Great Food + Company: The Recipe for Porta Jersey City’s Success

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There has never been a shortage of good pizza in North Jersey.  Taking a five-minute stroll in Downtown Jersey City from Grove Street to the pedestrian mall on Newark Avenue proves just that with its large, pizza-gobbling crowds. There’s the nationally-acclaimed Razza, the casual chain Two Boots, the beloved family-style restaurant Roman Nose, and of course, Porta, always packed from rooftop to curbside.

Since opening its Jersey City location in 2014, {the other two sites are in Asbury Park and Philadelphia}, the Neapolitan pizza restaurant has helped shape the local culinary scene and become an anchor of community memories. “Porta means doors. Here the doors are open to everyone.” Marianne Pinaha, hospitality leader at Porta Jersey City, told Hoboken Girl

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{Photo credit: @portajerseycity}

The Food

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{Photo credit: @portajerseycity}

For starters, one of the main draws of the restaurant is its outstanding pizza menu. The thin, black-freckled crust juts out even when a loaded piece is lifted up. Tear open the crisp, puffy outer lip, the interior is steamy, soft, with a complex savory flavor. Equally excellent are the toppings. Of course, one can always go with the classic Margherita, expertly prepared with bright and sweet San Marzano tomatoes and blobs of buttery mozzarella.

But you should not miss other creative options, such as Carbonara, a decomposed pizza version of the classic Roman dish. Sheets of robustly-flavored guanciale {seasoned and aged pig jowl} are beautifully arranged on a thin layer of melted Parmigiano Reggiano. In the middle is a runny egg, with {a lot of} black pepper cracked on top. 

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{Photo credit: @portajerseycity}

Marianne speaks proudly of Porta’s commitment to quality ingredients. “Our specialty ingredients are imported from Italy. The seasonal vegetables are sourced from local suppliers. The pizza doughs and fresh cheese are made in-house daily,” Marianne told Hoboken Girl.

Read More: All About Ichiban To-Go in the Jersey City Heights

In fact, one could argue the restaurant makes some of the sweetest ricotta found locally. It is excellent as a pizza topping, and better still as a stand-alone appetizer, generously drizzled with olive oil, to be scooped up with sliced Italian bread. More excitingly, in the fall and winter menus, the ricotta is served warm in whole fire-roasted acorn squash. Creamy, smokey, with a subtle heat from laces of Calabrian chile-infused honey, the dish is an exhilarating concoction of senses and flavors.

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{Photo credit: @portajerseycity}

Ingredients alone, however, are not the only secrets to good food. “It requires a lot of attention to detail,” Marianne said. The pizza chef taste tests every batch of Margherita source to ensure consistent saltiness and acidity. The server checks the crust of every single pie before sending it out {even for pick-up} to make sure it is fired correctly. “Whenever I happen to be on the floor, I always pay attention to the plates on their way to the tables. Sometimes I’d shout to the waiter, ‘Hey someone forgot the parsley!’” Marianne said.

Such attention to detail extends beyond the taste. The hand-stretched pizzas, albeit irregularly shaped and charred with large freckles, are beautiful both to the human eye and under a camera lens. The meatballs {very juicy!} come dunked in a seemingly messy puddle of marinara sauce but are served in impeccably smooth white bowls. “The idea is to be ‘perfectly imperfect’,” Marianne explained, referring to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, or to create beauty from broken things.

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{Photo credit: @portajerseycity}

In fact, such aesthetics also apply to Porta’s interior design and service. The furniture is deliberately mismatched to fit the industrial-style vintage brick walls.  Wines are served in water glasses, to celebrate the grass-root origin of Neapolitan pizza. 

The Community

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{Photo credit: @portajerseycity}

The grass-root, community-focused spirit has become something of Porta’s manifesto. Pre-pandemic, on weekend nights after 11PM, the space is transformed into the most electric clubbing scene in Jersey City, with three DJs presiding over the dance floors on the rooftop, the ground level, and basement space, respectively. No cover charge. No dress code. “Just good music, good time,” Marianne said.

“We welcome everyone. And we encourage sharing.” In the dining room, eaters were seated together, shoulder to shoulder, at wide communal tables. It wasn’t uncommon for two groups sitting at the same table, complete strangers at the beginning of the meal, to start sharing food. “One person would say, ‘that pizza looks good.’ Someone in the group next to him would ask, ‘would you like to try a slice?’” 

See More: El Gordo Eatery: A Taste of Peru In Jersey City

The restaurant has strived to carry out the same spirit amid the turmoils of the pandemic through different channels. “We had been ‘bringing in’ the community before the pandemic. Now, we are reaching out.” Marianne explained.

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{Photo credit: @portajerseycity}

Porta has donated to various national and local social causes and organized pop-up events to promote local vendors. Notably, in support of the local artist community it had worked closely with before the lockdown, it has brought back local musicians to perform as the world begins to reopen. The breezy, stylish rooftop serves as a perfect backdrop for live-streamed concerts. Energy-charged live performances with small, socially-distanced audiences have also been gradually introduced. 

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{Photo credit: @portajerseycity}

To some extent, the pandemic has also bonded the community in unexpected ways. Marianne observed that many residents, who, pre-pandemic, were keen on activities outside Jersey City, are now rediscovering their old neighborhood. “People are staying local and exploring local ideas for activities.” Since summer, Porta has held multiple micro weddings and family events. Even on a regular weekend, as Marianne observed, there are more familiar faces returning. 

What’s Next For Porta

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{Photo credit: @portajerseycity}

Despite the uncertainties the pandemic brings, the upcoming months still bring a lot to look forward to. Marianne spoke of an “exciting project” that revamps the rooftop space, and the current fall menu has brought back many seasonal favorites. Other than the ricotta-filled acorn squash, there’s “Cavolo Nero”, a salad of nutty sunchokes and peppery watermelon radishes tossed with tender, zesty Tuscan kale.

Don’t forget the cocktails, all created and tasted tested by Porta staff! Each one of them is a delicious concoction of locally distilled liquor, Italian liqueur, and heart-warming fall flavors. As the pandemic continues to tear through the world, Porta, as every one of us, will continue to trudge through uncertain territories. But two things will be certain: there will be good food, and the door will always be open to everyone.

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Yiwei was born and raised in China. She has lived extensively in Beijing and Hong Kong, before finally settling down in New York. She moved to Hoboken after a few years in Westchester and immediately felt at home here. Two years ago, she left her job at an investment bank to travel the world and explore her interests, and has since then taken on a few freelancing gigs in career coaching, college admission consulting, and writing. When she is not wandering wildly in the streets of Europe, Asia, or Latin America, she can be found sipping an espresso in one of Hoboken's coffee shops or trying out restaurants in Hoboken and Jersey City area.