There are some people that may call Portuguese Manor in Perth Amboy dated. Some may complain that the decor and menu has not changed in at least 12 years (that’s just how long my family and I have been eating there; they have been in existence much longer). But with that reluctance to change comes a bit of charm and eternal greatness. It is not necessarily a step back in time—its not that old. But I would surmise perhaps the late 1980’s or early 90’s is when they opened, and the overall business is probably unchanged. The good side to a menu that refuses to alter is that the prices, somehow, have also stayed the same. This means you can get a massive filet mignon served with a large side of saffron rice, Portuguese fried potatoes, and mixed vegetables for $19. Yes, you read that correctly. There is no other place on the planet where you will get such quality and quantity. Sometimes you may find yourself unable to even finish your portion.
Every visit to this establishment has become a tradition, in an almost ritualistic sense. I am set in my ways, and usually, when I find a dish of pure gold in a restaurant, I stick to it. The appetizer is always the shrimp in garlic sauce. On an ovular silver platter it arrives, filled to the brim with 20 or 30 baby shrimp, tossed in a magnificent oil with pieces of toasted garlic. The freshly baked bread that the restaurant gives you on the house becomes the perfect mop with which to sop up the remaining oil when you are finished with the shrimp. Do you need anything else in life? It took more than 10 years of coming to this place for us to try a different appetizer. We have ventured out into the sampler, which includes stuffed mushrooms, baked clams, and bacon-wrapped scallops. They are also really good—I love the stuffing, which is real crab and what they use in their entrees. Each meal also comes with a house salad, and a homemade dressing that I can best describe as a zesty thousand-island.
As for the main course, I usually alternate between two types of filet mignon. The first, and best, is the one served “a portuguesa”, which comes topped with a slice of ham and a garlic-wine sauce. It is beyond reproach. The other would be the house special filet mignon, titled after the restaurant’s name. They bring this one to your table flaming, and with a crock of some of the most heavenly mushroom sauce you will ever eat in your life. For the non-steak lover, their paella and seafood combos are also very good and adequately priced. Then there’s the Zarzuela, a spicy seafood stew, which was worthy of a post of its own. I’ve actually had that the last couple of times. It has turned this carnivore into a seafood lover.
For drinks, there are not many tables that do not have a pitcher of sangria on them. It is the house specialty. On busy nights, when you enter the building and walk through the bar area towards the dining room, you will see a row of pitchers lined up on the bar, filled only with orange juice and fruit, and waiting for the bartender to add either red or white wine upon your order. If I remember correctly, it is $20 for a large, and worth every penny. There is hardly any ice and the pieces of fruit are small—they do not mess around.
Even more remarkable than the food and spirits is the service. It is simply impeccable. Again, I repeat, I have been dining here more than 12 years. I swear they have had the same exact staff. Certainly the same bartender and two head waiters (who are more like maitre’d’s, each in a tuxedo), but it sure seems like the bussers are the same people as well. That definitely says something about their business, especially in the times we live in now where it is sometimes hard to hold on to employees. They must be treated well. Once we get there, we always request the same waiter (I wish I knew his name to write it here, because he is deserving of the accolades) and we usually end up with the same table.
He always has a smile on his face as he travels around the dining room. The place could be burning down around him, and he would still be pleasant. His attention to detail is personal and unmatched. After two or three visits, he remembered what we ordered and how we like it cooked. He remembers everything from visit to visit—even my request of their homemade hot sauce with malagueta peppers. I don’t even have to ask anymore. If someone is unsure of a dish they want to order, he is quick with a suggestion. No matter how busy the dining room gets (sometimes he is by himself if there is a party upstairs in the banquet room, and they send the other waiter up there), his service and attention is the same.
Every time I eat at Portuguese Manor, I feel as if I am in an Anthony Bourdain episode, where he is in some far-away European country dining in an eternal, old-fashioned restaurant that refuses to change with the world around it. The heart just keeps on beating, never wavering. I certainly hope this place never changes. It’s probably the only restaurant I could eat at every week and never get sick of. That is an accomplishment. If I had 24 hours to live, I’m eating my last meal here. 5 out of 5 stars.
Portuguese Manor is located at 310 Elm Street in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.