30 hours in Ne­wark

Long-ig­nored city is about to get the re­spect it de­serves

Toronto Star - - TRAVEL & LIFE - JEN­NIFER BAIN TRAVEL EDI­TOR

NEWARK, N.J.— Friends shook their heads in mock de­spair when I con­fessed I was ditch­ing New York City to ex­plore New Jersey for two days. Jersey, you see, doesn’t get any re­spect. But I fig­ured if Newark is about to get a Mar­cus Sa­muels­son restau­rant and Grammy Mu­seum, then this is a city on the verge of hap­pen­ing.

“A lot of cul­ture. A lit­tle bit of grit,” is how one civic booster sold Newark to me. Vogue mag­a­zine just de­clared it “one of the most un­ex­pected lo­cales to be con­sid­ered a travel des­ti­na­tion.” It took about a minute for Newark to charm me, but here’s how I made the most of a 30-hour visit:

Satur­day:

9:30 a.m.: Ho­tel Indigo, a branded bou­tique ho­tel chain I first ex­pe­ri­enced in San Diego, has re­claimed a 1912 Newark bank build­ing and arted things up with a Thomas Edi­son theme. The Ho­tel Indigo Newark Down­town gave me an early check-in at a front desk made from re­claimed teller desks.

Sun-splashed rooms boast ex­posed brick and gritty, ur­ban views (that’s a good thing in my books). It’s a short walk to great food, Newark Mu­seum, the Pru­den­tial Cen­ter and the New Jersey Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter. 10 a.m.: With no sales tax on clothes or shoes in New Jersey, I got a crash course in Cen­tury 21 De­part­ment Store, a New York re­tail icon (named well be­fore the real-es­tate com­pany). The Newark branch is at the Mills at Jersey Gar­dens, an out­let shop­ping des­ti­na­tion with 200-plus stores and deals of up to 70 per cent off.

The mall has shut­tles from Newark Lib­erty In­ter­na­tional Air­port ev­ery half hour and ap­par­ently draws sub­stan­tially more vis­i­tors each year than the Statue of Lib­erty. 11:30 a.m.: Newark’s culi­nary crown jewel is the Iron­bound, a boom­ing Por­tuguese neigh­bour­hood that’s a melt­ing pot of Brazil­ian, Span­ish, Sal­vado­ran, Ecuadorean and other in­flu­ences. The Iron­bound boasts nearly 200 places to eat, so start at Ca­seiro e Bom, a small “gourmet house” where butcher/char­cu­terie master Rodrigo Duarte makes ham, chorizo and sausage. He’s fa­mous for his pata ne­gra, ham made from black Ibe­rian pigs, cur­rently sell­ing for $799/pound.

“I don’t chase the money,” he stresses about the pretty price his pata ne­gra fetches. “I chase the plea­sure of the old-fash­ioned flavours.”

Nasto’s Ice Cream is worth a stop in the Iron­bound, as is Oporto Wines & Liquors. On the non-food front, CS Cork sells hand­bags and ac­ces­sories made from Por­tuguese cork. What you must do here, though, is a pasteis de nata crawl. Some swear by the Por­tuguese egg cus­tard tarts at Teix­eira’s Bak­ery, oth­ers love the ones at Al­varo’s Pas­try Shop & Deli. De­cide for your­self. 2 p.m.: I hooked up with Nom Nom Newark, a walk­ing food tour run by Have You Met Newark, at Hobby’s Deli. We washed down corned beef and pas­trami sand­wiches with Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Soda be­fore co­founder Antonio Valla swept us away to “eat clean” at Grab­ba­green and to down In­dian-in­spired burg­ers at Burger Walla.

We walked by a brand new Ha­lal Guys (I re­turned the next morn­ing for a taste) and eye­balled the spot where Black Swan Espresso was poised to open, using beans from Pro­pel­ler Cof­fee in Toronto. Small world.

