As dozens of customers picked at their plates last Sunday afternoon, Executive Chef and Co-Proprietor Carlos Lopes explained why Belleville's Porto Restaurant and Bar decided to start serving weekend brunch.
“We don't have this in the area,” Lopes said. “Nutley, Belleville, Bloomfield – we don't have brunch in this area.”
At least not the way Porto does it inside its elegantly understated dining area Lopes owns alongside former Belleville mayor, Municipal Council member and police department commander of detectives Bill Escott. Much like it does with its regular menu, Porto offers a fusion of Italian and Portugese food popularized in Belleville when the duo popularized when they first partnered at Solar di Minho.
Entering their third weekend of serving brunch – last weekend featured more than 75 satisfied patrons – Porto charges $25 for adults ($15 for children) and comes with a complimentary bellini or mimosa. Considering how many times you will fill your plate – “How often can you go? Go 200 times, if you want!” our waiter assured us – you will leave feeling satisfied after this sumptuous, all-you-can-eat.
Grab a plate and the opportunities are seemingly endless. Our advice: Step into the bar area where the brunch tables begin and start at the right, where a carving station features a pepper-crusted, top-round of sirloin served medium rare so flavorful and tender it could almost be cut with a fork. Although the pepper sauce is optional, the carver recommended it and, truthfully, it was the first of several terrific recommendations from Porto's staff.
Next to the carving station is an omelette station which, although commendable for those watching their diets, the quality and quantity of offerings as you make your way along the wall renders calorie counts irrelevant.
Across from the carving and omelette stations sits a table full of fine meats and cheeses which could be a meal unto itself including cappicola, ham, prosciutto, and soppresata, as well as freshly sliced salmon that could be accompanied by capers, lemons, and/or diced onion.
Porto also puts out a wide-ranging cheese platter ranging from the standard (cheddar, Swiss) to the different (a firm Manchego, a Spanish cheese made from Sheep's milk). We highly recommend taking a few pieces of the sweet, crusty bread cubed nearby. Another bit of advice: save room on your plate for their fresh cucumber/tomato/black olive salad.
On your next trip – and trust us, you will make multiple trips – stay along the wall to the left, where there are seven dining trays set up. Although bacon, eggs, and pancakes will be standard servings every weekend, Lopes and his staff will vary up the other four offerings. Much like everything else served at Porto, there is not a bad option to be found.
Make sure to save room for dessert, however.
Although the collection of muffins and pastries near the cheese and meat trays are enticing, our favorite options were set up on the other side of the bar. Next to a colorful fruit platter that included papaya and plump red strawberries were our favorites: a bite-sized, egg-based Portugese custard that is creamy, sweet and flaky. And each one is a surprise; some were filled with chocolate, while others satisfied with their simple, yet seemingly complex, blend that offers hints of vanilla and caramel.
Nearby are a wide assortment of mouth-watering desserts concocted in Porto's kitchen. The best of the bunch were a rich, yet subtly tart chocolate raspberry cheesecake and a sweetly satisfying carrot cake.
In short, Porto is a perfect place to take a loved one this weekend for a pre-Valentine's Day brunch. But really, it is perfect for any occasion – and sure to become a weekend tradition.
Porto Restaurant and Bar is located at 369 Washington Avenue. Call them at (973) 450-4600.