Good Eats: Churrasqueira Europa
I must have walked by Churrasqueira Europa Bar & Restaurant hundreds of times without a shred of curiosity. The exterior is unassuming; the restaurant’s brick facade and barred windows make it seem like a dingy joint where locals or people spending the day at the court house may stop by to pick up a fast and inexpensive to-go lunch. Actually, Churrasqueira Europa is more of a must-try spot.
It’s larger inside than it appears from the street and has a charm to it, resembling a neighborhood breakfast diner. The dining area is long and narrow with a counter (which is also a bar), six tables along the opposite wall, and a larger back room with ten tables. The lighting is bright, the decor is minimal kitsch, and the crowd is diverse.
During lunch hour Monday-Friday, the restaurant bustles with patrons for its famous all-you-can-eat $8.95 buffet, chock-full of Brazilian and Spanish foods. Price points for dinner average at $18 per person if each gets his or her own entree, which all include bread, salad, and sides. I went during the less popular dinner hour and sat at the bar to converse with the wait staff and observe more of the action.
While it took me some stumbling to be able to speak with one of the owners—the waiters were skeptical about my intentions, as the owners and staff speak little English—I finally met Mario Cordeiro, who quickly warmed up to me thanks to my dining companion/ translator-in-tow.
Mr. Cordeiro has worked in the restaurant business his entire life. As a young boy, he took an interest in cooking, as much of his family life revolved around preparing meals. “I sort of fell into it and never stopped,” he said. Mario started his professional career at a restaurant in Newark, was dedicated in his training (“I’m always learning”), and worked his way up in the industry at various Newark restaurants.
Sixteen years ago, Cordeiro was presented with an opportunity to open his own restaurant in Jersey City’s Journal Square, and he accepted. Churrasqueira has thrived since—despite these hard economic times when many Jersey City businesses have had to close up shop—with a dedicated customer base and an increasingly growing following, even though the restaurant has no website, email address or online presence.
The food speaks for itself. To start, my date and I ordered a small pitcher of red sangria, which tasted great. (I later found out that they add Sunny Delight to the sangria, which I’ve never heard of anyone doing before, but perhaps that’s what gave it an extra zing.) Then, the waitress brought us a large house salad and fresh, delicious rolls from Teixeira Bakery in Newark. Our appetizer of Cogumelos (mushrooms stuffed with crab meat) was divine, with a balance of flavors and a pleasing texture. The portion was large (12 mushrooms), but you’ll want to save plenty of room for your main dish.
I was pre-warned about the generous portion-size by Jersey City resident and co-founder of Jersey Girls Food Tours, Alessia Aron, so when my companion wanted to order the Churrasco Argentine (a boneless cut of beef that is sliced thin as a steak and grilled over hot coals or on a very hot skillet) with shrimp and steak for two, I suggested we share the same dish for one. After all, we could always order more (which we didn’t need to do).
Cordeiro gets all of his meat and seafood from vendors in Newark, and I couldn’t have been more impressed with the quality of the food. The steak, cooked to a proper red-on-the-inside medium rare on a churrasco-style grill (which uses large skewers) was mouth-melting and barely tasted of seasoning; the meat didn’t need it for its natural pop of flavor. The shrimp tasted fresh, which I find a rare in local restaurants that aren’t centered around seafood. It was seasoned in an Old-Bay-type seasoning which complemented the steak’s flavors nicely.
Each dinner comes with three sides chosen by the restaurant, so there’s an element of surprise. Ours were yellow rice, french fries, and mixed California vegetables. Other nights you may receive potato salad, crab salad, macaroni salad, rice and beans, onion rings or roasted potatoes. The sides alone needed a large to-go box. We were so full from all of these dishes that we had enough leftovers to each have lunch the next day.
Besides traditional Brazilian “churrasco” style cooking & Spanish food, Churrasqueira Europa serves bar food like mozzarella sticks and chicken fingers, Italian dishes like chicken marsala, pasta and veal parmesan, gyros, and BBQ chicken and ribs. While I’m sure these are all fine, definitely go for the traditional food on your first visit. The seafood paella and lobster at a nearby table looked delicious, and I plan on trying that next. Language barrier aside, everyone who served us was warm and friendly, and you can taste that the food is cooked with passion and pride.
Churresqueira Europa offers catering on premise in its back room, where they host private parties, birthdays, bat mitzvahs, and even weddings. There are six catering packages in or out-of-house, starting at $12.95 per person (4 basic bar-type appetizers, BBQ chicken and ribs as an entree) up to $55 per person for more expensive appetizers, filet mignon and lobster tails as an entree, dessert (the flan and tiramisu are popular), and beverages including beer, wine and sangria.
The restaurant’s motto “Great food, fantastic prices” couldn’t be more true. People don’t go to Churresqueira Europa for the ambiance; they go for the culinary escape. If you close your eyes and focus on the taste of the food, you will think you’re in another country, and what’s better than an inexpensive getaway in your own backyard?
Visit Churresqueira Europa at 542 Newark Ave. For more info call 201.795.4230.
Two gallery photos by Gia Portfolio noted all other photos by Mickey Mathis