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Jersey City Covid-19 Update 3/24


City Council Meetings

In an effort to adhere to social distancing protocols and best practices imposed by City and State authorities, the City of Jersey City has canceled all public meetings and closed non-essential services as of March 16, 2020 until further notice.  As a result, the council caucus and council meeting will be held virtually as a video conference with public access until further notice.

The city is utilizing, Microsoft Teams, an electronic platform that allows 10,000 people to view the remote meeting as attendees, with anyone from the Jersey City team present as a meeting participant.  The platform also allows for standard public comment through a chat function and also through an integrated real-time call in system. The email JCVCM@jcnj.org  has been set up for community members to send their name and phone number in advance to be considered for public speaking.  City officials will then call them to participate in public comment.

The council meeting scheduled for tomorrow, March 25 at 6 p.m. can be watched HERE.

Schools

The Jersey City Public Schools have extended the closure of schools due to the Covid-19 emergency through spring break and are now tentatively scheduled to reopen on Monday, April 20.

Let’s Eat Jersey City

The city is creating a directory of restaurants and foods shop open across the city.  This listing will help get the word out for food providers still open for business and which food providers deliver or provide take out.

Restaurants and food shops can sign up HERE.

The city has set up an emergency coronavirus page with the latest updates here – https://www.jerseycitynj.gov/CityHall/health/coronavirus.

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Cellar 335: Where Cocktails, Food, and Experience Flow


Make your way into Cellar 335 at any point in the year and you’re bound to see a difference in several variations of tiki vibe: During the holidays a sign outside will say “sleighs and leighs,” and the interior will be decked with all the boughs of holly people expect during the holidays; during the summer the vibrant smells and flavors of cocktails that you’d enjoy while sitting on a beach in Honolulu fill the space. However, no matter what time of year hungry and thirsty customers come to the restaurant, the one thing that they can rely on is an experience.

Photo by Julian Coltre

“It’s the name of the game for us. It’s what we strive for, and it’s what keeps us moving in the right direction for the way that we go about our business,” said Jaime Knott, executive chef and co-owner of Cellar. “I don’t really think we’ve even hit our stride yet, and in order to really hit our best we have to keep working to make people come and bring more people. That all starts with the way you’re treated here.”

While Knott might not believe that Cellar has “hit its stride,” professional critics and everyday diners disagree. New Jersey Monthly recently named the tiki bar, which opened in 2016 and is located below White Eagle Hall on Newark Ave., one of the “The 30 best restaurants in New Jersey for 2019,” and Yelp lists it as one of the “top 12 best tiki bars in the U.S.A.”

According to Knott, the idea for Cellar 335 started with a few drinks between him and co-owner Robert “Bob” Palmer. At first, it seemed like a unique venture. Not many people were bold enough to consider putting a tiki bar in the middle of a major metropolis. Furthermore, the location was in an area that did not get that much foot traffic when they purchased the spot.

“My father grew up in New Jersey, and he knows the Jersey City area,” Knott said. “When I told him I was going to open another restaurant, he thought I was going to go into another venture in suburbia. So, when I told him Newark Ave in Jersey City, he really looked at me and was rather confused,” he admitted.

Additionally, for a chef who had made his name in the fine dining industry (as the owner and chef of Saddle River Inn), going from offering foie gras and venison to chicken wings and bao buns brought challenges.

“I’ve worked in a ton of restaurants in a ton of different positions, but the fact remains that if you make good food people want to eat it. The only problem is that in fine dining you get you know what you are going to see price wise. Here, if I offer chicken wings, people want 20 of them, but they want them for half the price, and I don’t want to diminish the quality,” said Knott. “We try and find a way to give everyone the flavors and ingredients that work because our food needs to speak for itself.”

So, why then put yourself in a position where experience with a formal restaurant could conflict with a more casual spot?

“He loves this style of food, and I think he really loves the idea of creating these flavor profiles for a different audience,” said Peter “Tiki Pete” Arnone, the director of operations (and master drink maker) at Cellar.

Knott’s flavors fit into the Asian fusion category, but his menu is unique. The chef’s dishes include Udon chicken noodle, Wagyu sirloin, and avocado fried rice. All the food is locally sourced and delivered fresh.

“I’m not exaggerating when I say we have a guy for everything,” joked Knott. “I legitimately have someone I call up for bean sprouts. I call him our ‘sprout guy,’ and I’ll send him photos of some sprouts if I don’t think they’re looking as good as I want them.”

