For serious foodies there’s only one place to be on Tuesday, April 29, and that’s the food court at Lincoln Harbor in Weehawken. That’s when the long-awaited 14th annual Taste of Weehawken food festival is taking place, including wares from around Hudson County.
Over 30 culinary establishments will be featured, from Jersey City in the south to North Bergen and Ridgefield Park in the north, and all points between. Proceeds will benefit the Weehawken Public Library.
Represented will be bakeries, shops, restaurants, and caterers of all shapes and sizes, from established national chains to brand-new boutiques that operate—literally—off a single tricycle.
Attendees have the option of purchasing a two-hour ticket enabling them to eat and drink to their heart’s content, or a special three-hour ticket that adds a chance to win one of 25 prizes valued at up to $100.
“It’s like a tremendous buffet with the best restaurants in the area.” –Richard Turner
“We have 12 tables of wine, beer, and cordials sponsored by Giannone Wine and Liquor Company,” he said. “So you have food, drinks, soda, water, anything you want. It’s like a tremendous buffet with the best restaurants in the area.”
“I don’t know how best to describe it,” agreed Councilman Robert Sosa. “There’s so many adjectives to describe the foods that we’ve seen there and we’re going to see there again on April 29: delectable, delicious, mouth-watering. You take all those factors and then you put it into the setting: the New York City skyline in the background, the Palisades on this side, and you can’t ask really for a better night. Great people, great place to network, great place to have a ball.”
Food, food, and more food
“Things are pre-prepared for most of them,” explained festival organizer Linda Kraus D’Isa. “Because we can’t have open flames. So you have like Sterno or a hot plate or something like that. They have hot carts that they bring in. You have Ruth’s Chris coming in and cooking like tenderloin sliders on toasted garlic bread. Another restaurant that comes in does little shrimp scampi plates. And the amount of food, the level of quality of food, and the ticket price… People come in from way out of town saying this is the best event. And we’re always at capacity. It’s very, very successful.”
“I do a lot of charity events but this one is done extremely well,” said George Politis of GP’s Italian Restaurant, with locations in Guttenberg and Jersey City. “Linda gets good vendors, she gets good restaurants, she gets good spirits, good wine, good desserts. I’m telling you, it’s wild. It’s a wild event.”
Politis, who has been a participating vendor since inception to support the library, brought savory meatball sliders to the preview event. On April 22 he’ll have sliders, eggplant parmagiana “for the vegetarians,” and his famous Greek salad.
Speaking of Greek food, the newly opened Molos Restaurant was represented at the preview with a selection of stunning dishes, including feta cheese pastries, a traditional ground beef and jalapeno delicacy called a “drunkard’s snack,” and an avocado crab brunoise. “We specialize in Greek-inspired seafood,” said co-owner and manager Eliana Sefanitsis. “We have seafood towers. Fresh fish delivered daily. We have the whole fish display in the dining room.”
“I think food is an education for people,” added chef Athanasios Liavas, who was born in New Zealand and spent the last 20 years in Greece. “Primarily we’ll be offering authentic Greek cuisine so they can try a few dishes that are authentically Greek and a few innovative dishes.”
Molos opened at the end of November in the former Arthur’s Landing on the Weehawken waterfront. This is their first year participating in Taste of Weehawken.
Another newcomer to the event is El Unico Cuban Restaurant in Union City. El Unico is a longstanding staple of the community, albeit one with a unique history.
Attending the preview was Juanito Montes de Oca, who founded El Unico in 1976 with his wife, Elena. His grandson, Adrian Rivero, explained the family’s involvement.
“They owned it for about 16 years and in the 90s they leased it out to another family. And their lease recently ended and the family chose not to renew. And so we’ve come back into the picture at the end of February. He was out of the business for 22 years.”
Why come back now, after 22 years? “The timing was right,” said Rivero. “At the time that he was retiring and had the idea of leaving it to my mom, she had three very young children. I was one of them. And this time around it just seemed like the right thing to do and mom was ready to get back into the business. She worked with them when they first started back in the ’70s. She used to work there after school and run the business on days when he was off. She grew up in the restaurant so it was just part of her daily routine, coming in and running things with them.”
As for Grandpa Juanito, “He’s there every day,” laughs Rivero.
“For the taste event we plan on doing an assortment of pastries, flan and some Cuban French toast,” he said. “And an assortment of rice and some roast pork and another meat assortment.”
Plenty of pastries and confections
Among the Weehawken representatives at the preview was Hudson Cakery. “We are not a retail shop so everything we do is wholesale and preorder,” said owner and “head cake designer” Jennifer Bunce. “We’re like a caterer. We do wedding cakes and things like that. Everything we do is preorder.”
This is the second year participating in Taste of Weehawken for the two-year-old business. Last year they found their wares in great demand at the event. “We did pretty well. People kept coming around for seconds.”
“At this year’s event we’re going to serve probably mini cupcakes and cake pops, which are still all the rage,” said Bunce.
At the preview her scrumptious cake pops were in everyone’s hands. “We’ve got vanilla, chocolate peanut butter and red velvet,” she said.
