On our way back home from visiting family in NY my wife and I stopped at Minabela Restaurant which is about 2.5 miles off of 95. I had been there many times as a child but hadn't returned in at least 15 years. It's set in a ..um.. questionable neighborhood but they have their own well-lit lot.
Arriving at 7pm on a Sunday we walked into the side door which led to a rather dingy working-man's bar. We were seated in the fairly large dining room all by ourselves, never a good sign, and to complete the effect, the lights were off in half the room. Being chowhounds, we stuck it out.
We started with the house special "fried" shrimp (not really fried, pan sauteed) which were served in a rich, garlicky brown sauce along with fresh baked portugese rolls. The plate held 5 relatively small shrimp, they were just okay, but we cleaned the plate clean of the delicious sauce with the warm bread.
For our entrees I chose the Pork with Clams and my wife had the rabbit, a special that night.
Served in a typical Portugese 'hot-pot' were about 9 littleneck clams with bite-size chunks of pork, topped with fried potato chunks and swimming in a delicious garlicky sauce filled with fresh herbs. The pork bits we delicious, tender and rich. The clams were good, if not numerous, and were cooked just about right. I asked for more bread to sop up the juice - it was that or go for the spoon!
My wifes rabbit was served with generous portions of rice, fried potatoes (thick chip style) and sauteed kale. The rabbit was braised in red wine and was delicious. I didn't try the rice but the kale was excellent, clearly fresh and sauteed to order with visible flecks of garlic. The was rabbit quite good, much like the other things we had very rich and garlicky but also salty as well.
We also had a bottle of Gato (sp?) vinho verde and took an order of flan to go (my wife had the desire but not the room). The bill was ~$55 incl. tax (entrees were ~12.50, Shrimp app was $8 and the wine was $15).
Overall, while clearly not up to the standards of Newark's Ironbound area, I would return to Minabela. The service was fine, the chef's wife I suspect, she was also the bartender in the relatively busy bar area.
While certainly not a 'destination' restaurant it makes a nice mid-way stop for us on our return to our home in Madison on the CT shoreline. The only real complaints I have is that the ambiance left quite a bit to be desired and the shrimp for $8 felt like a poor value - I don't mind the quantity of 5 but these we 25-30 to the lb or smaller size shrimp - that sauce sure was yummy though!
1282 North Ave
exit 24 off 95 I think...