While the food at Cellar is sure to keep you in your seat, make no mistake, the MVP of the whole experience is one thing and one thing only: the drinks. Cellar 335’s vast selection of cocktails evokes the scene in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory in which (name of characters) enter the “world of imagination.” With over 300 different combinations of cocktails, it takes several trips just to find out which ones might be your favorite. (Might I recommend Tiki Pete’s Mah Tai? It just finished seventh in an international Mah Tai competition in Hawaii.)

“Between our normal drink menu, our secret menu, and our seasonal cocktail menu we’re bringing the fire when it comes to what people can order when they come,” said Arnone. “Hopefully someone comes the first time, tries a few and then realizes there’s a vast number of possibilities. Maybe someone around them asks for the secret menu, and then they get curious or they realize that we have different cocktails for every season, so they come to ‘sleighs ‘n’ leighs’ or our summer events. We also try and do a ton of local events with liquor distributors, so we always have something new.”

Ordering the drink of your choice also comes with its own adventure as different Cellar cocktails come in different tiki mugs. Perhaps you’ll be given your own mug shaped like an Easter Island head, or a copper mug in the form of a pineapple or your own miniature boat filled with booze.

Arnone explains, “I knew I always wanted cool mugs for the spot, so at first I just ordered a bunch on Amazon. The problem was after a while other bars in Jersey City started getting mugs like ours, so I knew that I had to go a step further.  I had been in contact with a lot of people who loved the tiki culture, and one guy made custom mugs. Him and I went through this really arduous process of designing and building these mugs until we were both satisfied and had a bunch of mugs like what we’ve never had before. Now we have one for different drinks and different seasons.”

Tiki Pete’s original mug dilemma exemplifies a conundrum facing other restaurants in the area so many refer to as “restaurant row”: With so many restaurants between the Grove Street Path and Cellar 335, how can a restaurant attract customers if there are other places doing similar things?

“We have really ramped up our presence on social media, but truthfully we’re confident in our ability,” said Knott. “When we first got wind of Talde opening up off of Newark Ave., we all kind of looked at each other like “uh, oh,” but then after we went there, we realized that they were nothing like us. Fast forward to now, and they’re closed.”

“Hospitality is honestly something we preach as much as anything, too, both for our customers and for our staff,” noted Arnone. “For the customers that come here, we are so trained to make sure they walk out of here and realize that they should tell a friend who tells a friend. As for our staff, you don’t just walk in and say “I want to be a mixologist.” I’d never hire someone like that. Instead we start people as bar backs, and they become bartenders; bussers become servers; or servers become bartenders. When you get a group that really gels, you can do amazing things.”

So, then what’s in store for a spot that still doesn’t believe it has hit its stride?

“I’m hoping one day we could maybe tap into the heart of this place and open up a location on a beach somewhere. Get down to serving people these really impressive cocktails and dishes that are from the “tropical” personality,” said Knott. “We’re going to keep grinding here and hoping to get more people to come by every night. What comes next is always what is most exciting.”

Header: Photo by Julian Coltre

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Neighborhood Restaurant Gems


Finding the right place to eat in Jersey City can be a daunting task. In almost every neighborhood there’s a spot that showcases the best of flavor and preparation, a culinary gem. For me, a restaurant qualifies as a   “neighborhood” gem when it’s not widely known outside its environs; when, despite its modesty, its food and flavors can compete with anyone’s; and when you are made to feel welcome the minute you walk through the door. I consider these restaurants neighborhood gems:

15 Fox Place
Neighborhood: Journal Square
Cuisine: Italian

Perhaps no restaurant in Jersey City fits this bill better than 15 Fox Place. The Journal Square-based restaurant is located inside a residential house, so don’t be alarmed when you pull up and wonder if Apple maps has suddenly gone awry. Once inside, you’ll immediately think “dinner at grandma’s house,” which is exactly how owner Rich Budnich and his son, Chef Marc Budnich, want you to feel. Fair warning, this is not a place where you’ll be in and out in an hour. Prepare to be at 15 Fox Place for at least 2.5 hours as you enjoy a six-course prix-fixe menu at a family-style table. You’ll most likely spend a little over $100 a head, so think of this spot for a treat than a regular night out. Fifteen Fox Place requires reservations, so make sure you call ahead to book a seat for either Friday, Saturday or Sunday, 7pm to midnight. And if you’ve been there before, there’s reason to go back: There’s no set menu due to Chef Budnich’s desire for patrons to have a different experience every visit. (15 Fox Place)

Rizzo’s Bakery
Neighborhood: The Heights
Cuisine: Pizza and Italian

If you’ve ever been to Washington DC, you know the District’s culinary calling card is the jumbo slice. Now imagine taking this famous export, bringing it up I-95, and infusing the dough of those cheesey-tomatoey triangles with the New York area’s famous water. That’s exactly what you can expect when you grab a slice at Rizzo’s Bakery. The restaurant has all your classic Italian deli favorites (Italian bread, cured meats, specialty cheeses, butter cookies), but make no mistake: Its pizza is the reason locals keep coming back. At $2 a pop for a slice as big as your head, the trek to traffic-clogged Central Avenue is worth it. (208 Central Ave.)

