BY Elisa Ung
RESTAURANT REVIEWER | THE RECORD
“The two must-order dishes at Porto by Antonio in North Bergen? Stuffed pizza and fried pizza.
Sure, this sounds suspiciously like a place intent on destroying pizza as we know it. But Porto, a small, 16-month-old restaurant tucked away right off River Road mere feet from Edgewater, couldn’t take its pizzas more seriously. Its owner, Antonio Dinis, a former pizza maker at the acclaimed Manhattan Neapolitan pizzerias Keste and Don Antonio by Starita as well as A Mano in Ridgewood, makes his own dough from delicate flour imported from Naples and slowly ferments it for a deep flavor. Then he covers it with his house-made mozzarella and blasts the pies for 90 seconds in his domed turquoise oven, also imported from Naples, until they have the most gorgeous blistered crust.”
19. Porto by Antonio, North Bergen (new to list). Red-bricked pizzeria on a side street in North Bergen, although right across the highway from Edgewater Borough Hall. Antonio is Antonio Dinas, a pizza maker who learned the trade in New York City and Italy. Fried dough pizza (montanara) has been in the big city for five years, but good luck finding it on this side of the river. The one here, topped with oven-roasted tomato sauce, imported mozzarella du bufala, basil and grana Padano, is a whole new taste/texture sensation, managing the neat trick of being fried and light. Cool, cozy interior, with artwork of Ronaldo, Michael Jordan and others. 8921 River Road, North Bergen; (201) 941-7107.
Porto by Antonio ***Excellent
The two must-order dishes at Porto by Antonio in North Bergen? Stuffed pizza and fried pizza.
Raffaelo Marchello bakes pizzas in the wood burning oven at Porto by Antonio in North Bergen.
Sure, this sounds suspiciously like a place intent on destroying pizza as we know it. But Porto, a small, 16-month-old restaurant tucked away right off River Road mere feet from Edgewater, couldn’t take its pizzas more seriously.
Its owner, Antonio Dinis, a former pizza maker at the acclaimed Manhattan Neapolitan pizzerias Keste and Don Antonio by Starita as well as A Mano in Ridgewood, makes his own dough from delicate flour imported from Naples and slowly ferments it for a deep flavor. Then he covers it with his house-made mozzarella and blasts the pies for 90 seconds in his domed turquoise oven, also imported from Naples, until they have the most gorgeous blistered crust.
His basic 12-inch Neapolitan pies are stellar — in particular, the super-rich pizza smothered in pistachio pesto and draped with paper-thin slices of the Italian pork cold-cut mortadella ($23) is worth a try. But his stuffed Vesuvio and the fried montanara are unforgettable.
To make the Vesuvio ($22), Dinis stuffs that delectable crust with mozzarella, fresh ricotta and the Italian sausage soppressata, and tops the pie with more mozzarella, grana padano and tomato sauce. When put in the 850-degree oven, the crust puffs up and vents, much like the famous volcano, Mount Vesuvius.
The montanara — a traditional Naples pizza whose dough is lightly fried before being topped and finished in the oven — made its debut in the New York area about five years ago at a handful of places that included Don Antonio. It’s still relatively rare in this region, and this is a great place to order it: I found it less heavy than other versions I’ve tried and more subtly rich, with an almost buttery crust topped with roasted tomato sauce and imported buffalo mozzarella ($13).
There is often a wait for one of Porto’s 38 metal seats in a dim, atmospheric, brick-walled room filled with dramatic modern art and antiques that sit on shelves next to huge jars of Nutella. And there’s no ample waiting area, so consider coming here early on a weeknight. Reservations are accepted only for parties of six or more, and both times I visited, only seats near the entrance were available and were a little chilly. I do recommend counter seats in front of the pizza oven, though, with a great view of the busy pizziolos.
This is not the restaurant for anyone who prizes friendly service – the generally informed wait staff had a standoffish attitude that I occasionally see at very popular restaurants where customers should just feel lucky to get a seat. There’s also no lot, and parking can be challenging, though the staff insists you can park after 4 p.m. in a no-parking zone across the street.
This is the restaurant for those willing to put up with all of the above because the food is so good. I dropped by at the suggestion of two highly discriminating eaters impressed with their meals at Porto – Cresskill resident Gregory Brainin, the director of culinary development for venerated chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Cliffside Park cookbook author Lisa Oz, the wife of celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz. Business in North Bergen is so good that Dinis plans to open a second location in Livingston this summer.
