls. For April Harris-Holmes, health-minded owner of cheesecake brand Keeping You Sweet, this evolution is a godsend. Her first stop? The Green Chicpea, a Middle Eastern-inspired fast-casual spot. “On the days I feel like being veggie, I can have a falafel bowl, and on those meat days I can have chicken,” she says. The former touring recording artist also sings the praises of the healing soup from Harvest Table.
To learn about the city’s Latin American community, opt for a downtown empanada crawl. Begin at charming La Cocina, where Latin jazz hums, napkins are stowed in cigar boxes and Cuban Americans flock for hard-to-find Ironbeer soda. Created in Havana in 1917, “it’s like a root beer, but softer,” explains affable co-owner Manny Beovides, who knows his customers by name. The empanadas here are classic Cuban. “Mexico makes empanadas. Colombia makes empanadas. We do the ground beef seasoned Cuban style. They’re never frozen, and we make [them] by hand,” Beovides says. Order one with a side of show-stopping black beans and rice, which are somehow vegetarian, then head up to the rooftop patio for some sun.
Next, queue with the locals at Mi Gente, a tiny steam-table spot where Colombian empanadas are the star. Stuffed with shredded beef and creamy potato, they have a masa crust instead of a flour base, which caramelizes beautifully when fried.
At cheerful Cordobesas, mate gourds line the sky-blue walls and empanadas fly out the door for delivery by bike. Owned by Argentinian-American sisters and opened in 2017, the restaurant pays tribute to flavors encountered during their childhood travels south. True to Argentinian tradition, the business name is stamped into each empanada’s curved crust. Chorizo is the standout, savory yet bright with pepper and onion. Yuyo pairs spinach with ricotta, perfect for vegetarians. Both are divine topped with a vinegary chimichurri picante—and don’t miss the alfajores, delicate dulce de leche sandwich cookies flecked with coconut.
The Borges family of O’LaLa Empanadas is from Jersey City by way of Puerto Rico. Their food pays homage to mom LaLa’s recipes. Try the “Love Potion,” which pairs guava and cream cheese. Or go savory with El Coqui, which matches roasted pork and sweet plantains.
FROM TOP: A “Halsey Hooch” at Marcus B&P; coffee selection at T.M. Ward Coffee Co.; Black Swan Espresso; Kitchen staff member Brendan McEvoy of Marcus B&P tends to the indoor garden
2pm: Arts and Parks
Locals argue that Newark’s revival should partly be credited to a tight community of artists and entrepreneurs. Wander the galleries downtown to get to know them. (You can find a list at NewarkHappening.com.) In downtown’s Gateway 2 building, home to NJTV, the Project for Empty Space combines studios and socially engaged exhibitions at the intersection of art and politics. City Without Walls, the oldest alternative nonprofit art space in the state, features the work of emerging artists.
Bedecked with vintage bridges, awe-inspiring Branch Brook Park is the nation’s first county park. Come spring, it becomes a pastel daydream, courtesy of its resident cherry trees. Nearby Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart (page 30) is worth a visit, whatever your relationship to faith. The light streaming in through stained glass is magic. (If the front doors are locked, try the side door on Ridge Street.)
4pm: Afternoon Respite
Across from the transit center, Bello’s Pub and Grill bills itself as Newark’s first gastropub, backing that claim with 180 beers, futbol scarves strung from the ceiling and a come-one, come-all vibe. For nostalgia, Barcade pairs craft beer with arcade games like Dig Dug.
5pm: Party in the Museum
The Newark Museum shines with forward-looking programming that turns the idea of a hall for relics on its head. Walk in during free Late Thursdays for the 21+ set, and you’ll be swept right into its center. The museum transforms into a party, complete with booming music, swirling dancers, free wine and small bites. The March event was dubbed “Wild Textiles,” a nod to the “Dramatic Threads: Textiles of Asia” exhibit. There was henna art, Bollywood dance and fierce karaoke. During a performance by the New York Chinese Freemasons Athletic Club, hungry lions showered the crowd with lettuce, a symbol of wealth. It was a lightning bolt moment: In Newark, revitalization is as much about people as it is about corporations. Of course, Newarkers already knew that. Visit May 17 for “Art Remix: The Michael Jackson Edition.” During the event, you’ll be free to wander the galleries, including the Ballantine House (read: mansion that beer built) and flagship Arts of Global Africa exhibit. NJ PAC (Performing Arts Center) remains a cultural hub. Majah Hype, Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, John Cusack and the London Symphony Orchestra are set for spring. NICO, a new American restaurant within the center, offers a convenient spot to dine.
FROM TOP: Baked Chicken at La Cocina on New Street; Casa d’Paco
7pm: Trip to Galicia
For dinner, it’s on to the Ironbound. Casa d’Paco showcases the cuisine of Galicia, the Spanish maritime region north of Portugal. From the moment you arrive, you’ll feel like part of the family. This makes sense. “My father’s the chef, my mother makes the desserts and I run the front of the house,” explains Angel Leston, who offers a dapper welcome in a gray flat cap. Expert dishes highlight Galicia’s love affair with the sea. “A lot of the seafood that we have is from there. We also have a lot of what they call peasant stews. Our soup, caldo galego, is a hearty meal from Galicia. It’s the food we grew up with.” It’s also a beautiful heritage. Pulpo a galega, grilled octopus paired with smoky paprika and olive oil, is pillow soft without losing structure. Aguacate relleno, the shell of an avocado stuffed with chilled snow crab and shrimp, is heaven on a sweltering day. At the bar, regulars greet one another with two-cheek kisses and toast over Spanish wine and sangria.
The city’s jazz-scene newcomer is Eleven Clinton // Smothered Blues, a supper club tucked sexily down a side street. The crowd is sophisticated, without being stiff. Same goes for the space, all dark grays and rich red. On Friday and Saturday nights, and at brunchtime on Sundays, musicians fill it with sound. Should you arrive hungry, Chef Dawn Tyson’s Southern-meets-Caribbean kitchen serves up a mean bowl of buttery shrimp and grits.
Seasoned Collard Greens cooking in Vonda’s Kitchen
100 People of Newark
50 Halsey St.|
494 Broad St.
Bello’s Pub and Grill
376 Market St.
Black Swan Espresso
93 Halsey St.
Branch Brook Park
Lake St. & Park Ave.
Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart
89 Ridge St.
73 Warwick St.
City without Walls
6 Crawford St.
85 Mulberry St.
Eleven Clinton // Smothered Blues
11 Clinton St.
Hahne & Co. building
50 Halsey St.
127 Halsey St
550 Broad St.
61 New St.
56 Halsey St
Mi Gente Café
7 Central Ave.
Military Park Farmers’ Market
51 Park Place
Tuesdays, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m
Date not yet confirmed at press time
49 Washington St.
Newark Public Library–Main Branch
5 Washington St.
1 Center St
1 Center St.
194 Market St.
Project for Empty Space
2 Gateway Center
The Green Chicpea
59 Halsey St.
T.M. Ward Coffee
944 Broad St.
Whole Foods Market
633 Broad St.