Best dishes: of 2017

Marcus B&P: a Marcus Samuelsson restaurant in Newark, NJ

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That handsome devil Marcus Samuelsson sure has a cool sense of fashion. And he knows a thing or two about food. We couldn't have been more impressed with his newest venture, Newark's Marcus B&P.

The place is gorgeous. Lots of natural light pours through the large windows behind the bar. The restaurant is located in the newly renovated building that once housed Hahne's department store. Are you old enough to remember Hahne's? I'm so old I knew about it and have since forgotten about it, until now.

We had what can be described as a thoroughly exceptional meal, top to bottom. I'll gladly tell you alllllll about it.

But first, a cocktail.

Marcus B&P Newark

They've got a well-thought-out cocktail list at Marcus B&P. Fresh citrus is used, as God intended. Someone came up with some signature cocktails, only one of which contains vodka (that's a good thing...that there's only one vodka drink I mean...because vodka is for savages). Classics, they have, too, like a Vieux Carre and an Aviation (which includes the not-optional Crème De Violette). Wines? They've got a short, concise list, with Portugal represented in both the red and white flavors. Portuguese wines are tremendous values, and more people should be drinking them. They've got a chilled Portuguese red on tap, which I recommend you order.

I kicked it off with a B&P Punch. A delightful, fun affair of rum, house-made falernum (bringing its Caribbean flavor to the party), and the essential but too-often-ignored bitters. A proper rum punch. 

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I've rarely met a cornbread I didn't like, and that didn't change after this meal. The cornbread, a top-seller from what I gather, is everything they say it is. Savory, sweet, served with a schmear of soft butter, drizzled with local honey and big crystals of salt. There's a focus on local ingredients here, including the excellent MÁZI Piri Piri hot sauce, from Asbury Park--also for sale by the bottle.  "I'll come back just for that cornbread," my guest advised me. You'll get no fight from me. 

We've been looking for a good version of chicken and waffles since a trip to Nashville last year. Not easy to come by in North Jersey, I'm afraid. Until now.

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The waffle is made with super ripe plantains, the menu says. Who am I to argue. A perfectly executed sweet yet savory waffle, topped with a piece of fried chicken thigh, which was coated in chile oil, with a good amount of pickled vegetables and peppers. (Jamaican escovitch, which is such a fun word). 

You've got the sweet waffle. The crispy chicken, with the spicy kick. The brightness and acidity of the vegetables, with some additional heat from those peppers. A balanced, absurdly delicious dish.

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There's no reason Marcus B&P should be making Neapolitan-style pizza, but they are. Based on the pictures I saw in advance, it looked like they were doing it right. Hot oven, cold, slow ferment, a deft hand with toppings. After hearing the pie of the day included taleggio and guanciale, there was no discussion: we were ordering this thing. And yup, they nailed it. They're doing pizza at Marcus B&P better than 99.99% of pizza places. I mean, super, super stuff here.

The staff was tops. Energetic. Engaged and engaging. Seemingly happy to be at work. Imagine that?

There's little doubt we'll be returning soon to give dinner a go. I haven't felt that way about a restaurant in NJ in a while.

Marcus B&P : 56 Haley Street : Newark, NJ : 973.645.0004

If you go: parking can be dreadful in Newark. There is a self-park lot under Military Park, a block away.

 

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