After 17 years of food, fun, and fundraising, the annual Taste of Weehawken food festival may move to a new location next year. At the May 2 event, Mayor Richard Turner announced to the crowd that Hartz Mountain, the owner of the Lincoln Harbor food court where the event is held each year, will transform it into another restaurant.
Turner thanked Hartz Mountain for their generous donation of the space over the years, and presented a plaque to the company’s President Gus Milano, General Counsel Phil Patton, and Director of Development James Rhatican.
The question on everyone’s lips was: Where will the much beloved event move next year?
“Well, now Hartz is thinking that maybe their construction will be delayed so we could be here next year,” said Turner, later in the event. “They just told me that tonight. They couldn’t tell me before I opened my big mouth.”
Hartz Mountain will be expanding the nearby garage, which may delay the restaurant construction. Either way, Taste of Weehawken will carry on.
Another possible location is the new hotel being built adjacent to the ferry terminal. “They’re going to have a ballroom, catering hall upstairs,” said Turner. “Or we could put a tent on the waterfront someplace. So we have different options.”
“We’ll follow it wherever it goes,” said local resident Sherry Cassin, attending with a friend. “We’re committed Weehawkenites.”
Record number of attendees raise $18K for library
Established 17 years ago as a fundraiser for the library, Taste of Weehawken this year saw a record 433 paid admissions, bringing in $18,000. The money goes toward programs above and beyond those funded by the normal budget, like visits from the Center for Aquatic Science, Mad Science workshops and STEAM-related Tinker Labs, guest lecturers, resume writing programs, new computers for the adult department, new iPads for the children’s department, and new furniture to develop an outdoor reading area.
The 30 restaurants, caterers, and bakeries that participated in this year’s event all donated their time and served some of their finest dishes to show their support for the library. Waterside Restaurant on River Road in North Bergen offered a delicious penne pasta with chicken. The restaurant, where Turner’s son works as a DJ on weekends, is owned by three siblings whose dad ran a Greek diner in Jersey. “They grew up in the business and they’ve been in it for many years,” explained Event Planner Rhonda Muziani.
They are also strong contributors to charity, especially the Leonidas Foundation, which they established after the son of one owner died in a car accident last July.
From a little farther north along River Road came the brand new Acappella Restaurant in Edgewater. The Jersey location, opened about four months ago, features the same Northern Italian menu as the original Tribeca landmark opened in 1994, “but at Jersey prices.”
Their food is prepared with special ingredients imported directly from Italy. “We get stuff two times a week,” said General Manager Dino Gjeka. “Prosciutto, mozzarella, portobello mushrooms.” They import mussels from New Zealand, and bring in oysters, fresh tuna, and beluga caviar.
At the Taste they offered a spectacular Lobster Angelotti. “It’s a homemade pasta, half-moon, mezzaluna, stuffed with chunks of lobster, prepared and seasoned. Then the sauce is prepared, with chopped shrimp, chopped tomato, marscapone cheese. That’s a lot of work.”
Mitchell Fish Market was yet another new participant in this year’s Taste. Located in the former Crab House on a pier in Edgewater facing Manhattan, they are the first Jersey location for the chain, part of the Landry’s organization. Landry’s also owns local eatery the Chart House, a participant in the Taste for all 17 years.
“We have blackened chicken pasta with Cajun cream sauce, and mini-crab cakes,” said Sales Manager Nicole Ghisolfi. “Our crab cakes are absolutely amazing. And the blackened chicken pasta shows that whether you eat seafood or not you can come in and have a great meal.”
A one-night piazza
El Unico Restaurant was established in 1976 in Union City by Adrian Rivero. In 1994 he sold the business to another family that ran it until three years ago, when Rivero’s daughter, Maria Montesdeoca, took over as new owner.
“Business is very good,” said Montesdeoca, who lives in Weehawken and brought a variety of tasty Latin dishes to the event. “It’s back to where it used to be. It took a lot but it’s getting better and better.”
“I like the socializing with people as much as I like the actual dishes.” – Gabrielle Jonas
“Unico’s been there a million years,” said attendee Mary Ciuffitelli. “It’s probably the only place in America that’s so cheap they still have a ‘cents’ sign on the menu.”
A Weehawken resident for 37 years and a longtime patron of the library, Ciuffitelli is a regular at the annual Taste, coming as much for the people as the food. “It’s true,” she said. “This is sort of the piazza, the town square. We don’t have a piazza so this is really like a one-night piazza.”
Weehawken Councilman Robert Sosa couldn’t agree more. “It’s not just about food, but getting to know people and saying this is who I am, and this is what I bring to the community,” he said. “People often seek out things from far away, from the city, from online. There are professional people here, so why not have an event like this where people can exchange cards and take advantage of local talent?”
“I like the socializing with people as much as I like the actual dishes,” added local resident Gabrielle Jonas. A member of the Weehawken Board of Education, she finds the event a way to “keep a pulse on the community, and see what the high school culinary class is doing.”
Jonas won a $50 gift certificate from Luce’s Gluten-Free Artisan Breads, one of the many gift certificates contributed by vendors as door prizes. She also found a new favorite beverage in Misunderstood Whiskey. “I think I’m convinced that whiskey is misunderstood,” she said.
12 tables of wine, craft beers, and spirits
“We want to be the gateway drug into whiskey,” said JD Recobs, who co-founded Misunderstood Whiskey Co. with childhood friend Chris Bulisi. They invented the ginger-infused whiskey in Recobs’ mom’s kitchen in Montclair and now run their brand-new business out of Jersey City.
Why ginger? “We got tired of the whiskey burn, the whiskey face,” said Recobs. “The goal was to cure that whiskey phobia. We experimented with a lot of different ingredients from coconut to strawberry to mango to try to find what naturally could cure that. And we found that the natural ginger heat kind of overpowers the typical whiskey burn.”
The delightfully smooth 80-proof whiskey was one of countless spirits, wines, and craft beers available for tasting at the event at 12 tables organized by Giannone Wine & Liquor Company.
“If you’re going to have dessert, would you have chocolate or crème brulee?” asked Anthony from Premium Port Wine. To chocolate lovers he recommended a ruby port, and to the rest he offered a tremendous 20-year-old tawny port. “Everybody loves these wines,” he said. Judging by patron response, he was right.
“I’m a bartender in New York so I’m actually in the industry,” said Nicole Carter. A Bergen County resident, she was attending the event for the first time with friends. “The food was amazing. I’m a vegetarian but I eat fish. My favorite was Karma, the Indian cuisine, and Lorraine’s Table. They had a lemon pepper shrimp with quinoa. That was delicious enough for me to say I would order from them. They don’t come to Bergen County so I’ll have to come pick it up.”
Lorraine’s Table was established by Lorraine Wuillamey to offer creative and eclectic menus via a weekly delivery menu, as well as catering for dinners, parties, showers, and other occasions.
“Lorraine’s been doing this event for seven or eight years now and she just loves it because she’s born and raised in Weehawken,” said her “dishwasher” (and husband), Paddy O’Keeffe. “And we use the library. It’s a great resource.”
“You know what this event is?” asked Mayor Turner. “It’s a great time, everyone’s having fun, we raise $18,000 for the library, for children’s programs and everything. And it keeps that small-town atmosphere. Weehawken has a very small-town atmosphere, which is important.”