NJ Dining: El Caney (UPDATED)


El Caney
49 West Church Street, Bergenfield, NJ
(201)374-1107

FaceBook Fan Page: (El Caney)

Sometimes, the best food isn’t served in restaurants.

In this particular case, I want to smack myself in the head for only just finding out about a tiny little take-out only place only minutes away from my house that has been open for an entire year. I’m usually pretty on the ball about this kind of stuff, but somehow, El Caney, literally a shack in Bergenfield across the railroad tracks which was serving perhaps some of the best Cuban food I’ve ever eaten had escaped me.

Well, let me correct myself. It WAS a shack. As Roy Scheider said in the movie Jaws, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” In Spanish, that would be loosely translated as “Necesitamos una Canoa mas Grande”

El Caney is back, but it’s no longer a shack. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

El Caney  is owned by Tony Gonzalez, a former compliance officer at a large investment bank on Wall Street. I guess he felt that standing on his feet twelve hours a day in a little shack was preferable and less stressful than dealing with stock traders! Tony, his wife Cynthia and his mom make all the food at El Caney from scratch, and you can totally taste it.

The new location has a lot more room for standing as well as more kitchen space, so the business will be able to produce more food without running out too quickly.

Mama cooking pork chops in her new kitchen.

Chuletas (Cuban Pork Chops) simmering in the pot.

Making a big batch of mojito, the garlic-laced condiment for many of the dishes.

A mojito extreme close-up.

A curious shrine… to the New York Yankees and to Mofongo, the smashed plaintain dish.

Tony tapes up his first earned dollar in his new store.

A big ‘ol pot of Ropa Vieja, Cuban shredded beef.

This is the old location right across the street on West Church, #48. Due to the overwhelming amount of business it received, the family needed to find a bigger store, so they moved across the street.

The original El Caney was a tiny little place, named after the Taino indian name for longhouse, a large traditional communal family dwelling. The small Cuban village of the same name was also the site of a momentous battle during the Spanish-American War. I guess was this is sort of an inside joke.

The new location is actually considerably longer and bigger, so now they really can legitimately call themselves “El Caney”

The collection of hot sauces. Nothing at the stand is served spicy, but everything is very flavorful, so if you want to add heat, you’ll want to reach for a bottle.

The various decorations at El Caney make you feel like the heart of Cuba is beating in it.

The menu is limited and is centered around daily specials  – some, but not all are listed on this sheet. You need to ask for what they make on a daily basis, and they run out of their best stuff early. I got there on a Monday night and ordered one of everything.

El Caney also makes killer Cuban sandwiches out of Pernil (Roast Pork Leg) which have been marinated overnight and then cooked slowly for 10 hours.

I’ve made a lot of Cuban sandwiches. I’ve eaten them in Union City and Edgewater, Miami on Calle Ocho and environs, and Tampa and I have to say El Caney’s is one of the best I’ve ever sampled, particularly for this part of Jersey  – lots of juicy marinated slow cooked pork, just a small amount of ham with pickles and garlic mojo, mustard, swiss cheese with pickles, as well as thin slices of chorizo to add a special flavor. Really good.

In the video posted below, you can see how they make them.

A takeout order being prepared — the top container is Masitas de Puerco (fried pork cubes) with Yuca Frita and yellow rice. The bottom is Picadillo, the traditional Caribbean Latino ground beef mixture seasoned with sofrito.

Yuca, being boiled before frying

Tony couldn’t bear to have me sit and wait for my food, so he put two marinated pork ribs in the deep fryer and put them on a plate for me to eat. I nearly burned my hands eating these, but they were fantastic.

Mama cooking up some Moros y Cristianos, black beans cooked with white rice. Also referred to as Arroz Congrí, this is a very popular Cuban rice dish.

Fricase de Pollo before heading into the oven

Fricase de Pollo (Chicken Stew)

Cuban Beef Stew (Carne con Papas) with Yellow Rice and Yuca Frita

Tony making sure quality control is up to par.

