During one of the first dinners I ever had in the Ironbound, Newark’s bustling neighborhood filled with over 200 Portuguese, Brazilian and Spanish restaurants, wine shops, bakeries and markets, I was shocked to have my dining companion, a Portuguese immigrant and frequent Ironbound visitor, abruptly pull my menu away from me.
“Trust me,” he said. “We are only going to need one entrée for the two of us.”
I didn’t believe him until our chosen dish — carne de porco à alentejana, otherwise known as cubed pork and clams braised in a garlic, white wine and fresh coriander sauce — arrived and I was greeted with more than enough food to feed two hungry people, for about $20.
This perception — that one can get a huge, nice meal for cheap — in the Ironbound is, as any Ironbound visitor knows, correct. However, as the Ironbound Business Improvement District (IBID) plans to prove through its first Ironbound Wine and Food Expo on Friday, Oct. 7, and Saturday, Oct. 8, there’s a lot more to Iberian cuisine in America than a low-cost meal.
Although the Ironbound hosts great restaurant or bar matches for those looking to hang out before a soccer game at Red Bull Arena or a concert at the Prudential Center, the district also has many restaurants that have “Old-World, candlelit settings,” said Vince Baglivo, communications director of the IBID, such as Forno’s of Spain Restaurant, Spanish Tavern and Sol-Mar Restaurant.
“With the economic downturn, it was helpful that people recognized many of the dining opportunities as affordable,” said Baglivo. “However, there are also a lot of higher-end components of food and wine in our district and we want to showcase that at the first Expo. You can pay and get lots of food for a cheap price or pay a little bit more and get a fine dining meal.”
About 300 to 500 people are expected to pack the Portuguese Sports Club at 55 Prospect St. on Friday from 5 to 11 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. and 6 to 11 p.m. The upscale-casual event is for those 21 and older in the evenings, but children are welcome during the Saturday daytime session, which will be a marketplace setting free and open to the public, full of tastings and offerings of the finest Iberian food and artisan products.
For $75 to $200, (tickets can be purchased at ironboundwineandfood.com), Expo visitors will sample food and wine from local restaurants and shops, listen to live music from Seth Andrew Jazz Trio and DJ music, watch flamenco dancers from Viva Flamenco, view a local art exhibit from the Prospect Street Firestation Arts Center, and enjoy hand-rolled cigars from Leo’s Choice.
“This isn’t the Portugal Day Festival or a street fair,” said Baglivo. “It’s an upscale event during a great night out that you will not leave hungry.”
You won’t leave thirsty, either. Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jensen, the World Wine Guys from Wine Enthusiast Magazine, will lead tastings of six wines from Portugal and Spain on Friday night as part of an event VIP package that includes general admission, the wine tasting and valet parking that can also be purchased atironboundwineandfood.com for $125.
“Too many people pass through Newark to go to the airport and train and they miss this vibrant neighborhood,” said DeSimone, who grew up in Englishtown. “I hope that this makes New Jerseyans realize that they have a food and wine destination in their own backyard.”
DeSimone also stressed that the Expo will showcase many local importers that bring in specialty wine or food products and don’t have a large distribution, so in some cases, the Ironbound is the only place that enthusiasts can get them.
This unique opportunity makes the Expo an excellent chance for New Jersey foodies to try new foods and wines that can be daunting in another atmosphere. Baglivo said, “People have a habit of reverting back to what they know, but we are hoping that someone will come to this event, enjoy the wine and when you’re in a restaurant, you’ll start looking for it or say, ‘I want to try that.’”
Plus, there doesn’t seem to be a better place to get a taste of Iberian food and wine than the Ironbound, an authentic destination that “feels like Europe,” said Steve Yglesias, president of IBID and owner of Mompou Tapas, a restaurant that will be at the Expo.
The Ironbound has been an Italian and Polish neighborhood, but over time, it has changed into one with overwhelming Portuguese, Brazilian and Spanish traditions, as well as one with Central and South American influence.
It has been estimated that more than 40 ethnic groups live in the Ironbound. With about 50,000 total residents, about 35 percent of the Ironbound’s current population has Portuguese descent.
“Going to the Ironbound is like taking a trip to Europe without the plane ticket,” said Baglivo. “Once you start walking down Ferry Street, it’s like you’re in a time warp. You smell the charcoal burning, hear Old World music playing and people are speaking Portuguese and Spanish. It’s like you have been lifted into a new country within New Jersey.”
Ironbound Wine and Food Expo
When: Friday, Oct. 7, from 5 to 11 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 8, from noon to 4 p.m. and 6 to 11 p.m.
Where: The Portuguese Sports Club at 55 Prospect St., Newark
Cost: $75 to $200, can be purchased here