Adriana Machado-Jaworski is the founder of Cholita in Weehawken. “We’re an online bakery right now and we’re actually just a trike,” she said. “And we’re going to be riding around Hudson County. We’re a mobile business.”
Formerly known as All Kinds of Whoopee, the tiny start-up was rebranded in March. “This is kind of like an homage to my heritage. I’m Ecuadorian. I was born here. But my father always called me Cholita. That was my nickname growing up. So I figured I need to make this business more personal and just share with the world the tastes that I grew up with and loved.”
A graphic designer by trade and dessert artist by passion, Machado-Jaworski bakes what she calls “hybrid desserts,” mixing Latin and American flavors into unique and appetizing concoctions. “We’re going to start offering palatas, which are ice pops, this spring and summer.”
Kathryn Marlow of Kathryn’s Confections in Weehawken brought an assortment of luscious homemade chocolates to the preview. “We have white chocolate passion fruit and milk chocolate raspberry cheesecake,” she said. “We also do some solid pieces like this dark chocolate with salt and pepper. It goes well with white wine after dinner.”
Marlow, a professional opera singer and cantor at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Weehawken, began making chocolate for friends and family and it spiraled into something more. “A friend of mine and I did it every year at Christmas and we would just go crazy with numbers like 500, 1,000, now we’re up to like 2,000 pieces of chocolate. People are always saying ‘oh, you need to sell it.’”
And so she started her business two months ago, with Taste of Weehawken her official “coming out.”
“I’ve been living in Weehawken for like 20 years and I’ve been to the event a couple of times and I always have supported the library. I worked in the library when I was in like high school, college. So it’s wonderful to have one of my first events to be to support the library.”
Major library supporters
Amanda’s Restaurant has been in Hoboken for 23 years and participated in the event since its inception. “We’re so fond of the event because we’re so fond of the library,” said Amanda’s owner Joyce Flinn. “They’re really family-centric, community-centric. They offer so many different things.”
For the preview Flinn brought pastries from her other restaurant, Schnackenberg’s in Hoboken, but for Taste of Weehawken they are still making plans. “Something healthy and savory,” said Chef Rodney Petersen, who has been with Amanda’s for 16 years. “And delicious.”
“We usually don’t do meat,” said Flinn. “Because people seem to want less meat in their lives. And because it’s always in springtime we like to bring something that’s seasonal. Especially after this winter, people are looking forward to not eating baked potatoes. We’ll have something contemporary American. Something reflecting Rodney’s talent.”
Among the other participants will be Son Cubano, Chart House, Ben & Jerry’s, Houlihan’s, Los Charritos, Karma Kafe, Waterside Restaurant (in North Bergen), and a host of other local and national establishments.
Plus, Taste of Weehawken mainstays the High School culinary class will have their usual table.
“They’re wonderful,” enthused Mayor Turner. “You know, it’s become a big thing, culinary. And they do a great job. They’re very popular.”
This year the culinary class will present a barbecue theme, with BBQ pulled pork sliders and spinach salad.
Giannone Wine and Liquor has participated in the event for three years and become an unofficial co-sponsor. They plan to have 12 tables at the event, serving wine, cordials, and craft beers. With a seven-year-old store in West New York, they opened a second in Hoboken last year.
“April 5 was our one-year anniversary in Hoboken,” said Operations Manager Felix Ayala Jr. “It’s a great community to be a part of. It was a town that we always serviced but now we have a presence there.”
“We’re family owned and operated and we have very strong values,” he said. “That’s how we built our business and that’s how we do business. And because of those values that’s why we get involved in the community. And this is a great, great event. The public library is an incredible resource to provide. There’s no age bracket for the library. Till we take our last breath, all of us are still learning.”
“Our library is a wonderful institution,” said Mayor Turner. “Let me give you some examples of the programs. Art exhibits. We have many local artists, painters, sculptors. Historians. Author appearances. Many children’s events. Our budget can never provide for all the things that come up throughout the year. So we raise anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000. It doesn’t seem like a tremendous amount of money but it pays for these exhibits, it pays for a lot of the shows, it pays for special books. And it benefits the entire community of Weehawken.”
“I want to thank Hartz Mountain,” he continued. “Every year for 14 years they give us the food court, they clean it up for us, they set everything up for us, they give us their staff, they set up chairs, tables and everything. They do a wonderful job. They’re part of the community, as all our developers are.”
“Basically you can buy two levels of tickets,” explained event organizer Linda Kraus D’Isa. “You can buy preview hour ticket at 6:30, which gets you in for an hour early, which gives you better access to the food. And it also automatically enters you into this raffle, which is pretty awesome. There are 25 prizes and usually they sell 200 tickets, so do the math. All of these run between $50 and $100.”
Prizes include two tickets to the Papermill Playhouse, a lunch cruise from Entertainment Cruises New York City, a private wine tasting for the winner and 30 guests including two hours of wine sampling along with gourmet cheeses, meats, and assorted breads, compliments of Giannone Wine and Liquor.
Preview tickets cost $60 in advance and allow access from 6:30 to 9:30. General admission tickets are $35 in advance and access is from 7:30 to 9:30. Tickets at the door cost $5 additional.
The Food Court at Lincoln Harbor is located at 1200 Harbor Boulevard in Weehawken.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.