THE NEXT GENERATION
With authentic flavors old and new,
Jersey City is a food lover’s adventure.
BY ANTHONY GIGLIO
PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRISTOPHER WEIL
To begin with, Andrea Salumeria is not a woman; it’s a deli. And not just any deli—it’s the best deli in Jersey City. When my wife and I moved into our home in the Heights neighborhood seven years ago, just around the corner from this legendary salumeria on Central Avenue, I asked owner Pete Soriano how early in the morning he arrives to make his exceptional mozzarella. Without missing a beat, he gave me his trademark “c’mon” smirk, put his hands together like he was praying, and said, “We make it three times a day.” That is why Andrea Salumeria is on my speed-dial list.
If you’ve never been to Andrea, or never even heard of it, you have my sympathy. But I get it. Who goes to Jersey City for gourmet food? Even more accurately, who goes to Jersey City at all? My answer to either of those questions is this: Anyone who appreciates amazing, authentic ethnic food at insanely good prices. Even though my office is in Manhattan, a block from the vaunted Union Square farmers’ market, and my two children go to school in Hoboken, two blocks from Sobsey’s Produce (the best gourmet shop in that town), I do most of my shopping right here in much-ignored Jersey City. And you should, too.
But first, we need to get past the stereotypes. Sure, we had a rough patch after the late ’60s riots, when many of the locals fled for the ’burbs. In many ways, Jersey City is the Naples (Italy, not Florida) of New Jersey: crowded, unruly, lightly governed, mob-friendly, teeming with immigrants, and home to amazing pizza (see Gino’s and Café Rustique below). But over the past two decades, the city has been coming back, slowly but surely, as evidenced by the skyscrapers that have risen along the waterfront in the Newport, Exchange Place and Paulus Hook neighborhoods, as well as the many pockets of gentrification throughout Downtown, the Heights, Journal Square and Lincoln Park. So, if you haven’t been here in a while, come back, take a look around, and then eat your way through this giant mess of a city. You won’t regret it.
I’m a lifelong defender of this misunderstood town because, well, it’s in my blood. I often joke—when people ask, why Jersey City?—that all eight of my greatgrandparents, fleeing the poverty of southern Italy in the 1880s, passed through Ellis Island and then made a wrong turn: While Martin Scorcese’s ancestors settled on Grand Street in Manhattan, mine headed to Grand Street in Jersey City. And that is where I grew up, until—full disclosure—my own parents gave up on the place and moved our family to Bergen County in 1980. But then, after college, I met my wife and we moved into her hip new apartment in then-undiscovered Downtown Jersey City, into the former Baker’s Chocolate Factory. As our family grew, we needed more space, and Downtown got too expensive for us. So, here we are in the Heights, on a beautiful, sycamore tree–lined street that boasts some of the oldest, loveliest Victorian houses in the city. From here I jump on my bike and run my errands, all over town.
Here’s my Jersey City— with apologies to locals whose opinions differ:
Home to a quarter-million people crammed into 15 square miles of space, the city has only three Starbucks, none of which, thankfully, are anywhere near where I live and shop. When I’m feeling brave I’ll walk into Caffé Italia (121 Franklin St./Heights), a social club with a coffee counter that’s usually unmanned because the old guys are in the back playing cards or watching soccer via satellite. If you can get proprietor Signor Antonio to make you an espresso or cappuccino, it’ll be worth the effort. For a quick(er) fix I head to La Caridad (231 Central Ave./Heights), a hole-in-the-wall staffed by Latinas who call me mi amor. The food is average but the café con leche is perfecto.
Hudson County’s reputation for fabulous crusty, chewy Italian-style bread is well deserved, but the bakeries are dwindling. I mourned the bulldozing of Marie’s Bakery in Hoboken—and with it one of the few coal-burning ovens allowed to operate in town—to make way for condominiums. While a Marie’s retail store remains (next door to the new condo), the bread is now allegedly—they won’t confirm or deny—baked in Jersey City (take that Hoboken!). There are only four bread bakeries in J.C. that I’d buy from, and they include Elio’s Bakery (442 West Side Ave./West Side); Angelo’s Panetteria (14 Wales Ave./Marion); Second Street Bakery (402 Second St./Downtown), which has excellent sausage bread; and Pecoraro Bakery (279 Newark Ave./Downtown), my favorite of them all for big, round panellas (similar to French boules).
Forty years ago, when Tommy Maloney started working at the butcher shop that his great-grandfather opened in 1875, he recalls that there were at least 10 good butcher shops in the Jersey City. Now, his Maloney’s Meat Market (627 Newark Ave./Heights) is the only one left. “When I came into this business I was lucky,” says Maloney, adding, “We were still cutting straight off the steers— and I can still butcher one with my eyes closed! Now everything comes Cryovac-ed.” Maloney will special-order a prime rib roast for me, or he’ll French the bones on a center-cut pork rib roast, and he’ll age steaks for me in his cooler. After you order, he or one of his team (shout-outs to George, Danny and Erica!) hands you a receipt that you take to the cashier in the back of the shop, in a booth occupied for the past quarter-century by the lovely Linda Visco. Oh, don’t forget to grab a pound of their thick-cut bacon, too.