Taqueria Viva Mexico
Neighborhood: Paulus Hook
Cuisine: Mexican

Tucked away on a side street in Paulus Hook, Taqueria Viva Mexico has outstanding tacos, a plethora of burritos and huaraches, succulent homemade tamales, and even Mexican-style breakfast specials.  While the postage-stamp-sized eatery lacks the bar and liquor license of its neighbor (and competitor) Taqueria Downtown, its selection of fourteen tacos gives you a huge choice and come with their own superb flavor combinations. Don’t miss the carne enchilada taco: Its peppery, slow-cooked saucy flavor coupled with the restaurant’s sides of salsa will make your mouth water. (133 Morris St.)

Samakmak Seafood
Neighborhood: West Side
Cuisine: Seafood

We all know how the story can go when it comes to seafood: One undercooked piece, and you might wind up clutching the toilet for days. But have no fear because Samakmak Seafood, located between McGinley Square and the West Side, is first rate. The menu is Mediterranean inspired and features a large range of fresh fish including tilapia, salmon, barbonia, orata, branzino, striped bass, and perch. While the ambiance of the restaurant evokes comparisons with your local diner more than a Michelin-star restaurant, you’ll sacrifice that for some of the best fish in Jersey City. Their prices are affordable, and they also offer a surplus of side dishes. (77 West Side Ave.)

Laico’s
Neighborhood: Greenville
Cuisine: Italian

Another destination for your inner Magellan, Laico’s has been a staple of Greenville since 1972 when owners Lou and Felice Laico opened the spot as a brick-oven pizzeria and bar for locals—in their aluminum-sided and decidedly unflashy, unyuppified house. The brick-oven pizza is still a staple, but for years now Laico’s has had a full menu featuring northern Italian specials as well as southern Italian stalwarts. Go for the complimentary salad with its homemade creamy, tangy dressing that comes with every entree; go for pork medallions with hot cherry peppers; go for tender fish cooked every-way-imaginable-and-if-you-don’t-see-the-preparation-you-want-just-ask-for-it; but most of all go for the huge portions, old-timey feel, convivial bar, and celebrity spotting (local pols love the place). Don’t worry too much about parking in a residential neighborhood: Laico’s offers valet parking daily from 5pm to closing; on Sundays valet park as early as 2pm. (77 Terhune Ave.)

Frankie’s
Neighborhood: Van Vorst Park
Cuisine: Australian

A restaurant that finds itself smack-dab in the middle of Grove Street doesn’t really have any place to hide. However, Frankie is in the shadow of Cool Vines and does fly under the radar in comparison much-hyped neighbor Razza. And for no good reason: Its Australian beach house ambiance featuring brightly colored walls, wicker furniture, seashells, and surfboards is quirky and fun; its menu (“modern Australian”) blends British, Asian and Mediterranean influences to produce dishes like coconut green curry (with seafood), pea and chive dumplings, and tempura zucchini flowers; there’s a full bar featuring over 80 bottles of wine; and perhaps best of all, for an extra $4 at breakfast they’ll infuse any one of their many fresh-pressed juices with Rosebud CBD. Frankie ‘s style is unique and unlike what you might think of for your night out, but stop by when you can because it’s well worth it. (264 Grove St.)

Harry’s Daughter
Neighborhood: Bergen-Lafayette
Cuisine: Caribbean/West Indies

If you’re looking for authentic Caribbean cuisine served in a warm, mahogany-filled, botanically-inspired room, then Harry’s Daughter in Bergen-Lafayette is for you. Opened in 2017, the attractive spot boasts a wide range of Caribbean favorites like jerk chicken, curried goat Roti, stewed peas, and braised oxtail stew—along with whole red snapper and peri peri shrimp for those seeking lighter fare. For brunch, indulge in fried chicken and banana waffles, jelly pork belly bao egg and cheese, or poached egg avocado crush toast. Harry’s Daughter has a full bar—mahogany, remember?  During the summer, kick back at the restaurant’s pig roast for your fix of fresh pork. (339 Communipaw Ave.)

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