RED BANK: STREETS TAKE ON ETHNIC FLAVOR

john street block party 2014An antipasto, above, went with this year’s food from your heritage” theme at John Street’s annual block party. Below, plating up some southern fried chicken on Elm Place. (Photo by Jim Willis. Click to enlarge)

By JIM WILLIS

elm place block party 2014 3The ritual end-of-summer block party is more than just a great excuse to hang out in the middle of the street, catching up with neighbors you’ve been too busy to see all summer. For many hungry Red Bankers, it’s an opportunity to sample a smorgasbord of eats from their neighbors’ kitchens.

Take Elm Place, which has been throwing an annual block party for at least 14 years now, according to resident Tom Labetti. For the latest edition, held Saturday, a 30-foot buffet table was laden with heaping plates of fried chicken, pulled pork, buffalo wings and other potluck  staples. But many of the neighbors PieHole spoke with seemed to be mulling around just waiting for Margaret Ilarraza to bring out the Puerto Rican chicken she makes every year.

elm place block party 2014 4Margaret Ilarraza’s Puerto Rican chicken is a much-anticipated favorite at the annual Elm Place block party. (Photo by Jim Willis. Click to enlarge)

“The neighbor’s call it Puerto Rican chicken, but it’s just chicken,” says Ilarraza, who’s lived on Elm Place for over 40 years.

“Everybody likes it, and it goes a long way. I put adobo and garlic and salt and pepper and… I’m not going to tell you the last ingredient because it’s secret,” says Ilarraza.

Ilarraza’s sister, Rose, comes down from the Bronx every year for the party, bringing Spanish rice. “We grew up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood, so our take on food is basically Puerto Rican,” she told PieHole.

John Street, which now also has 14 annual block parties under its belt, has been known to bring a more competitive edge to the potluck.

“We’ve had contests in years past where neighbors compete for best ribs, or meatballs, or chili,” says homeowner  Jeff Senkeleski.

“Every year, we try something different,” he says. “This year it is ‘food from your heritage.'”

“I made my mom’s antipasto, she’s Italian,” says Senkeleski, crushing PieHole‘s prejudicial hopes for a pierogi or some kielbasa.

Other ethnic heritages represented included French, with a chicken francais, and Puerto Rican, with rice and beans.