The Ironbound district of Newark is a pancake-flat trapezoid hemmed in between the city's downtown, the Passaic River, and the highway. For almost a century, it's been home to a thriving Portuguese community, rivaled in size only by Massachusetts communities like Fall River and New Bedford. The Ironbound's main drag, Ferry Street, is lined with Portuguese, Spanish, and Brazilian restaurants selling platters of paella, barbecue, and the like. If you want a bite of something just as Iberian but not so gut-busting, head to Teixeira's Bakery, with two stores in the Ironbound. The line to the counter is often forty deep, but it's worth the wait.
Portugal has a baking tradition as old and intense as any country in Europe, with bread a necessary accompaniment to all three meals. In 1976 Manuel Teixeira opened his bakery, first in Harrison and then in Newark, selling hand-made breads and pastries to the community. It expanded over the years, at one point having outlets across Northern New Jersey. But over the last decade, it has concentrated its activities in the Ironbound, building a large plant with giant ovens and conveyor belts zipping loaves this way and that. Nevertheless, it has stuck close to its Portuguese roots, with one corner of the bakery devoted to the handmade, artisan breads that first made it famous.
We might as well get out of the way the reason most non-Portuguese are willing to wait on the Teixeira's line: pasteis de nata, or egg custard tarts. These delicacies may have been invented over two centuries ago at a monastery in Belem, just outside Lisbon. They have spread throughout the Lusosphere, or Portuguese-speaking world, and also to East Asia via the Portuguese of Macau. But I'm afraid to say that the egg tarts you get in Chinatown have nothing on Teixeira's version. Here they come with dense and crispy puff pastry shells filled with sublime, not-too-sweet custard. You devour one in three or four crunchy, creamy bites and inevitably find your hand reaching to the box for just one more.
Behind Teixeira's counter, you find a gorgeous display of the Portuguese staff of life. The most eye-catching is the broa, Portuguese corn bread, dusted with flour with great cracks or score marks along the crust. This is an extra-dense loaf with a rich corn flavor. It's made from cornmeal, white flour, and a bit of rye. You can buy it by the loaf or by the pound. The locals slice it thin and dip it in their caldos, or thick soups. Handily, Teixeira's always has a caldo of the day for sale; recently it was a caldo verde made from collard greens, beans, and potatoes. You can take your bowl to one of the bakery's tables and slurp it down with spoon in one hand and bread in the other.
Another rustic-looking Teixeira's loaf is the pao de Mafra. This is from Mafra, another town in the Lisbon region, where it's the center of a local cult. It's made from white and whole wheat flours and comes with a soft yet lumpy crust enclosing a loose, off-white crumb. For locals, pao de Mafria isn't a side but the main event. They like to eat it fresh, spread just with butter, marmalade, or a soft Portuguese cheese.
If New Yorkers have tried any Portuguese bread, it's usually a roll. Every year, Teixeira's baking plant produces tens of millions of rolls to be sold at supermarkets and other stores throughout the Northeast. In the Ironbound, you can buy the whole lineup, including moletes, mealhadas, and padinhas. They are pleasant enough on their own, with a good crust and chewy crumb. But they're really meant as foils to their filling. Try the chorizo sandwich at Teixeira's.
You can buy Teixeira's rolls at Garden of Eden stores and Pathmark, Shop-Rite, and Stop & Shop supermarkets. But for the full-size loaves, it's best to visit the bakery's two stores, one on Ferry Street and the other at the Kossuth Street main bakery.
184 Ferry Street, Newark NJ 07105 (map) 973-344-0103
113-129 Kossuth Street, Newark NJ 07105 (map) 973-589-8875