Porta – Montclair

Porta - Montclair
Porta - Montclair
NJ Town: Montclair
Cuisine: Italian / Pizza / Brunch
Bar Type: Cocktails

I think this joint was a comedy club at some juncture. I also vaguely recall a glitzy party that involved velvet ropes and lots of cop cars for the cast party for Jersey Shore that spilled out of its doors and onto Bloomfield Avenue some years back. But for the last while it’s been Porta, a mish-mash of Italian and pizzas that is also a bar and also a place that sometimes has live jazz and/or drag brunch. It’s casual and relatively trendy. Which essentially means it’s loud and not everyone there has gray hair.

The space itself is kind of funky. Which isn’t surprising considering its many former incarnations. It’s set up for larger groups and is a bit all over the place setup wise once you get in the front door and past the bar. The restaurant is kind of dark, despite the front of it being all windows. Thematically it plays in the browns and dark grays with framed and large black and white mural photographs of vintage Italian stuff. Dudes on Vespas. Fishmongers. That type of thing. It’s actually nice having a place where you can bring eight to ten people and get a table without them having to rearrange the entire dining room or roll their eyes into the back of their heads while trying to accomodate you. Granted, you’re essentially sitting on picnic benches in some cases and high stools in others, but it feels communal and fun. Which I think is the general vibe they’re going for here. Party atmosphere and all that.

The one thing that you do have to get used to here is the way they do service. I think it’s something that has become a trend in the last few years since COVID, but their “we bring out your food as it’s ready” style of service pre-dates that and really irks the hell out of some people. It smacks of laziness or poor planning. They make it seem intentional, but that’s a dubious claim. Thing is, after one time here you get used it, get your expectations in check and move along. It’s not ultimately great when you’re only four people and one person gets their pizza and then another person doesn’t get theirs until ten minutes later, but you just gotta plan. Get apps. Drink your drink. Try not to get annoyed.

The weird service thing aside, the servers themselves are usually terrific, quick and friendly. And when you’re at a large table where you’re sharing some of the best fried calamari you can find around these parts and maybe a salad or their homemade cheese or meatballs, it creates less of an issue because you’re not just sitting there with your stomach rumbling as your co-eater digs into their hot pizza. It’s not a large menu by any stretch, but the appetizers (most of which I’ve listed) are actually really decent. But the star, if there is one, are the pies. They’re those individual Neapolitan pizzas cooked in a brick oven that have the kind of puffy crust and a nice wood-fired tinge to them and a good chew to the crust. I’d go Margherita, or even the meatball if you’re feeling frisky. They do have booze, but for some reason this type of pizza with a Coke is just heaven. I mean, honestly, pizza is pretty damned near a perfect food no matter what. If you’re not a pizza kind of person — which clearly makes you a sociopath — they have six or seven simple pastas (including one that’s just buttered noodles) that are actually not bad. Whatever way you go, if you have enough wine, fill yourself with carbs and get used to the noise and atypical service, Porto can be a fun night out with your medium-est group of friends.

499 Bloomfield Ave. – Montclair