Jersey City for Beginners
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Jersey City, New Jersey

Jersey City for Beginners

In January, after a five year residence, my husband and I moved from our (tiny, but beloved) Boerum Hill, Brooklyn-based apartment to Jersey City. We left in search of roomier lodgings, which we found in Liberty Harbor, a neighborhood bordered by Paulus Hook, Van Vorst Park, Grove Street and Liberty State Park. I’ll be honest––I was very sad to leave our swatch of Brooklyn. I cook a lot, and there, I had established relationships with butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. There, we had a surfeit of great restaurants any night of the week.

We’ve been in Jersey City for three months now, and while there are some shops and food suppliers I’ll always return to the old neighborhood for––I’m looking at you, Central Valley Farm and Brooklyn Wine Exchange––on the whole, I’m settling into my new food routine just fine. In fact, I’m fast developing a new list of favorite shops, bars, restaurants and makers.    

New Yorkers, be not afraid of the PATH! It accepts your subway card, and is far cleaner than the actual subway. Here is my three-months-in list of spots worth a trip across the river, all within ten-ish walking minutes of the Grove Street Path Station.

Where to Eat

Porta

Porta is located on the now pedestrian-only street just outside the Path entrance. It’s housed inside an old department store; a lofty space that’s always bustling. Strings of Edison bulbs hang from exposed ceilings, which, in the evening, cast dim light across long, communal tables. There are two bars, plus another on the roof in fine weather, and a pizza oven-dotted open kitchen. Order any of the pizzas on the rotating menu, but I especially love their thoughtful, substantial salads, which change seasonally. At brunch, the Sal is a winner: everything bagel focaccia, house-cured salmon gravlax, dijon cream cheese and mustard seed caviar.


Razza

Across the street from City Hall, Razza cares a lot about pizza, right down to where their flour is milled (Clifton, NJ). They keep their own yeast culture, which makes the most flavorful bread––and pizza crust worth eating on its own. The cultured butter is house-made. Razza sources ingredients with enthusiasm, from cheese (ricotta and mozzarella particularly), to beef for their meatballs and salami, salt, hazelnuts, beer and wine. The menu is narrow––a couple small plates, a couple salads and eight pizzas––but the quality is high.


Taqueria

Taqueria has two locations, but I frequent the store squeezed into the corner of Grove and Grand. Inside, walls and ceiling alike are covered in photographs, posters, Christmas lights and tchotchkes. The food isn’t fancy, but it is delicious: tacos, quesadillas, flautas, sopes, tortas, tamales, tostadas, burritos and enchiladas. I’m a big fan of their guacamole and housemade chips, their beans, and––I believe it got me through winter––their chicken soup. Bonus: there’s a backyard, open in warm weather.


Rumi Turkish Grill

I eat Rumi Turkish Grill at least twice per week. Our standard order is chicken kababs (flavorful, succulent), rice (the best I’ve ever had, flavored by the chicken juices), tomato and cucumber salad, homemade hummus and labneh, and a spicy vegetable spread made with tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, nuts, olive oil and herbs. It makes me happy just thinking about it. Rumi also serves a mix of Turkish (plus other Mediterranean country) classic dishes like falafel and lamb in various iterations, and desserts like kunefe and kazandibi.


Koro Koro

Koro Koro “is a Japanese onomatopoeic expression for the sound of something spherical, fat or small ‘rolling or ‘tumbling.’ The expression is often associated with [a] Japanese fable about an old couple and the fortunes they reap by sharing their rice balls!’” Koro Koro takes the traditional Japanese rice ball––wrapped in nori or not––and fills them with internationally-inspired fillings. My favorite is the miso beef (ground beef, miso, shallots, leeks, scallions, ginger and sake), but there is also a Cuban, Indian, Moroccan and Mediterranean. They serve soups, salads, coffees and teas as well.


