Dangling above our heads from the dark heights of the ceiling at Porter in Weehawken are nautical ropes as thick as my wrist. Knotted at the end, they remind us that we are just a long block from the Hudson River. A few blocks farther north is the ferry terminal to Manhattan; to the south is the park memorializing the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.
Those ropes, and some shipshape leather cinches around the seatback cushions in the booths, set a certain hip yet rugged tone that extends to the open kitchen, where a striking display of butcher knives and cleavers hangs on a panel just behind where the plates are passed to the servers.
The ropes and knives, as well as the blond parquet floors, hanging plants and globe lights, compensate for there being no street life here. No pedestrians amble outside, which is odd, because we are on the ground floor of a sleek, residential high-rise surrounded by equally sleek, residential high-rises comprising the relatively new Port Imperial development. These must have their own parking, because we found plenty of (two-hour free) spaces on the eerily vacant streets.
It turns out the residents of these buildings have formed an enthusiastic customer base for Porter, which business partners and co-chefs Tara Glick, 36, and Christopher Lim, 47, opened in December. Their menu is American in the broadest sense, ranging from charry Neapolitan-style pizzas (with house-made mozz) baked in a wood-burning oven to adept pastas, a brace of appealing small plates, and engagingly detailed mains of meat, fish and poultry.
On our first visit, we started with hamachi crudo. The flesh glistened under colorful pickled vegetables and a lively jalapeño-and-citrus dressing surrounded by alluring yellow dots of spicy aji amarillo sauce. Digging down to the fish through all that enticement gave the phrase “race to the bottom” a rare positive spin. Fish entrées, like a recent cod in a clam-and-mussel chowder, received the same care and detail.
As with the hamachi, foie gras pâté enjoyed a lively supporting cast—poached pear, nuts, pomegranate seeds, contrasting sauces—inviting you to design your own bite. Charred lettuces with green-goddess dressing sounded equally enticing, but the underseasoned dressing suggested the goddess had overslept.
For pizza, we went with the signature Mulberry St. Compact as a sports car steering wheel, it came turbocharged with ground sausage, hot peppers, mozzarella, punchy provolone and crunchy bits of garlic breadcrumbs. The heavily laden slices, as floppy as they were delicious, required deft folding or fallback to knife and fork. Porter offers creditable pastas, like a recent mushroom agnolotti in truffled brown butter with slices of black Périgord truffle.
Glick and Lim met a decade ago working at American Cut, chef Marc Forgione’s stellar steak house in Atlantic City. Taking on corporate roles in Forgione’s empire—she in pastry, he in savory—they opened several of his restaurants. Professional, not personal, partners, they wrote their first plan for a place of their own about eight years ago.
“We’re very similar,” says Glick. “We’re absolute perfectionists, more dedicated to career than anything else.”
Glick says she and Lim have had their eyes on the Weehawken waterfront for a few years. Port Imperial as a development was in its relative infancy when, in January 2019, the partners first saw the raw, 4,000-square-foot space that is now Porter.
“Chris and I completely laid out the space ourselves, the decor, the open kitchen,” she says. They are partners in the venture with Mack-Cali real estate, which owns the building and paid for the build-out, she says. “But no one tells us what kind of food to cook.”
Red meats at Porter are cooked on a charcoal-burning grill, which imparts an irresistible char and a light smokiness. Duck breast, roasted, sliced and served medium rare, was elaborated with toothsome barley, boldly charred endive and a brace of plump, piquant amarena cherries. More atavistic was heritage-breed pork belly. A handsome slab, crisp and glistening, its pleasures were amplified by braised red cabbage and puréed kabocha squash with green apples and grainy mustard. The gorgeous char on a lean, tender hanger steak elevated its elemental appeal.
“A lot of people believe in a perfect bite,” says Lim. “I think there should be a lot of imperfect bites, so you’re finding different flavors and surprises as you go.”
That idea holds through dessert, as in a chunky, house-made ice cream special, cherry-almond macaron. Tiramisu affogato happily conflates two classics. The dessert called Banana, Pudding, Cake combines vanilla cake and banana pudding in a nut-encrusted sandwich with butterscotch dipping sauce. It’s more unified than it sounds. No matter how you build your bite, it’s hard to go wrong. Which is Porter in a nutshell.Click here to leave a comment
- Cuisine Type:American
- Price Range:Expensive
- Price Details:Appetizers, $5–$25; pizza, $16–$20; entrées, $26–$34 (40-oz dry-aged porterhouse, $135); sides, $9; desserts, $12
- Ambience:Understated, modern yet spirited, with open kitchen and thoughtful details everywhere
- Service:Informed and upbeat
- Wine list:Full bar, signature cocktails, small but varied wine list