It rained on Sept. 10, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the huge crowd that turned out that night for the fourth annual Secaucus Restaurant Night. Originally held on the street downtown and then moved last year to parking lot on the north end, the event settled this year inside the ice skating rink in Buchmuller Park, where patrons enjoyed food from 27 different restaurants while protected from the elements.
“We got a nice turnout today, even with the weather,” said Jose Escobar, executive chef with Urban Plum. “You can fit more people here than both previous locations. And it’s more comfortable.”
This was Urban Plum’s third year participating in the feast. They offered a plate of New York sirloin with mashed potatoes and gravy, an apple tart with caramel sauce, and a grilled vegetable tower.
Robb Welch, chef/partner at Barelli’s, prepared an offering of roasted porchetta, a special item not normally found on their menu. “I just did this at the Montclair Food Festival,” he said. “It’s an Italian style pork roast with the natural au jus that we dip the bread in. That’s with broccoli rabe and sharp provolone.”
Not far away, Cheeseburger in Paradise handed out burgers nearly as big as their free Frisbees, accompanied by mounds of sweet potato chips. Secaucus resident Bob Vreeland was loving it. “This is our third time coming,” he said, lugging a plate loaded with Cheeseburger and fixings.
So how did he like the new location? “I think it’s great,” he said. “Nice atmosphere, nice personalities. And the food is terrific.”
“Here they can just try different things in one shot.” – Sunil Dhingra, Tadka Restaurant
“It’s a casual but cozy place to hang out with friends,” she said of the restaurant, located on County Avenue and popular with businesses for lunch and happy hour during the week. “I see a lot of our regular customers here and they’re all coming to the stand.”
For those too lazy (or too full) to make their way to the vendors, Derick and Amy wandered through the crowd carrying a tray of Carrabba’s delicious pork and beef meatballs with pomodoro sauce.
Food from around the globe
Diners enjoyed foods of many ethnicities at $5 per sampling while being entertained by bands and singers ranging from rock to lounge to jazz. Performances were by The Montclair School of Rock and the band Amoroso, featuring Jeff Behr, Everett Fink, Tanya Gazia, Joe Licinski, Bill Miranda, Cassandra Penna, Bob Rodriquez, Bruce Schaffel, and Township Attorney Anthony V. D’Elia.
Aji Asian Cuisine skipped last year when the event moved to the north end, but were back now that it was located in the center of town. Their biggest hits were the coconut shrimp, lo men, and sushi.
Noches de Colombia, a family-owned local chain of restaurants serving bountiful portions of scrumptious Latin food, doled out plate after plate of their popular rice and shrimp. Established by a family who migrated to the United States 20 years ago, Noches de Colombia is rapidly expanding throughout the region, with a location opening in downtown Secaucus in the coming three to six months.
Indian food was well represented at Restaurant Night, with several establishments participating. Sunil Dhingra of Tadka said what set his restaurant apart was that they served “authentic, typical North Indian style food.” Dhingra is a self-taught cook who emigrated from Delhi 17 years ago and established Tadka downtown 12 years ago.
This was Tadka’s third time participating in the event. “People sometimes are afraid to try new restaurants. They don’t know what it is,” said Dhingra. “Here they can just try different things in one shot.”
Ashok Banodh of Mausam echoed that sentiment as he filled trays with complete, savory Indian meals. “Our goal is we want them to taste our food,” he said. “We didn’t bother about the cost. That’s why for $5 it’s like a mini buffet: appetizers, dishes, dessert, and a drink.”
No meal is complete without dessert, and Restaurant Night offered plenty of options. In addition to Houlihan’s, which offered cappuccino cake and strawberry cheesecake with ice cream, there were several specialty vendors.
“We’re gluten-free but our cookies taste better than regular cookies that are made out of gluten,” said Eleanor Bradley, owner of The Bradley Bake Shop, an online vendor located in Hawthorne, NJ. “All those cookies on the shelf taste like sand and sawdust with sugar in it. We came up with a cookie that’s made of organic flours, organic butter, organic sugar.”
