PARSIPPANY — As you travel down the full 8/10ths of a mile of North Beverwyck Road, of what is downtown Lake Hiawatha, most people not familiar with the area would easily be deceived into thinking that there is no way that hidden among an unassuming, and quite frankly, an unimpressive row of sporadic little storefronts, there lies a myriad of ethnically diverse, high quality, family-owned culinary gems.
This dining experience took me to the south end of that stretch to yet another relatively small, family-owned, store-front eatery that can easily be considered one of those hidden gems. Churrasco Grill, which has been a staple in Lake Hiawatha since 2005, is well known to many locals for serving delicious, authentic, unique, and flavorful cuisine originating from the beautiful Countries of Argentina and Peru.
Churrasco might be a little place in size but is big on flavor and individualized customer service and care; a genuinely welcoming and friendly venue, complete with a wood charcoal grill, imported from Argentina to maintain the tradition and authenticity of the dishes, as well as a rotisserie oven which together might be considered the stars of the restaurant.
The open kitchen atmosphere, which unfortunately is currently obstructed from full view due to COVID-related protective barriers, will hopefully be enjoyed again in the not-too-distant future; where you be able to watch, and smell, your steak, seafood, or other personal selection being cooked to your personal perfection. Churrasco Grill, snuggled within a row of other storefronts can be easy to pass by if you are unfamiliar with the area, but their eye-catching signage out front helps make it stand out and easy to locate. The interior is classy and nicely decorated, providing a relaxing Latin American ambiance; cozy, casual, warm, and inviting with colorful and attractive South American inspired original oil paintings, all created by the owner’s daughter, Claudia, (who was also our attentive and cordial server) adorning the walls throughout the restaurant. The light from the front windows keeps the interior bright, intimate, and airy, accentuating the limited but well-appointed tables. I should mention that Churrasco is immaculately clean, the tables are well separated, and they ensure that everything is in full compliance with all current health and safety protocols, and it is BYOB. There is a liquor store just a truly short walk away in case you forget to bring along your favorite bottle of vino. Street parking only for this establishment but there is plenty of available spots in that area.
For those hesitant about dining indoors, Churrasco does offer outdoor dining (comedor al aire libre) in a comfortable and nicely decorated enclosed courtyard in the rear of the restaurant. The Courtyard is available, weather permitting, and as of this writing is being thoughtfully decorated with additional tables, plantings, and other decorative items in preparation for our quickly arriving, comfortable outdoor conditions. An exceptionally large, colorful, floral wall mural, again painted by Claudia, highlights the exterior wall and certainly adds to the South American vibe.
Churrasco Grill is a true family affair in every sense of the word. Owner, Juan “Jose” Perez, who everyone knows simply as Jose, enjoys working with his two sons, Juan Jose Jr. and Christopher, and daughter, Claudia, together with running all day-to-day operations of the restaurant. Carmen Perez, Jose’s wife, also prepares all the delicious homemade desserts. It was clear to see Jose’s great pride in his family, and in his restaurant, as he walked me through a requested tour. He was sure to point out Claudia’s artwork, especially a painting called, “Line of Nazca” which hung above our table and is representative of Peruvian ancient culture. Jose also pointed out some intricate decorative cork that he obviously saved from hundreds, if not thousands, of wine bottles to painstakingly create a decorative touch to accentuate his walls. He obviously has a lot more patience than I do.
Jose, a great host, and true gentleman, and a pleasure to talk to, recounted that he was born in the wine-rich province of Mendoza, Argentina, and arrived in American in 1971 speaking little to no English. As many exceptional restauranteurs do, he learned his craft and paid his culinary dues by experiencing and working at many jobs at various restaurants while honing his restaurant and management skills. As a busboy, waiter, short-order cook, he went from a French restaurant to Top of the Sixes, to Rockefeller Center, and even as a short-order cook in a fast-food steak eatery on 42nd Street, all in NYC in the ’70s and ’80s, finally making his way to Lake Hiawatha in 2005.
As our discussion continued, my group ordered some of Churrasco’s most popular appetizers; the Shrimp Iza, Ceviche, House Salad, and Empanadas. The Shrimp Iza; nicely prepared with good size sautéed shrimp with garlic served over a generous bed of baby spinach, along with sides of yuca that were soft and tender on the inside while light and crispy on the outside, exactly right. The 4 homemade baked Empanadas (beef, chicken, and mushroom), which is one serving, were deliciously crispy, crunchy, and loaded with savory, juicy, tasteful fillings. The House Salad offered a bright and fresh presentation of Romaine, cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions, while the citrusy taste and spicy flavors of the fresh Ceviche, a true seafood treat, was certainly a star addition to the meal. The portion sizes of each dish were ample and more than adequate for our group to share and enjoy.
Looking over the menu which offered a nice combination of Argentinian and Peruvian cuisine, it was a tough challenge to decide between the seafood and meat selections. We all eventually went carnivore this evening and ordered the Mix Grill (flank steak, sausage, pork loin, chicken breast served with grilled potato and tomato onion salad) and Churrasco (wood charcoal grilled skirt steak served with potato and vegetables). We all thoroughly enjoyed our meat dishes which were cooked perfectly to our individual and separate specifications; well-seasoned, nicely grilled, tender, moist, juicy, expertly marinated, and savory. Plus, this is a generously sized serving of meat so bring your appetite.
Obviously, by now I was adequately stuffed but Carmen’s (Jose’s wife) homemade Argentinian and Peruvian desserts await. As we sipped on our Espresso and Cappuccino’s out came the Tiramisu and Alfajores, compliments of Jose. Alfajores, little cakes filled with Dulche de Leche (a thick caramel sauce-like filling) are petite, yet decadent, creamy, crumbly little treats that went particularly well with our coffees. Of course, the Tiramisu (ladyfingers soaked in espresso and rum and laced with creamy mascarpone) is always a winner.
Thanks to Jose and his family for the great meal and sincere hospitality. Nice size portions, reasonable prices, outstanding and friendly service, beautiful ambiance (inside and out). Churrasco should most definitely be on your must-try list of wonderful, local, family-owned and operated restaurants. I certainly would recommend giving it a try. I am confident you will be happy you did.
As always, please remember to come out and show our support to all our small, independently owned local businesses
Churrasco Grill (Argentine & Peruvian Cuisine) is located at 137 North Beverwyck Road, Lake Hiawatha. (973) 263-1590. churrascogrillnj.com; Eat-In – Take Out – Catering – Private Parties – B.Y.O.B. Closed Sunday and Monday. Tuesday – Saturday 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.