If it was an opening performance on Broadway, then the second Restaurant Night in Secaucus on Sept. 19 could only be described one way: a smash hit.
More than 3,000 people attended the al fresco event, held beneath a tent on Front Street between Minnie Place and Golden Avenue in the town’s downtown area – more than triple the amount last year, according to officials.
Many believe that the word-of-mouth comment about the inaugural event last year allowed this one to reach new strata.
More restaurants, more space
The town somewhat anticipated the increased popularity, adding about 25 percent more restaurants (17 to 23) and 90 feet in length (220 to 310) to the tent space. Still, when the evening got into high gear, it was standing room only in the vendor areas.
“The restaurants loved it. The restaurants really did well,” said Lee Penna, event coordinator. “They had a competition to see who made the most money for the evening.”
And yet that was not the main goal of the endeavor, according to Penna.
Reasons behind event
“It was to bring recognition to the great restaurants we have in town, whether it be chain, ‘mom and pop’ or free standing,” she said. “It was also to promote the community and to have something nice for the town residents to partake in.”
Penna said the plans germinated a year and a half ago, when “the mayor [Michael Gonnelli] had this idea and asked me if I could help him with it.” Penna had noticed herself that with all the food establishments Secaucus has to offer, residents were still going elsewhere to dine.
“I was like, ‘You know we have so many great restaurants in our town and so many people are eating outside of it,’ ” she said.
What then ensued was a mad dash to create Restaurant Night, and in only four months, the premiere was planned. After the success of the first one, plans began for the sophomore affair.
Tickets and entertainment
Tickets for the event were only $5, and allowed patrons to sample any of the restaurants’ signature dishes. Entertainment was also provided.
Councilman Gary Jeffas thought the event fits exactly into the administration’s vision for Secaucus.
“We work hard to develop a sense of community in town, and I think nights like this really develop a nice sense of community,” he said.
Create a sense of community it did, with so many town residents attending.
“I like spicy, exotic food,” said Karen Taglieri of Hudson Avenue, as she was waited for her order from Tadka Fine Indian Cuisine. While she had never eaten there, she knew the store was in the area, and decided to give it a try on Restaurant Night.
Luz Pascual of Second Street came with husband Sean and friends to the event. Among the group members, they sampled Indian, American, Italian, Spanish, Cuban, and Chinese foods.
Mandeep Sudan and his wife Sandeep, from the Exchange section, heard about Restaurant Night from their development’s website. They decided to attend, and sampled both Indian and Italian food, from Tadka and Natoli’s Delicatessen, Pizzeria & Catering.
“Out of all the options we had, the Indian food had the maximum portion,” said Mandeep, adding that the meal size factored into their decision. “The salmon from Natoli’s was good too, as was the pasta fagioli.”
At Filomena’s Italian Deli and Catering table, you could almost literally go from soup to nuts in terms of selection. They offered four appetizers: stuffed mushroom, spinach and ricotta cup, puff pastry sausage square, and zucchini fritter; five entrees: eggplant parmigiano, shrimp francaise, mussels with white wine and garlic, stuffed pork loin, and fusilli pasta with cherrie tomato and basil; and a dessert sampler including homemade cheesecake, homemade tiramisu, and mini-cannoli.
Visitors also came from out of town, from places like Clifton, Wayne, and Netcong.
Penna said Mayor Gonnelli was pleased with year two of the town’s culinary extravaganza.
“He was very happy with it,” she said. “We brought awareness inside our town with residents, created an event where the community came together and enjoyed themselves, and supported our restaurants.”
Participating restaurants were: Aji Sushi, Bonefish Grill, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Cheeseburger in Paradise Bar & Grill, China Chef, Cosi, Dhoom, Feelgood Restaurant & Lounge, Filomena’s Italian Deli and Catering, and Giovanni’s Italian Deli.
Also, Houlihan’s, La Mia Cucina, La Reggia Ristorante, Mamajuana Cafe, Mausam Indian Cuisine, Molly McEvoy’s, Natoli’s Delicatessen, Pizzeria & Catering, Outback Steakhouse, Sattvika Foods Exotic Desserts, Tadka Fine Indian Cuisine, Trillos, and The Urban Plum.
Ed Haggerty of Classic Party Rentals donated the tent for the evening to the town, as well as tables, chairs and tablecloths. Votive candles and floral arrangements were donated by Entenmann’s Florist of Jersey City. Members of People to People International, Wrap 4 a Smile, and SAIL volunteered at the event.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.