Last week, I was invited to the newly-opened Mamajuana Café in Secaucus. Having spent over 20 years in Fort Lauderdale, I was looking forward the bold flavors I’d been accustomed to in South Florida’s melting pot of cultures.
The Secaucus location is the sixth for Mamajuana, with a seventh on the way. Corporate Chef Ricardo Cardona serves up Nuevo Latino Cuisine, a mix of Caribbean, South American and Spanish cuisines, unlike any I’ve encountered since moving to the northeast. The food is creatively-presented, the flavors are bold and explosive and the portions are more than generous.
Besides being the man behind the delicious food at Mamajuana, Chef Cardona recently catered the food for the annual Empire State Building Valentine’s Day weddings contest with Preston Bailey. He has also cooked for the NY Yankees, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony and more.
The first of three starters we enjoyed during our visit was the Maduro Relleno ($12) – a ripe, sweet plantain stuffed with a perfectly-briny stew of bacalao fish. I was actually disappointed my dinner guest enjoyed it as I could have eaten the entire dish myself. Another winning starter was the Mini Mofongo Trio ($15) – a sampler of shrimp, crabmeat and chicken-stuffed Mofongo, fried plantain smashed with garlic. I’d forgotten how much I love and miss Mofongo until I tasted Chef Cardona’s version. The third appetizer we sampled was the Empanadas ($12) – fried turnovers: beef, chicken or eggplant with goat cheese. These were pretty typical empanadas enhanced with tangy chimichurri.
Entrees were equally delicious. We enjoyed perfectly-cooked Churrasco ($28) – a grilled skirt steak with herb chimichurri and garlic fries. The skirt steak was served spun in a flower / spiral which was a nice touch. Don’t pass up the chance to order the Mamajuana Paella ($30) – Saffron-infused rice with Chorizo, calamari, octopus, shrimps, clams, mussels and nearly half a lobster. The dish is topped with green peas and roasted red pepper. It’s simply a great dish that could perhaps use a larger plate as it was difficult to contain the generous portion of food in the smallish bowl.
I already know what I’ll order on my next visit – the Puerquito (serves two $28). It’s slow-roasted pork with onion Escabeche and pigeon pea rice.
We had the opportunity to try several of the homemade desserts. A nicely-moist version of chocolate mousse cake, a berry pie with above-average crust, a milky, somewhat dense Tres Leche cake and a solid flan execution.
The 200-seat restaurant and lounge also serves as the room-service supplier for the adjacent Hilton Garden Inn Secaucus-Meadowlands. I think hotel guests won’t mind the Secaucus business trip nearly as much while enjoying Chef Cardona’s food. I’m thrilled to live in the area and to have return visits to look forward to.
875 Route 3 East, Secaucus, NJ 07094. 201-558-1200.
Monday & Tuesday: Lunch 11:30 am – 3:00 pm, dinner 5:00 pm- 11:00 pm
Wednesday & Thursday: Lunch 11:30 am – 3:00 pm, Dinner 5:00 pm- 12:00 am
Fridays: Lunch 11:30 am – 3:00 pm, Dinner 5:00 pm- 2:00 am
Saturdays: Dinner 5:00 pm- 2:00 am
Sundays: Brunch 11:00 am – 4:00 pm, Dinner 5:00 pm – 1:00 am
Veronique Deblois, Food & Wine Chickie: Veronique is a food and wine writer based in Morris County, NJ. As the author of the popular blog, Food & Wine Chickie Insider, Veronique shares recipes, wine and restaurant reviews and insight into the travel industry of which she’s a 15-year veteran. Follow Veronique on Twitter or like her Facebook page.