Bucket and Bay

At family-run Bucket and Bay, small batch, artisanal gelato is made using grass-fed milk. The space is airy and open, the working gelato maker in full view as it churns away. There are twelve gelati on the menu: two are actually vegan sorbetti (currently, fuji apple cider and pomelo), four are alcohol-infused (Black Label vanilla, dark & stormy, Fernet Branca, banana rum). They keep classic flavors on the menu––vanilla, chocolate, mint chip––but also some unique ones, like rose latte, toasted coconut, and Masala chai.


Milk, Sugar, Love

Pastry Chef, Emma Taylor, opened Milk, Sugar, Love as a testament to her own love of ice cream. She uses organic milk and cream, and works with local farmers and purveyors to create seasonal flavors. There are always 12 flavors in the case, and always her classic four––vanilla bean, salted caramel, classic chocolate and lemon olive oil––with the other eight rotating based on the season. Other flavors include earl grey fudge, black sesame chip, sour cream blueberry, coconut passionfruit, salted cashew, root beer float, beer ‘n’ pretzels, summer peach, mascarpone cherry, and french toast. The store also sells pints, ice cream sandwiches, ice cream cakes, baked goods, cold brewed coffee and frozen yogurt for dogs!

Where to Shop

Cocoa Bakery

Cocoa Bakery is owned by pastry chef Jessica Isaacs, formerly of Nobu in New York. The bakery makes cookies, cakes, brownies and pastries. I’m crazy for their Mexican wedding balls, which I’ve offered with coffee to every guest who’s visited our apartment since we moved. They also make the best banana cream pie I’ve ever had.


Choc o Pain

Choc o Pain is a fairly classic French boulangerie, selling French-style breads, sandwiches, quiches and viennoiserie. They make a solid jambon beurre sandwich––quality baguette, thin slice of ham, thin slice of Emmental, butter––and their kouign amann (in apple, chocolate and raspberry varieties) are nothing to laugh at. Coffee from La Colombe.  


Pasta del Cuore

Elena Cartagena, owner and sfoglina, culinary schooled in Italy and then returned home to open Pasta dal Cuore. They specialize in fresh made pasta, including: ravioli (beef short rib, roasted eggplant and spinach-ricotta), linguine, spaghetti, pappardelle, lasagne and tagliatelle. She also makes specialized pastas like tajarin, squid ink, whole wheat linguine, tomato linguine, saffron linguine, spinach linguine and gnocchi. Tomato sauce, bolognese and pesto are also very good.


Kanibal and Co.

I’m openly smitten with Kanibal and Co. Their inventory––which includes but is not limited to: terrariums, clothing, soap, jewelry, stationery, candles and kitchenware––is updated regularly, frankly too regularly for my wallet. They highlight Jersey City-based makers, who happen to be a creative and talented bunch. They also host workshops in the loft upstairs, which include classes like The Sensible Guide to Urban Landscaping, Custom Bath Salts, Flower Crowns and Squirrel Taxidermy (believe it or not, the squirrels are ethically sourced).


Word Bookstore

Word Bookstore is bright and inviting, with a café in the back, serving Stumptown, Ovenly, Balthazar and Cocoa Bakery products. I most enjoy their well-curated selection of cookbooks. They host readings and book clubs, have outdoor seating, and a robust children’s section.

Honorable Mentions

Where to Drink

At Pint Bar, come for: the crafts beers, themed nights (like trivia) and giant fishbowl cocktails (“60 ounces of fun! 20+ flavorific choices! Giant straw included! And a duck!”)

At Orale, come for: the colorful, mural-ed interior, margaritas, the tequila menu and the guacamole menu.  

At Zeppelin Hall, come for: the biggest beer hall in New Jersey, with a beer selection to match, plus indoor and outdoor seating and an Oktoberfest-themed food menu.

At The Archer, come for: Brooklyn-cum-hunting lodge looks, mixologist cocktails: Van Vorst Park Sizzle (apple brandy, amontillado sherry, lime, orange, cinnamon, peychaud’s bitter), Cidade Bella (cachaca, aperol, lime, cinnamon, black walnut bitters), upscale bar food with an eye to “exotic” meats: Spicy Elk Meatball Sliders (piquillo, goat cheese, spicy tomato, brioche) and venison corn dogs (jalapeno jam, pickled mustard seed, hush puppy batter).  

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