Broa Cafe: Authentic Portuguese Food in Jersey City

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In Hudson County, we’re fans of authentic cuisine. The power of authentic food is that it can take you on a cultural journey in just one mouthful. Now, we certainly have an abundance of authentic Italian fair, but one type of cuisine that is tougher to come by is Portuguese food. This is where Broa Cafe comes in. Located at 297 Grove Street, this locale serves up authentic Portuguese food that is deliciosia.

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The Lowdown on Broa Cafe

The story of Broa Cafe is one of resilience and persistence. Located along Grove Street, which is basically the restaurant row of Jersey City, this Portuguese restaurant has taken the city by storm. Owner Michael Casalinho, whose family came to the states from Leiria and Fatima in Portugal just before he was born, is proud of his American and Portuguese culture. He showcases his homeland and the beauty of the culture and cuisine through his restaurant, Broa Cafe, allowing all who visit to feel what it’s like to be in Portugal.

Broa Cafe’s Beginnings

Casalinho was previously involved in another Portuguese restaurant in Newark, one of the local hubs for all things Portuguese. But after about five years, he felt like he was ready to move onto something of his own. Having roots in Jersey City {Casalinho attended Hudson Catholic and his sister worked in Exchange Place} helped him to realize how much he loved the community and wanted to bring a piece of his heritage to this diverse city. So, he scouted out the city, finding numerous spots that could work but it wasn’t until he landed upon the Grove Street location that he fell in love. “The location then was completely different from what it is now. You had to walk through the bathroom to get to the backyard area, up these little stairs but I knew it had potential,” shared Casalinho.

His inspiration for the restaurant went back to his family’s roots in Portugal. While so many places around him were boasting fusion menus, he knew that he wanted to preserve the culture and traditions of typical Portuguese cuisine. He had one goal in mind — bring Portugal to the states. He wanted representation for the country he loves so much and it shows in all that he does at Broa, his passion project. 

Read more: Where to Find Authentic Portuguese Food in Newark

Rocky Waters

His beginning wasn’t easy and his path in the restaurant industry has been anything but smooth. When he started the restaurant in 2012, it got moving quickly until Hurricane Sandy happened. That set plans back tremendously. “We lost a solid two to three years of business because of the chaos from Sandy. The restaurant was destroyed, leaving us to redesign, rebuild, restructure, and resubmit all of our permits,” he shared. 

Not only that, but City Hall also flooded, causing his original submissions and documentation to be lost “in the flood,” quite literally. When he finally opened on December 23rd, 2015, he started with a very soft opening. The wait was becoming unbearable and he knew that he just had to move forward. When the doors opened to the public, there were only a few items on the menu, but things picked up quickly at the turn of the New Year, where the seven table restaurant became reservation-only and in high demand. 

The current pandemic caused yet another setback, causing Broa Cafe to completely revamp everything that had previously been done. Just as Casalinho was about to start the final phase of renovations to the backyard patio area, COVID-19 forced him to put that on the back burner. 

Putting His Community First

{Photo credit: @broacafe}

While there was so much uncertainty at the height of the pandemic, he knew that he had a duty and obligation to his community. And while many places were closing their doors, he knew that he had to take matters into his own hands. He asked his staff to stay home and stay healthy, while he and his girlfriend ran the business themselves — in order to limit contact between too many people. This duo manned the kitchen and the orders, taking care of everything from top to bottom. 

“You’ve just got to keep moving forward — that’s my motto. With the bad always comes something good,” Casalinho said. And he was right. With the new phase of reopenings happening, Broa Cafe was able to expand its small restaurant to the back patio and front/street dining areas. While initially a setback, the community was now able to return to normal-ish dining and Broa was able to expand its community reach.

Casalinho credits the community for their continued support through it all. “The support from locals has been phenomenal,” he shared. “We had the rug completely pulled from underneath us but we continued to push forward. That’s the Portuguese way!” 

Casalinho told us as he lamented on life lessons from his parents. “I was always taught that you have to keep going even when you face rocky waters. You just have to paddle through and that’s what we did. ”

Authenticity is Key

{Photo credit: @broacafe}

The restaurant has this vibrant feel that encompasses all of the culture and nuances of everything valued in Portugal. And certainly, no stone was left unturned at Broa. Everything is authentically Portuguese from the decor to the music, to the fragrances, to the library of cookbooks, history books, tourism guides, and family heirlooms. Broa Cafe was meant to put Portugal back on the map and open the community to different flavors of the land Casalinho loves so much.

The Menu

{Photo credit: @broacafe}

As for the menu, well, it is as Portuguese as it comes and something that Casalinho is doubly proud of. He is proud of the way the menu pushes the envelope when it comes to making the truest Portuguese food. The only way to truly authenticate his food is to use products from Portugal. Everything down to the olive oil is imported fresh from the motherland. 

The menu is mixed with seafood, meat, and vegetables and decorated with the flavors of Portugal. Grilled octopus is always a huge hit as is the alheira, chicken, and pork sausage that lays over a bed of broccoli rabe and paired with string potatoes. While the accents of the menu are undoubtedly Portuguese, the original influence of these flavors crossed borders and into other lands way before any of us could imagine {like the Peri-Peri sauce which was brought by Portuguese explorers to Mozambique}. 

The menu also follows the season and Casalinho makes sure to curate dishes that are tailored to what is fresh as well as what feels good to eat at that time. The late, great, Anthony Bourdain helped to create this menu, with his eclectic taste buds and passion for anything that represents culture, Bourdain’s visits to Portugal have weighed heavily on Broa Cafe. 

“We serve gooseneck barnacles, Portuguese dungeness crab, chilled shrimp in the summer, and heartier meals in the winter. That’s where we throw on the hearty stews, pig ears, meats, and cabbage,” boasted Casalinho.

See more: Your NEW Ultimate Guide to Outdoor Dining in Hoboken + Jersey City

Next Steps

{Photo credit: @broacafe}

As part of its reopening, the restaurant will continue to serve the community as planned for both in-person dining and carry out. But that’s not all. Casalinho is planning a few future ventures that will continue to spread his culture to the community. He is excited to open a marketplace, which will feature homemade jams, olives, peels, herbs, chorizo, and more. He also hopes to continue to offer the Portuguese gift boxes, which can be customized and shipped all over the country. Also on the forefront is a new cafe, which will continue to feature a Portuguese menu, with more of a grab and go kind of feel, while Broa will serve dishes that should be enjoyed in house. 

As for Casalinho, he is ready to continue to support the community who has always supported him and the cafe. He hopes to invite more into his culture and allow others to experience what it means to be Portuguese. “Culture is beautiful — all types! It’s amazing to know the whys and hows, the hardships, what people eat, how they live,” he shared. “It taps into why I do what I do.”

Broa Cafe is open for al fresco dining Tuesday through Sunday from 6:00PM until 10:00PM, except Fridays and Saturdays where the restaurant stays open until 11:00PM. Takeout is also available during those same hours. 

Have you ever been to Broa Cafe? Let us know your favorite menu items in the comments below!

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Hoboken homeowner and lover of all things local, Danielle made her home in the Mile Square City nearly six years ago. Danielle is a second grade teacher by day; after hours, she can be found in the kitchen whipping up a a new recipe or grabbing a bite to eat with her husband and friends. Danielle is the try-er and buyer of all things beauty and loves finding a good deal. Shopping on Washington, interior decorating, and riding her Peloton are just a few of Danielle's favorite things. Oh, and did we mention her undying love for the New York Yankees?