Be­fore I ducked out of the Nom Nom tour two stops early, I dis­cov­ered Halsey St. is home to the Hahne & Co. build­ing, which is bring­ing in Whole Foods Mar­ket, Barnes & No­ble and the new restau­rant by Har­lem restau­ra­teur and cook­book au­thor Mar­cus Sa­muels­son. I bet I won’t rec­og­nize Newark next time I visit. 4 p.m.: The high­light of the Newark Mu­seum was see­ing a Ti­betan Bud­dhist al­tar con­se­crated by the 14th Dalai Lama. The mu­seum started hav­ing Ti­betan art ex­hi­bi­tions in1911, and boasts what it calls “an un­par­al­leled col­lec­tion of sa­cred and sec­u­lar ob­jects.” Ac­tor Richard Gere, a Bud­dhist, nar­rates the mu­seum’s au­dio tour. 6:30 p.m.: The New Jersey Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter (NJPAC) draws nine mil­lion peo­ple a year to its Chase Room, Vic­to­ria The­ater and Pru­den­tial Hall. In the in­ti­mate Chase Room, I saw part of a con­cert by James Mon­roe Igle­hart, who played Genie in Dis­ney’s Broad­way mu­si­cal, Aladdin. I also caught a few min­utes of Dis­tant Worlds: Mu­sic from Fi­nal Fan­tasy, mu­sic from a video-game se­ries per­formed by a sym­phony or­ches­tra, choir and var­i­ous soloists. 9 p.m.: It feels like a neigh­bour­hood tav­ern, but Casa d’Paco serves Span­ish tapas, not burg­ers and wings.

Owner An­gel Le­ston built the restau­rant with his dad, the head chef, and con­vinced his mom to over­see the desserts. The fam­ily is from Muros, a fish­ing town in Gali­cia, Spain. Don’t miss the patatas bravas, crisp pota­toes with spicy ai­oli. Sun­day: 10 a.m.: A bus­load of artists drove me on a pri­vate arts crawl em­ceed by Rod­ney Gil­bert of Yen­dor Pro­duc­tions. We looked at out­door mu­rals, such as the Mayor’s Mu­ral, part of an ini­tia­tive to clean up ne­glected neigh­bour­hoods. We saw some of the Gate­ways to Newark, a half-mile mu­ral that’s the sec­ond largest in the U.S. Our last stop was Lisa Con­rad’s Newark Print Shop, which has a Wed­nes­day night drop-in print club.

As for mu­ral tours, Newark Arts hosts a Mu­rals & Mar­tini public arts tour ev­ery Oc­to­ber. 1 p.m.: Step out­side your com­fort zones and do what the lo­cals do. On this par­tic­u­lar Sun­day in Jan­uary, that meant check­ing out Monster Jam at the Pru­den­tial Cen­ter. It’s a hoot to watch named and dec­o­rated monster trucks race and do freestyle com­pe­ti­tions. I also said hello to Da­mon Sev­er­son, a New Jersey Devils hockey player from Melville, Sask., who was in fan mode a few rows ahead of me. The Grammy Mu­seum Ex­pe­ri­ence Pru­den­tial Cen­ter is slated to open at this sports and en­ter­tain­ment venue in the fall. 3:30 p.m.: This quick trip ended with a 10-minute Uber to Newark Lib­erty In­ter­na­tional Air­port for an equally pain­less Porter Air­lines flight to Billy Bishop Air­port in down­town Toronto. I missed Newark’s leg­endary cherry blos­soms — the city claims to have more cherry trees than Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and an April fes­ti­val in Branch Brook Park — but that’s good in­cen­tive to return. Jen­nifer Bain was hosted by the Greater Newark Con­ven­tion & Vis­i­tors Bureau, which didn’t re­view or ap­prove this story.

JEN­NIFER BAIN/TORONTO STAR

On an out­door art crawl of Newark, the city’s “glam­bas­sador” Lau­ren Craig shows off one of many mu­rals in the Clin­ton Ave. cor­ri­dor where you’ll find “a smor­gas­bord of art.”

HARRY PROTT/GREATER NEWARK CON­VEN­TION & VIS­I­TORS BUREAU

It’s the dawn of a new era for Newark, N.J. “A lot of cul­ture. A lit­tle bit of grit,” is how one civic booster sold the city.

JEN­NIFER BAIN /TORONTO STAR

Rodrigo Duarte is the butcher/char­cu­terie master at Ca­seiro e Bom, where he makes ham, chorizo and sausage.

CHRIS LEE/GREATER NEWARK CON­VEN­TION VIS­I­TORS BUREAU

The New Jersey Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter (NJPAC) draws nine mil­lion peo­ple a year.

JEN­NIFER BAIN/TORONTO STAR

At Newark Mu­seum, Kather­ine Anne Paul (cu­ra­tor of the arts of Asia) shows off the Ti­betan col­lec­tion.

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