“Welcome to the Ironbound!” says Daniel Rosati as he leads a tour group down Newark’s bustling Ferry Street. “This is a lively neighborhood, a carnival of the senses!”
Rosati knows the Ironbound well. Growing up in Central Jersey at a time when it was transitioning from farmland to suburbs, Rosati spent every weekend in the urban melting pot of the Ironbound with his Italian and Lebanese grandparents. The Ironbound, also known as Little Portugal, is where, at age seven, Rosati began to hone his cooking skills and tap into a rich heritage of food and culture.
The 4-square-mile, working-class enclave has been shaped by waves of immigration, but today it is home to a thriving community. “At one time it was like Brooklyn,” he says, “very diverse. Now it is primarily Portuguese and Brazilian.”
After working as a teaching assistant to the revered cookbook author and teacher Giuliano Bugialli in New York and Italy, Rosati, who is an instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, was drawn back to the vibrant neighborhood of his family’s past and settled there. An award-winning culinary arts instructor, Rosati is also owner of La Villa Cucina (lavillacucina.com), a traveling cooking school with programs in Campania, Tuscany, Umbria and Sicily. In the warm-weather months of April through October, when he isn’t guiding a group of culinary enthusiasts through a romantic Italian city, Rosati can be seen strolling his own Newark neighborhood, introducing students to Old World vendors and merchants.
His tours of Little Portugal embark from Newark’s Penn Station on scheduled Saturdays at 10 am and ramble along the seven or so blocks to the east, stopping at all the culinary and cultural landmarks—from the Teixeira bakery, home of traditional crusty artisan breads, to the Lopes Sausage Company, with its chorizo sausages and dry-cured, Portuguese presunto hams. Fishmongers display stacks of bacalhau, the salted and dried cod that is a Portuguese staple, and wine merchants are ready to discuss the fine points of Iberian grapes. For the bold, there is Shorty’s Poultry Market, a nondescript place behind a house, where live birds meet their maker. “It is a relic, the only one left in the city,” Rosati says. “If people are squeamish, I give them the choice of staying on the sidewalk.”
One of the highlights of the tour is the Tucha gift and kitchenware store, filled with imported crystal, hand-painted ceramics, and cooking tools, including distinctive clamshell-like hinged cataplana pans used to make a traditional seafood dish of the same name. “A brothy, flavorful mix of cockles, clams and mussels are braised in wine on the stove,” Rosati explains. Often the pan includes peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes and various types of sausage and ham. A delicious cloud of aroma is released when the lid is lifted, and conveniently, the flipped over lid holds all the shells. “It’s a one-dish wonder!”
When everyone has had their fill of shopping and has worked up an appetite, the five-hour tour comes to an end at one of the restaurants Rosati thinks best exemplify the robust cooking of the Ironbound: Casa Vasca (Basque cuisine: tapas, stuffed lobster, suckling pig) or Seabra’s Marisqueira (Portuguese: shrimp with garlic, octopus salad, cataplana). Rosati’s other picks in the area include Fornos of Spain (Spanish cuisine: Rosati especially likes the paella and veal Siciliana), Tony de Caneca (Portuguese: clams Portuguese style, veal with artichokes, rabbit stew) and Sol-Mar/Vila Nova (Portuguese: bacalhau with potatoes, Portuguese steak with ham and egg). Contact Daniel Rosati at 973-344-3559 or [email protected].