Hard Grove Café Re-Hangs Its Cuban Star on First Street
After 3 Years, Traditional Cuban Dishes Are Back in Downtown JC
By Sally Deering
Its been three years since Cuban cuisine-lovers could duck into the Hard Grove Café in Jersey City for a traditional Cuban sandwich. Well, good news! On June 26, Hard Grove opened its new restaurant & bar on First Street off Newark Ave, and so far, customers are stopping by for Hard Grove’s traditional Cuban fare and a freshly mulled Hemingway Mojito.
“June 26th was our ‘soft’ opening,” owner Evelyn Padin says, “In this industry, it’s not smart to rush into a grand opening.”
An attorney with a passion for cooking, Padin and her partner Carmen Mendiola co-owned Hard Grove Café when it was the go-to corner bistro on Grove Street. When the duo moved Hard Grove to its First Street digs, they brought with them Hard Grove’s original chef Rafael Valdespino, bartender Julie Cordero and floor captain Mario Lin.
“They’re like our family,” Padin says. “Three years we waited to open, and so far, we’ve been blessed. We have old customers that already came in and a lot of new customers that are dropping by.”
Hard Grove’s menu features traditional Cuban Empanadas, and the very traditional Ropa Vieja (shredded beef). There’s Pueblo-Style Guacamole & Plantain Strips, the Hard Grove Burger, Calle Ocho Salad with Cilantro Dressing, Hemingway Skirt Steak & Eggs, Huevos Rancheros, Eggs Benedict and, of course, the Cuban Sandwich.
“We have the best Cuban sandwich on the strip,” Padin says. “We’re known for our pork; we roast our pork.”
Starters feature Golden Empanadas (2), the Crispy Taco Trio, Codfish Fritters, Fried Calamari, Stuffed Plantain Cups, and the Hemingway Sampler. Entrees include Lemon Salsa Chicken, Citrus Grilled Chicken, Hemingway Churrassco Steak, and Salmon Filet & Shrimp in Lemon Sauce.
And then there are the drinks. Mojitos are the star of the show and served several ways like the Classic with crushed mint & sugar cane, the Desperate Housewives topped with champagne; the Electric made with Bacardi & Blue Curacao, the Diablo mixed with Tequila & Crème de Cassis, and the Cacapa made with premium aged rum.
On Saturday & Sunday from 11 am to 3 pm, Hard Grove serves a special brunch menu with dishes like the Lucy & Ricky French Toast stuffed with guava and cream cheese, drizzled with guava sauce and served with a choice of chorizo sausage or smoked bacon, the Belgium Waffle, and the Breakfast Burrito. For a little fizz to the brunch menu, Padin offers a Bloody Mary/Mimosa special: two hours of a “bottomless” glass of your choice for $15.
“That’s a bargain these days,” Padin says. “We have a great brunch. “Our French toast stuffed with guava & cream cheese with a guava drizzle is amazing. We have jumbo waffles with fruit compote. I have a chef I hired just for this.”
Hard Grove’s been open less than a month and already certain dishes are turning one-time customers into regulars. The Mofongo is a hugely popular dish, Padin says, made with fried green plantains that are mashed like a potato and served with pork cubes that are marinated in garlic and fried. Its served with jumbo shrimp in a creole sauce.
“I’m passionate about food,” Padin says, “and I love the restaurant industry. I get so much joy out of it. The creative part comes out of me, its creativity that it offers. Not to mention, I know how to cook. It’s always been my passion – and I’m successful at that too.”
Day-by-day, Padin, Mendiola and their staff at Hard Grove continue to build on the restaurant’s successful return to the downtown Jersey City community. It takes hard work and commitment, Padin says. Future Hard Grove plans include entertainment and special cigar nights. Padin is bringing in a cigar roller and along with the freshly-rolled cigars, a special scotch menu will be on hand. And don’t forget to try out the Patio and dine al fresco alongside the hand-painted mural.
“We’re happy we’re back home,” Padin says. “We may be in a different place, but we’re happy we’re here. We’re minority-owned and LGBTQ-friendly. We feel that makes us a special place.”
If you go
284 First St, JC