Editor's note: For the next few weeks, we'll be chiming in with snapshots of our recent road trip to the Portuguese and Brazilian Ironbound neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey, thanks to a loaner ride in a Buick Verano. Our destinations, and these articles, come purely from Serious Eats editorial.
Hanging Gardens of Ham, Mountain of Salt Cod at A. J. Seabra's Portuguese Supermarket » Can't-Miss Egg Custard Tarts at Teixeiras Bakery » A Sandwich a Day: A Happy 'Banana Burger' Misdirect at Altas Horas »
I've been wanting to field trip to Newark's Ironbound area to explore the city's Portuguese eats for years, but despite my willingness to cross state lines for food (hello, Mitsuwa!), Newark trips always ended up on the backburner. So when we got a loaner car last month, I knew I had no public transportation-related excuse to fall back on.* The time for Newark, I announced to Max and Niki, is now.
*Note that a car is absolutely not necessary to visit Newark, though it will make dragging your Seabra's Supermakret spoils home much easier.
Seabra's Marisqueira is something of an Ironbound institution: famed for its seafood, the restaurant has been open since 1989, though it's cheerfully timeless, like a Vegas casino with all the clocks removed. The restaurant is a perennial Chowhound favorite and sets a proper tone for first-time Newark visitors: surly service, day drinkers parked at the horseshoe bar, and a marine laboratory-sized array of fresh seafood splayed out on ice in the center.
A bowl of crusty bread was placed unceremoniously before us, and the day drinkers eyed us suspiciously as we filed around the bar and started paging through the Bible-sized menu. Things were off to a good start.
They got better with the arrival of the chilled Octopus Salad ($8.50), which featured some of the meatier tentacles I've tried in recent memory. The barman told me the octopus is flown in from Portugal, cleaned, and then poached in red wine flavored with onions for half an hour. The pink-tinged meat is tender and firm, with none of unfortunate rubbery effect that characterizes overcooked octopus. It's tossed in a light vinegar and oil dressing laced with minced onions and garlic, which it is very much worth saving the heels of your bread to sop up.
Next was the Açorda de Marisco ($16.95), a traditional "dry soup" with a mix of shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops, and cubed Portuguese bread (hence the "dry" in the name—the bread soaks up all of the liquid), flavored with olive oil, garlic, and fresh coriander. The crowning touch is a raw egg, which the bartender quickly folded in before serving us straight out of the iron skillet. The rustic stew may not have won any beauty pageants, but it was a rich, comforting dish that I imagine craving when temperatures start dropping.
The arrival of our açorda de marisco had aroused the curiosity of our day-drinking neighbors, who seemed impressed with our order and slid a small plate of buttery, garlicky clams across the bar for us to try. We asked what the clear liquid they were spooning into espresso mugs was, turns out it was aguardente, literally "firewater," a burning Portuguese liquor not unlike ouzo. Belly laughs rose all around while the ringleader recounted a story of his hapless American cousin trying to do shots of the stuff.
"Portuguese people eat with their eyes, not their stomach," said one of the men, nodding with approval as our boat-sized plate of Grilled Bacalhau ($18.95) arrived, covered with green peppers and onions. I'd only ever had bacalhau (salt cod) in its dried, flat form, but this version had been rehydrated for three days and then char-grilled. The hulking filet was several inches tall, with exceptionally juicy petals of briny white fish slick with garlic oil (in fact, even in its rehydrated form, the meat was almost too salty to eat plain, which is where bites of the peppers came in handy). Its silky texture reminded me of the smoked sable fish I grew up loving in appetizing shops.
After the heap of octopus and heavy açorda de marisco, we barely made a dent in the bacalhau (plus, we had three more food stops to make that day). As we wrapped up the fish and bread for the road, we bought our new neighbor friends another round of firewater and thanked them for their company. Suddenly, Seabra's Marisqueira didn't seem so foreign after all.