One dish that deserves a wide following is pappardelle, a wide pasta that Dinis makes himself at a friend’s deli in Totowa, smothered with a creamy pesto that’s made to order, resulting in a fresh, delightfully grassy flavor ($15). Ditto for an appetizer of well-seasoned, pan-fried eggplant layered with mozzarella and far better (imported) tomatoes than any of us have the right to expect in January ($13). Then there’s the fat coil of Portuguese sausage set atop a clay pig-shaped dish and served set afire with a dab of Everclear liquor ($12). It would be worth ordering just for dramatic effect, though the sausage itself is a zesty, porky treat despite – or maybe because of? – the huge fat chunks in the sausage ($12).
Porto also offers an excellent, shareable antipasto platter with house-made bread ($22); we tried a kale Caesar salad that would have been great if it hadn’t been so soggy ($12).
Nutella is a big theme in dessert — we enjoyed it drizzled over zeppoles, the round Italian doughnuts ($9.95); there’s also a pizza topped with it ($12.95). And maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the same restaurant that does wonders with both stuffed and fried pizzas puts out a delicious fried Oreo cookie, with a wonderful cakey batter ($9.95), that tastes so much more elegant than it sounds.
Porto by Antonio, the wood-burning pizzeria from Antonio Dinis in North Bergen (almost directly across the street from the Edgewater Boro building on River Road), is expanding to Livingston – right on the heels of their first inclusion to NJ.com’s updated Pizza Power Rankings last week. The North Bergen pizzeria recently celebrated it’s first anniversary, with it’s menu (View Menu) of salads, homemade pastas, pizza Napoletana, Montanara (fried pizza) and daily specials. Dinis, who honed his pizzaola skills through Italy and NYC, is aiming for a summer opening.
BY ELISA UNG
Lisa Oz wants to set the record straight: Her celebrity doctor husband, Mehmet Oz, is not the “joyless,” clinical eater he’s been made out to be.
“We’re very excited about food, actually, which is the opposite of what people think,” Lisa Oz says in the enormous Cliffside Park home she shares with her husband, the health advice-dispensing host of “The Dr. Oz Show.” She laughs about the misperceptions of those she meets who say, “You must just have nuts and kale and the occasional yogurt with blueberries.”
In her new cookbook, “The Oz Family Kitchen” ($27.99 from Harmony Books), Lisa Oz details the family’s real favorite dishes: lobster rolls with guacamole, eggs with Mexican black beans, and, once a year on the doctor’s birthday, rack of lamb with a hazelnut-and-herb crust and “Almost German Chocolate Cake.” (On the cake recipe, she writes: “Oh, don’t look so shocked! He just eats one piece and it’s only once a year.”)
Except for the chapter of “special occasion desserts,” the recipes are about “joyful eating that happens to be healthy — unrefined, unprocessed, real food made at home,” Mehmet Oz writes in the foreword.
Lisa Oz has been a vegetarian since age 15, but some of her children and her husband now eat fish and some meat, too. Mehmet Oz, in particular loves bronzino, salmon and trout, and can tell when she purchases fish at the family’s favorite grocery store, Cafasso’s Fairway Market in Fort Lee. “It’s much fresher,” Lisa Oz says. “I would live at that place, I love it so much … Their produce is the best in all of Bergen County. They have a ton of organic produce.”
Does her husband cook, too? Lisa Oz just laughed. But he’s a heart surgeon; surely his knife skills must be good? “On humans,” she quipped.
But she says he “loves to taste everything and he’s definitely a part of the cooking process, he’s just not doing the cooking himself.” She says he’s far from the “efficient, joyless” eater he was described as in a 2010 New York Times profile, chastely eating raw nuts and sipping green juice every hour.
“In some ways, it is true because he always has nuts with him. It’s not because that’s his favorite food necessarily, but it’s because it’s incredibly portable and he’s go, go, go all the time,” she said. “When he does have time to eat, he’s not sitting down to dinner [of] a bowl of nuts. He loves good food when he makes time to eat. It’s just he’s so efficient and he gets so much done that he doesn’t think about taking an hour for lunch on a normal day.”
When they have time, the couple enjoy dining out locally — Lisa Oz said they’ve indulged in truffle macaroni and cheese at Pier 115 in Edgewater and pizza at Porto in North Bergen. She also likes the dal tadka and saag paneer at the Indian restaurant Kinara in Edgewater.
But she says she cooks most nights, and “The Oz Family Kitchen” includes a number of her generously seasoned vegan and vegetarian recipes. Following a plant-based diet “is not really expensive, it’s much cheaper if you’re not buying meat substitutes.”
And as for the chopping and planning involved? “No one expects to just boil macaroni and serve it and pretend that was your pasta, right? So I think we just need to have a bit of a paradigm shift with the way we approach vegetables, and realize that with some seasoning, some herbs and garlic and a little olive oil, they taste amazing.”