Ever wanted to stuff yourself silly on meat for an evening? Of course you have; meat is the new pink. Have you noticed, though, that most of the delicious meat hunks available in the city are either ground (mmm, Corner Bistro) or extremely expensive (there will be a Peter Luger’s article, but not until I can con someone else into paying for it)? While beef is rarely REALLY cheap, is there a middling alternative, for that once-a-month foray into finer dining?
I’ve found a solution, thanks to Mr. Sietsema, but you’re not going to like it if you’re prone to PATH-phobia. It requires a trip to Newark and a stroll through the main drag of the Ironbound district. Ironbound is a neighborhood undergoing a change from a primarily Portuguese and Brazilian population to one encompassing more Spanish-speaking Latin American countries, according to one article I read, but I saw little evidence of this – many stores are still named and/or subtitled in what I assume to be Portuguese, and the greens, reds, and yellows of the Portuguese and Brazilian flags are still plentiful.
Bypassing Ferry St.’s plentiful restaurants advertising Churrasqueria, we headed for the Tapajos River Steakhouse (28 Wilson Av). Its décor and ambiance could not be more humble – frankly, it reminded me of a Dominican place in Park Slope (do they still exist?). Parquet-ed linoleum floors, a wood bar that looks like it has seen better days, and a few flags on the wall. Not quite a pit, but not luxurious; it’s the kind of place that suggests that the proprietors may spend more time on the food than they care to on the décor.
As we sat down, we were greeted by an enthusiastic man who let us know that the $20 mixed grill (churrasqueria) is exactly what my girlfriend and I needed. Given Sietsema’s recommendation of same, we decided to take the plunge. A salad of vinegar, onions, peppers, and a few straggly tomatoes was set on the table, as well as something I later found out was grated yucca, fried with chunks of beef. Apparently the Brazilians will eat plates full of this. I tried to mount some on the garlic bread that came next, to little effect (through no fault of the bread – it was tasty).
We hadn’t waited but a minute when the sausage came out. Fresh off the skewer, hot and tasty, if perhaps a bit dry (this was to be a theme through the evening). Then came a huge plate of rice and a side bowl of beans (I think he said the beans were $3 extra, but they were quite tasty). Also came some middling fries and a couple of wonderful fried bananas, as well as something else fried that I couldn’t identify…definitely starchy, though, and dense.
Then the main meat platter arrived, and it was truly a sight to behold: two chicken thighs, several pieces of skewered meat, one rib, a couple hunks of one kind of pork and some slices of another, and several slices of medium rare steak. Everyone says this is enough to feed three, and they’re not kidding – we were voracious and there were still two or three untouched pieces of meat left, along with half the rice and beans, fries, and we had barely touched the included salad bar (which is pretty much okay, given that it’s slim pickings). While the grilled meats could be a little drier than I’d like at times, we were there on the early side, and on a busier night, I’m sure the meat wouldn’t have been left on the grill as long.
The flan that I ordered to wrap the meal up was dense and delicious, and while I’m no expert, having not had flan in roughly ten years, I was satisfied.
Of course, the trick with $20 mixed grills is that the check inevitably ends up much larger than ten bucks a person, and for this I’m rating the Tapajos River Steakhouse a “splurge” option for the cheap eater. For maximum effectiveness, I’d recommend sharing a mixed grill among three or four, getting beans, and skipping or sharing a dessert, depending on how you feel about flan (remember: fried bananas are included in the meal). Or, for just two, skipping the beans and salad bar and just going right for the beef. It’s what you’re there for, right?
Hey, at least the PATH is only $1.50 – now THAT’s savings, my friends.