Update: The Monk room closed at the end of September, 2015.
A visit to Porta in early 2013 yielded some information that just about floored me: the Porta people were looking to expand, big time, and some locations in the works were Newark and Jersey City. Hey that's near me!
Fast forward a few short months and The Monk Room opened in Newark right by the Pru Center, and the opening of a Porta in Jersey City has been announced, slated to open in probably just a few months. Look for a multi-level space, with music and a lively atmosphere.
I was really keen on getting to The Monk Room to see what was doin', so I hussled down 21 during their first week of operation for lunch. I walked away very pleased indeed.
The Monk Room is situated in a charming little brownstone, which also houses a bail bondsman or law office or something equally unsexy. Exposed bricks line the walls, and, surprisingly, light flows through from both sides of the building. It's a standalone structure with an alley on one side and an enormous (pay) parking lot on the other.
A long bar with room for about 26 greets you, along with a few high tops. Toward the back you'll see the beautiful wood-burning oven, and some communal tables.
No flippin' octopus on the menu...yet
Update: Octopus is in da house!
The bar is quite comfortable, with plenty of leg room, but doesn't have hooks on the underside for bags and purses. The stools are bolted to the floor, which I just love. My desire to move my stool around is trumped by my desire to not have the jagoffs next to me spreading out as if they own the place. Bolt away, I say!
The bartender was just the bee's knees. Knowledgeable, attentive, pleasant, a real natural. She was from Porta and was helping get the place up and running. I hope they can fill this role with someone even half as good. In fact, if someone could just go ahead clone her and replace just about every bartender in the state of New Jersey, I'd appreciate it. Thanks in advance.
What was so good about the bartender you ask? Water was poured and served straight away. I ordered a cocktail and was asked if I wanted it on the rocks or up. The cocktail was shaken for an appropriately long amount of time, and served over fresh ice. When I asked what tequila was used for the spicy tequila cocktail, I was given the name immediately, rather than the blank look and shrug too often offered in situations where a question is asked.
People were wandering in, not sure what to make of the place, or me ("That looks like a reviewer" one young woman whispered at 100 db to her friends. "I'm just a pizza obsessive with a camera," I responded). Lots of folks were from City Hall across the street no doubt. Some had been there before. Some were bringing friends and coworkers. Some were there for business meetings. The Monk Room hasn't done any promotion, and even skipped a soft opening and friends-and-family. They simply opened the doors on a Friday morning and hoped for the best. Unfortunately they weren't allowed to legally serve booze until later that day. And they also had a water pipe burst. Good times.
But they've obviously recovered from those hiccups and well bloody hell I should probably get to the pizza. I do prattle on at times.
My first taste of the pizza was from a sample slice which was brought out to everyone at the bar. A nice touch, and smart. A basic margherita slice, perhaps without any basil. Very good and an indication of what was to come.
I ordered the "14 1/2," which has hot sopressata and Calabrian chiles. This pie was great down at Porta and beautiful at The Monk Room as well. The acidic bite from the chiles is a perfect foil for the fat of the sopressata. It's a spicy, bracing little number. It'll probably be my go-to at The Monk Room.
If my timekeeping was accurate, the pie came out of the oven in 2:20. This is well beyond the cook time of a proper Neapolitan style pizza (60-90 seconds), and well beyond the advertised time of 90 seconds. Perhaps they didn't have the oven running full bore as they might during a dinner service when they are cranking out pies. Or perhaps they are still tweaking the style to see what will go over the best.
Either way, the pie was truly fantastic. Balanced, composed well, cooked well, and overall, delicious. I think people will appreciate this style more than true Neapolitan-style, which tends to be a bit "soupy."
As the young woman next to me declared to her friends, "this [pizza] was the bomb bomb bomb right there." If I'm understanding today's vernacular as well as I think I do, I tend to agree.
The Monk Room : 20 Green Street: Newark, NJ : 973.368.2771