Bradley makes her own flour using millet and sorghum and adds local sea salt. “There’s more chocolate in that cookie than a chocolate bar,” she said proudly. Visit them online at bradleybakeshop.com.
Sweet & Flour is one of Secaucus’s newer establishments, doing a booming business at the corner of Front and Seventh Streets. Their beautifully decorated table was awash with patrons, including Mayor Michael Gonnelli, enjoying specialty cupcakes. “This is our red velvet with cream cheese frosting,” said Gina Petruzzeli, busily handing out tasty pastries with her partner, Dilian Guzman. “We have a chocolate cake with a cannoli cheesecake filling. These are our most popular flavors at the store.”
Also available at the event were vanilla cake with vanilla custard and fresh strawberries and a sliced chocolate cake with a milk chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache. Sweet & Flour plan on hosting a big party in October to celebrate their one-year anniversary. Don’t miss it.
Giving back to the community
Like many patrons, Michael Garcia, 13, first took a walk around the perimeter to check out all the options before selecting his meal. His friend Kosei Hayashida, 12, zeroed right in on what he wanted.
“Pulled pork sandwiches from Blackjack Mulligan’s,” said Hayashida, holding up a loaded plate.
In addition to the spectacular pork sliders, the restaurant’s stand was a popular stop for beer and wine on Restaurant Night. Blackjack Mulligan’s Public House has been at 146 Front Street for only about six months but already they’re a mainstay in town, contributing generously to community events. “We have a place up in Garfield where we started,” said owner/manager Tony Kingslow. “We ended up getting really close with the town. That’s the way you’ve got to do it. It’s not all take, take, take. You’ve got to give. And that’s what we try to do.”
Giving back was a popular theme at the event. Buffalo Wild Wings, burning through tray after tray of food, donated all their proceeds from the night to the Boys & Girls Clubs.
Bonefish Grill is no stranger to community service. Once a week they serve a free meal to a different family of four to support the Exceptional People of Secaucus program, benefiting residents with special needs. “Mayor Gonnelli, anything he asks us to do we do with open arms because he’s been great to us. We’re 100 percent supportive,” said Chef Max Bartolomeo.
This was Bonefish Grill’s third year participating in Restaurant Night. Chef Max served up their wildly popular Bang-Bang Shrimp, paired with ceviche and tortilla chips, plus a “do-it-yourself donut.”
“It’s a cronut, a croissant donut,” he said. “We fill it with salted caramel and top it off with cinnamon sugar and chocolate sauce. In the restaurant we actually supply our guests with these little squeeze bottles so you can fill it as much as you want or as little as you want.”
Later this month, Chef Max is scheduled to provide a cooking demonstration to the Exceptional People of Secaucus.
“We’re going to teach them how to cook something simple they can do for themselves,” he said. “We enjoy giving back to the community. The community here is phenomenal. I’m going to personally be giving the lesson.”
Restaurant Night ran from 6 to about 9 p.m. Despite the bad weather, the restaurants made over $8,000. As the vendors wrapped up to head home and residents lounged around patting their bellies and chatting with friends, staff from the town’s recreation department got busy.
“If the restaurants have leftover food I asked them to put them in trays and we’re going to take them over to the senior center,” said Recreation Director John Voli. “Rather than throw it away we take it and they’ll use it tomorrow.”
Participating restaurants and vendors this year were Aji Asian Cuisine, Bareli’s, Blackjack Mulligan’s, Bonefish Grill, Bread House Bakery & Coffee Shop, Buffalo Wild Wings, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Cheeseburger in Paradise, China Chef, Cosi, Dhoom, Filomena’s, Good Fellas Deli, Houlihan’s, Just Dogs, La Mia Cucina, La Reggia, Lorenzo’s, Mamajuana Café, Mausam, Natoli’s, Noches De Columbia, Ronnie’s Place, Sattvika Foods, Sweet & Flour, Tadka, and Urban Plum.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.