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Thursday, April 23, 2015

IBERIA PENINSULA--A TASTE OF EUROPE IN NEWARK'S IRONBOUND DISTRICT

photo by Adam Elmquist
It seems as if the only times I’ve been to Newark, New Jersey is to see a show at NJPAC or to have a very nice meal with friends.  

This time we headed to the Ironbound section of Newark, a large working class area with a big Portuguese population dating back to the early 1900s and later joined in the 1930s by Galician Spanish immigrants and then, in the 1950s, by another influx of Portuguese immigrants.  What developed is a neighborhood proud of its ethnic character where restaurants, bakeries, jewelers, sports clubs, and other businesses are owned and operated by the local Portuguese/Spanish residents. 

Many of these businesses center around Ferry Street, and that is where we headed to meet our friends Bob and Angie for dinner at the bustling Iberia Peninsula Restaurant.

In this corner of Newark, the restaurant is named for the peninsula that spans the area from the eastern part of Spain to the far coast of Portugal, and so this restaurant as well as the other owned by the same company, The Iberia Tavern and Patio, serves the Portuguese and Spanish specialties of the region.

I know of this relationship because from the busy Ferry St. area where the restaurants share a parking lot, we entered the cavernous, multi-roomed Iberia Tavern and were promptly seated.  But no Angie and Bob. As our friends are never late, we phoned.  They were in Newark but diagonally across the street in the Iberia Peninsula, another big place!  We needed the staff’s help to direct us to the correct restaurant. We apologized for leaving our table, but they said not to worry; the proprietors owned both restaurants!

What hustle and bustle!  Everyone on staff is friendly and always on the move.  Despite the constant movement, there’s a happy and animated atmosphere.  Brightly lighted and busy.  It is a good place to meet.

When Angie and I discussed meeting at Iberia Peninsula, we were tempted by their rodizio featuring ten tantalizing selections: The waiter brings skewers of barbequed chicken, filet mignon, pork, turkey, ribs, sausage and more until the diner calls a halt.  But when the four of us actually sat down in the restaurant to order, the rest of the menu seemed so tantalizing that none of us chose the rodizio! We'll save that for another time.

We began with drinks, of course, and a toast to our friendship.  Angie and I are sorority sisters, and we know each other, single and married, for many, many years.  Looking at the menu, we skipped appetizers but enjoyed the salad and the delicious Portuguese bread.  There are so many choices and combinations on the menu, deciding was a challenge we bravely met!

I chose the paella à Valenciana, a gargantuan mixture of seafood—shrimp, clams, mussels, and an entire boiled lobster—gorgeous hunks of chicken, and spicy sausage served over a flavorful mound (I’d like to gracefully say "bed," but that belies the amount) of savory yellow rice.  It was easily enough for two or even three!  Needless to say, a large portion accompanied me home!

Rob, Angie, and Bob went in another direction.  They all ordered the same entrée: Mariscada ao alho, a seafood medley with a garlic sauce.  Their medleys were as huge as mine but the rice was on the side.  The garlic sauce bathed the delicious seafood and gave it a pungent aroma.  As we all took home “doggie bags,” the only difference was that their rice was in a separate container. 

Each of us was in gustatory heaven. 

Still, the desserts were extraordinarily tempting too, so along with our coffees, we ordered dessert, each couple sharing one.  We ended up with the same selections—the Iberia Banana Express.  There’s no photo I can show you, but trust me when I say it was a perfect ending, and thank goodness we split because an entire slice would have left us in food comas.

I’m not really complaining about the amount of food, but in this very reasonably priced restaurant where we’re offered fare we don’t usually see and enjoy being in an authentically ethnic atmosphere, it’s quite a treat.  They are prepared for the “take out” side of the meal because they pack everything up beautifully and even the carrying bags are nicely designed.  You haven’t just enjoyed a meal; you’ve stumbled into a three-day extravaganza!

I’m sorry I didn’t take photos, but I can recommend Iberia Peninsula for a number of reasons I hope I’ve explained.  If you live nearby, go there.  You will enjoy the outing.  If you come from far away, it's well worth the trip.
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