Â Â Delicious Cuban/Latin Cuisine Ranks High Above the Norm
Â By Sally Deering
Â When the Hard Grove CafÃ©â€™s original owner Domenic Santana opened the Jersey City restaurant Â on Grove Street in the early 1990s, the neighborhood was not as affluent as it is today and Santana offered locals more of a diner menu where you could get a peanut butter & jelly sandwich for a buck ninety-nine.
Times have changed and the restaurant has changed hands a couple times. In 2005, Evelyn Padin and Carmen Mendiolaâ€”two practicing lawyers and Jersey City residents â€“ decided to try their hand at running a restaurant and purchased the Hard Grove CafÃ©. They kept on Chef Rafael Valdespino and the trio created a menu of Modern Latin Cuisine that is refined and delicious. Instead of the soupy beans and sticky yellow rice typically found at many local eateries, the Hard Grove CafÃ©â€™s beans are light, the rice is fluffy and both dishes are seasoned gently.
â€œCarmen is Cuban-American and Iâ€™m Puerto Rican and we were looking for something,â€ Padin says. â€œWhen we saw this place, Carmen didnâ€™t want it closing down. Like everybody in the neighborhood, weâ€™d known Domenic for years. So Carmen said letâ€™s give it a go.â€
And they did. Similar to how they run their law practices, Padin and Mendiola oversee every detail of the restaurant while working double-duty at their law offices.
â€œEvery place has its checks and balances,â€ Padin says. â€œYou have to hire the right people.â€
The food has to be great, too, Padin says, and Hard Grove CafÃ© has definitely raised the bar with a menu that features Starters, Soups, Salads, Sandwiches, Burgers and Entrees. Soups are the Cuban Black Bean and Grandmaâ€™s Chicken Soup; salads include the Shrimp, Chicken, Mango-Avocado Salad with cilantro dressing; the Crazy Hemingway Skirt Steak Salad; and the Gloria Estefan Salad of romaine lettuce, sweet plantains, grilled chicken, and melted cheddar cheese with creamy lime & cilantro dressing.
Â For entrees, customers can choose Chicken, Beef or Seafood dishes like the Lemon Salsa Chicken; the Herb-Roasted Chicken with Chimmichuri Sauce; the Crispy Fish Tacos;Â Seafood Paella; and Ropa Vieja, slowly- braised shredded beef with onions, red and green peppers and Latin herbs. Thereâ€™s a vegetarian menu and a kidsâ€™ menu, too.
â€œWe offer vegetarian dishes with a Latin twist and a kidsâ€™ menu because no matter how messy they can be, kids are always welcome here,â€ Padin, who is also the mother of a four year-old, says. â€œEverything is fresh. When customers sit down, we give chips and salsa, and our salsa is made from scratch every day. We make our own chips fresh every day, too.â€
The Cocktail menu features a section of Skinny Drinks all under 200 calories like the Coconut Strawberry Daiquiri. Hard Grove CafÃ©â€™s Signature Drink is the Mojito with Bacardi Rum. This Mojito is refreshingly tasty because the mint is muddled and the lime juice is freshly-squeezed and not a store-bought mix. The drink comes with a real stick of sugar cane and itâ€™s likely one of the best Mojitos youâ€™ll ever taste.
â€œWe thought how are we going to brand this restaurant? It has to be the Mojitos,â€™ Padin says. â€œThe public knows these Mojitos are banging.â€
To spice things up, a salsa band entertains on Friday nights and Hard Grove CafÃ© hosts a weekend brunch where for $20 customers can enjoy unlimited Mimosas and Bloody Marys when they purchase an entrÃ©e. The thought-process behind Hard Grove CafÃ©â€™s Latin Menu, stellar service and hip atmosphere is to give customers something theyâ€™re not going to get somewhere else, Padin says.
â€œFood has to be original and creative and it has to be sexy,â€ Padin says. â€œUltimately, when youâ€™re in the restaurant business itâ€™s all about the service. I can go home and cook a burger myself, but I come to a restaurant because I want service.â€
If you go:
Hard Grove CafÃ©
319 Grove St
Open Daily: Mon-Wed, 11 am – 11 pm
Thurs and Fri, 11 am to 1 am
Sat 10 am to 1 am
Sun 10 am to midnight