The Ironbound section of Newark, east of Penn Station and Downtown a/k/a “Down Neck” is a multi-ethnic community referred to as “Little Portugal” because of its plethora of Portuguese and Brazilian restaurants.
Being fortunate enough to live only eight miles from the Renaissance City, “Down Neck” is where my friends and I dine often; it’s also where I bring out-of-town guests who ask me to take them to a churrascaria to get the best rodízio for which downtown Newark restaurants are famous. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s a style of service in Brazilian and Portuguese restaurants where customers are served table-side by wait staff bearing knives and skewers speared with a variety of meat, including but not limited to beef, pork and chicken.
At the Brasilia Grill, which is reputed to be the first Brazilian restaurant in the area to offer rodizio natural hardwood charcoal is used to cook the meats, which gives them an interesting flavor, and on the weekends they offer smoked meats. The vast array includes turkey chunks wrapped in bacon, sirloin steak (cut semicircular and served in slices), lamb, pork ribs, chorizo and chicken hearts, among others. In addition to the array of meats sliced to order table side there is also a free buffet which includes salads, coleslaw, beets as well as to die for fried bananas, collard greens and potatoes and a dessert bar with several different types of cakes and pies and a variety of flans.
Recently, to celebrate some good news, my friends and I went to the Brasilia Grill on Monroe Street since the occasion called for a good “caipirinha” in a festive atmosphere. If you’ve never had one – try it; it’s the national cocktail of Brazil; loosely translated “caipirinha” means “of the mountains” – the American equivalent of “yokel” or “hillbilly” – or “redneck” which one surely feels like after drinking just one. After getting a little tipsy in the bar area, we moved to a small table there, opting to avoid the temptation of the free buffet and eat a little lighter, which is almost oxymoronic at a restaurant like this one. The cheerful and beautiful young Brazilian waitresses kept the male patrons smiling and – speaking for the women at my table – it was nice to see men working so diligently to cook and serve food.
After a caipirinha cocktail hour which lasted two, none of us felt like consuming mass quantities of meat, but the menu also offers seafood entrees (including red snapper, squid and shrimp) as well as “one-shot” plates of meat. After asking the waitress about her favorite, I ordered a slice sirloin plate which came with a choice of fried bananas or collard greens (of course I opted for the bananas), red or black beans, and white rice. The steak did indeed have a distinct flavor For $13, they brought so much food that it was impossible to finish – which made Deva, my flat-coated retriever – not to mention my son – extremely happy when I got home. In fact, I think we’re set for the month.
On weekends, there is karaoke and live entertainment in the bar area, and everyone seems to get involved, even those who can’t really dance or sing. It’s hard to leave without a smile on your face (and craving a gallon of water, since the food is extremely salty). The Brasilia Grill is at the top of the list of where to go if you are looking for lots of food at reasonable prices in a festive, family friendly atmosphere. Reservations are recommended, since it is often crowded and even with a reservation; the wait might be long which is actually uplifting to see considering the current economic climate. And if you opt to eat at the bar instead of the main dining room, you might encounter any number of vendors who walk in with roses, bootleg DVDs and figurines of Dolphins, Elephants and the Pope.
97-99 Monroe Street
Newark, NJ 07105
Vicki Lindgren Rimasse a/k/a “Divamom” is an amateur chef and congenial foodie who has strong opinions about restaurants and has been a fan of Newark New Jersey and its restaurant scene since she moved to the Garden State from Long Island nearly 20 years ago. In “real life” she is Senior Communications Specialist for ERE Accountants and Consultants in New York (www.ere-cpa.com), a blogger ( http://profile.typepad.com/vlrimasse) and most importantly the mother of a hungry sixteen year old boy. Since her heritage is both Italian (on her mother’s side) and Swedish (on her dad’s), she considers herself to be an expert on meatballs of all kinds, and has hosted a Sausage Fest at her home several times. Wherever she eats dinner, she drives the wait staff and her friends crazy by requesting hot sauce and extra napkins.