Five star

Do the photos look vaguely familiar? Did you watch the Sopranos?  The producers used several restaurants to stand in for Vesuvio’s – Artie’s first restaurant from the acclaimed HBO show, before it became subject to arson.

“In reality, Vesuvio’s is actually Manolo’s, a fine Spanish restaurant in downtown Elizabeth, NJ,” notes the Sopranos on Location, in its section Dining with Sopranos. The website is fun and we thank them for pointing us to Manola’s – which ranks easily as one of the top five restaurants where we have ever dined.

The website first led us there, and we drove along the Elizabeth waterfront, in the shadow of Goethals Bridge, past the oil tanks and many trucks unloading or exiting the Front Street Transfer Station of Waste Management, to the empty streets of downtown Elizabeth. As Teresa Politano of the Newark Star Ledgar points out, going from exterior to interior is like walking from one movie set into another, with the same stark extremes and contradictions that made the HBO series so compelling. Once inside, it was WOW.

The menu is Spanish Mediterranean, and the day we visited, Cajun tuna was on the menu. The tuna, pork and chicken selections were sublime.

Trust us, Manola’s is a must-stop if you’re driving along the Jersey Turnpike, a destination in itself and worth the extra jaunt from Connecticut, Long Island, the city, Westchester or anywhere in New Jersey.

Politano also praised Manola’s in a review: “The restaurant is all about Old World sophistication – white tablecloths, wooden tables, hushed tones. The service, too, is Old World – attentive, sophisticated, solicitous and unobtrusive, such a refreshing counterpoint to the frequently too-casual American style. ”

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