Ironbound, a picturesque 19th-century neighborhood that follows the twisting course of the Passaic River downstream from downtown Newark, was named for the prevalence of iron foundries and rail yards within its four-square-mile expanse. The neighborhood was first settled by Germans, Poles, and Ukrainians, and became famous for its breweries and taverns, but by 1910 Portuguese started arriving, a group that still dominates Ironbound streets, giving them a distinctly southern European feel.
Ironbound is a short walk from Newark's Penn Station, where PATH trains arrive from New York City. A walk down the main drags of Ferry Street and Wilson Avenue, with their late-night pastry shops and fragrant barbecues, past the landmark 1874 St. Stephans Church, will make you feel like you're strolling the streets of Lisbon. Nowadays, the newcomers to the neighborhood are Brazilians, who have added their own special flavor to the streets, especially along Wilson Avenue.
The Portuguese are as obsessed with cooking over hardwood as Texans, and as you maneuver down Ferry Street, past the sprawling, castellated restaurant Iberia (80-84 Ferry Street, 973-344-7603, more impressive landmark than dining option), the first thing you'll smell is fragrant smoke wafting through the streets. Portuguese barbecues utilize pits with hinged lids, often located right in the dining room. Attendants turn rotisserie cranks by hand, as the plump chickens kick like a Radio City chorus line. Specializing in both poultry and pork ribs, Ironbound BBQs are really inexpensive. Sometimes you can get steaks, too, and the entrees are served with pickled veggies, plus fried potatoes and well-oiled rice, for a double-starch whammy. (Triple, I guess, since there's bread and butter on the table, too.)
[Ferry St. Barbecue]
Easiest of these smoke pits to get to is Ferry St. Barbecue (89 Ferry Street, 973-344-7337), which boasts some tables right on the street, but a longtime favorite of mine, patronized by Newark cops in a building that was undoubtedly once a German corner tavern, is McWhorter Barbecue (104 McWhorter Street, 973-344-2633).
Claiming to be the neighborhood's oldest smoked-chicken joint, but also offering pig and lamb, Pic-Nic Barbecue (233 Ferry Street, 973-589-4630) is another favorite.
No visit to Ironbound would be complete without dropping in at Lopes Co. (304 Walnut Street, 973- 344-3063) an ancient outfit that fabricates all manner of Portuguese charcuterie on the premises, including the dried pork sausage called linguica, and wonderful presunto hams (something like prosciutto, only more rustic). The store lets you watch butchers at work, and there are kitschy pig statues everywhere. Picturesque Independence Park is a half-block away. Picnic!
Ironbound boasts two marisquieras—a type of Portuguese restaurant that specializes in seafood. Seabra's Marisquiera (87 Madison Street, 973-465-1250) is the oldest and most accessible, with a lovely, blue-tiled barroom in front, and starchy formal dining room in the rear. In between is an open kitchen and iced display of fish that even fancy Manhattan seafood restaurants would have trouble duplicating, and much cheaper, too. Sit in the front room with neighborhood types, and wash down a wildly generous plate of octopus salad with a Sagres beer or glass of Portuguese white wine.
When it comes to pastries, two iconic items—one Portuguese, one Brazilian—battle it out for neighborhood supremacy. For the former, it's pasteis de Nata: a delightful little custard pie with a flaky crust and nicely browned top. Named after a Lisbon neighborhood, it shows a Moorish influence via the extra egg yolks in the filling. Get the best at Teixeira's Bakery (186 Ferry Street, 973-344-4902), where you'll find yourself welcome to linger as long as you like over a pastry and demitasse of very strong espresso. There are several other branches of this typical Portuguese pastry shop in the neighborhood.
[Casa de Pao de Quijo]
From the Brazilian side of the ledger comes pao de quijo, wonderfully rubbery little round cheese breads invariably served warm right out of the oven. It's the tapioca starch in the recipe that makes the balls so Brazilian and so rubbery. Get them at Casa de Pao de Quijo (331 Wilson Avenue, 973-344-3232), a bakery that specializes in snacky little pastries and meat-stuffed fritters, but also offers a selection of Brazilian comfort-food meals. Open 24 hours!
I knew you were going to ask me where to get the all-can-eat Brazilian barbecued meat feed called the churrasco, cooked on a barbecue grill called a churrasqueira. Waiters dressed as Argentine gauchos circulate the dining room, offering portions of several meats, and there's a buffet of typical Brazilian dishes including black-bean feijoada and multiple mayo-laced salads. I hesitate to recommend these places, because you often leave feeling sick to your stomach, but here goes: Boi Na Brasa (70 Adams Street, 973- 589-6069). The name means "Bull on the Coals."