Prospect Road runs East/West from State Road 7 to North Dixie Highway in Oakland Park. This road buzzes with daily activity, and businesses thrive all up and down, keeping traffic moving and creating city sounds throughout the day. Each morning by 5:30, people start to knock on the doors of one of these businesses. Behind its very humble store front, employees scurry getting coffee, pastries, or breakfast for their patrons. The New Jersey Grocery & Deli is alive and running. The owner, Solange, greets her clients by name often catching up with their daily lives and updates on their families as she serves them their orders.
I am fortunate enough to have visited New Jersey Grocery & Deli for my very own experience. From arriving at the location to leaving, it was a very positive experience that I think everyone should have. The store front tells a story of longevity. It’s simple, humble, and has seen many years, which to me only proves how successful the owners have been and how hard they must have worked to thrive as long as they have. I also got a glimpse of truly how small the world can be.
When I entered the store, I was wearing my mask, as these are signs of our current times during the COVID-19 pandemic. The owner, Solange also wore her mask. But almost in sync, our eyes met, and we both had unseen, hidden smiles ear to ear. Solange is the mother of a boy I used to tutor a couple of years ago. I was always so fond of her son, and we did not continue tutoring because we both felt he was doing just well on his own. The immediate flashback of fondness gave me a warmth that matched the warmth of the ovens in the store.
After exchanging updates, and pleasantries, a few clients came in. Solange excused herself to attend to them and I took this as a quick opportunity to check out the inventory of the grocery side of her business. I was so happy to see several products that reminded me of the products sold in South America. I was momentarily transported back in time and I could almost hear the market sounds from my childhood. I thought what a treasure trove!
At last, Solange had a few moments and she told me the story of how it all started. Twenty-seven years ago, her uncle left Uruguay in search of the much sought after American Dream. His initial travels brought him to New Jersey, where he stayed for a while, but his journey ultimately brought him to Oakland Park. With struggles and hard work, he was able to accomplish opening the deli and grocery store. He wanted to name it after the state that welcomed him to the great United Stated of America to give him the opportunity of a fresh start and a shot at his dream. It didn’t come without sacrifice or struggle, but his dream came true and now, his niece, Solange has continued to keep his dream alive.
The way the smells in the shop wrapped around me, I knew I had to try their food. Solange’s crew prepared for me their two most popular sandwiches: “The Chivito” and “The Cuban”. My taste buds were aflutter with each bite I took. I’ve had Cuban sandwiches before, but something unique about this one made me dance with delight. But the winner was the Chivito sandwich.
How can I describe to you the flavors upon tasting this meat and egg sandwich? If you have seen the Disney movie Ratatouille, you can imagine Little Chef while tasting food. If you have not seen that movie, basically, Little Chef (a rat who cooks and loves food) saw colors and music with each bite of flavor. This is what it was like for me.
I also tasted a “Melt in your mouth” desert called “Milhojas”, which translates to “a million leaves”. It is layer upon layer of flakey perfection with rich caramel filling and a sweet glaze of perfectly crafted icing layer on top. I certainly wasn’t leaving there hungry! Until the pandemic and teaching virtually online, I was teaching at one of Oakland Park’s local schools. Had I known this gem of a business was here, I probably would have been there every morning shouting “Take my money!”. I certainly would try their array of sweet breads, pastries, croissants, and “tequeños”. I also tried a mouthwatering Papaya milkshake which added to my symphony of flavors. I wish I could have tried their whole menu right then and there!
So many businesses during this unprecedented pandemic have been forced to either limit their services to the public, or close altogether. The fact that this small business has not been affected by the challenges posed by COVID-19 filled me with hope and relief. Solange said, “Nothing really has changed. We never closed. The only adjustment we made was to take away the few tables and chairs we had. But other than that, it’s been business as usual.”
According to Solange, what excites her the most about coming to work are her clients. She values their presence and their loyalty. She smiles behind her mask and tells me, “Don’t be fooled. Google lists our hours as opening at 6 a.m, but we have eager clients at the door as early as 5:30 a.m.!”.
She has the same people come in that she knows by name. Her favorite part of her day is when she can slow down and talk to her clients as if they were old friends. And I could see that! During our interview, she didn’t skip a beat while a few of her usual crowd would come in to pick up “their usual”. Her staff is a well-oiled machine as they moved swiftly in sync with each other getting everything ready without hesitation or doubt. Every person that came in, I could tell had a huge smile behind their mask.
Most cities have hidden gems, Oakland Park is no different. The New Jersey Grocery & Deli is a diamond in the rough. While Prospect Road is known for hosting many bustling businesses, it holds this humble, modest store where you will be greeted with friendly faces, served with quality, tasty food and drink, and you can shop for essentials for the home including nonfood items for the home such as cleaning supplies or baby wipes. It is a place where I will be back as a client myself. My only regret is that I didn’t know about them sooner.
Anamaria Moreno is an Elementary school teacher. Born in Costa Rica, but mostly raised in Venezuela, Ms. Moreno came to South Florida in 1996 where she has resided ever since. She graduated from Lynn University, with a degree in Early Childhood Education. She has taught in the classroom for 18 years, most recently teaching the first grade for the past seven years. Before becoming a teacher, Ms. Moreno was involved in volunteer work with the Child Life Specialists Department at Miami Children’s Hospital. She also served as member of the Board of Directors for “A Caring Pregnancy Center” in Miami. Most recently, Ms. Moreno has taught at an elementary school in Oakland Park. Ms. Moreno also teaches ESOL to Adults in Night School. When Ms. Moreno is not in the classroom, she enjoys baking custom specialty cakes, face painting, and enjoys creating Arts and Crafts.