Tony’s wife Cynthia showing off a Cuban-style tamal.

Cooking up some peppers and steak.

Which lands on Cuban sandwich bread…

And is topped with French Fries…

Which is then “painted” with the garlicky mojito and then pressed, panini-style. Trust me, you want one of these.

Pastelitos, empanada-like pastries filled with chicken and beef.

A baby-sized pastelito.

A potato and ham Croqueta, direct from the deep fryer.

Croqueta cut-through.

The kitchen at the original location was incredibly small and tight, but somehow they managed to produce a tremendous amount of good food in here.

Baked Chicken, cooked in its own juices

These are Tostones (deep-fried green plantains) formed into cups and stuffed with the seasoned beef mixture (Picadillo). If he has them, get them. Oh yeah, on Fridays, he stuffs these with Garlic Shrimp. You wanna bet that this post is updated on Friday?

Well… I went back on Saturday!

Mixed dinner plate of Picadillo, Masitas de Puerco, Yuca Frita, Platano Maduro over Yellow Rice.

Various desserts, including Flan (egg custard), Arroz con Leche (rice pudding) and Tiramisu. Not shown here is a special dessert that I had on a previous night, a chocolate cake fused with flan called Flancocho which originates from Puerto Rico. It was outrageous.

Flan (egg custard) freshly un-molded.

43 Responses to NJ Dining: El Caney (UPDATED)

  1. Scott says:

    Cool, I have to check this place out! Its right in town!

  2. smd says:

    Great find! We’ll take a drive up for real Cuban food!

  3. Beth E. says:

    Looks delicious. Are they opened on the weekends?

  4. Scordo.com says:

    Hi Jason

    Great find. It’s the spot above that makes eating out a viable choice – high quality food, made by the owner, at great prices. You know I’m a big believer in making the food one consumes, from scratch, at home but authentic ethnic food at places like El Caney convince me at times to eat out (or take out!).

    Vince from Scordo.com

  5. Frankie D says:

    I’ve been getting my Cuban fix here since they opened. Definitely worth the drive if you’re out of town. If you live on Bergenfield then you need to be here!

  6. Pete says:

    My wife and I go there. We are both Cuban. This is the closest to getting the true flavor of Cuban cuisine. Tony, the owner, rocked the town with this one. Thank you!

  7. Maidie says:

    Want a taste of Cuba? Go here. You will not be disappointed. Take it from a true Cubanita. Go for the daily specials — sooooooo yummy! Boliche and the Picadillo..just like my Mima cooks it!

  8. JamesG81 says:

    It’s so funny. I was in this area for the first time ever for work yesterday and passed by this place. I said to myself, If it was any good Perlow would have done a write up already. Odd coincidence.

  9. arturo j farinas says:

    Awesome food ..

  10. lex says:

    i too am surprised it took you this long! This place cranks out some seriously good AND affordable eats and has made the loss of the Cuban Cafe more palatable. Their fried yucca is perhaps the best thing that’s ever emerged from a fryer and their ropa makes me want to swoon.

  11. Edward says:

    Jason, great recommendation. I had the chicken stew last nite and it was as good as it looked.

  12. Kate says:

    Ha! Fink and I have been eating at this place for well over a year now… we should have thought to tell you. The Cubans are amazing, and the owners are always very sweet to our impatient ‘lil Finkster. So good….

  13. david wilson says:

    eppis essen?

    eppis trinken?

    eppis zu denken?

  14. Eric says:

    Jason,

    I have to kindly disagree with you on this one. This, to me, is Cuban food at it’s worst. Everything I tried was subpar. For the record, I had the cuban sandwich, red beans, yellow rice, fried yucca, fried potato ball with picadillo stuffing, pernil, and a piece of chocolate cake that was half flan/half cake. Not one thing was good. Sorry…..I mean, I usually agree with your recommendations, but this time I feel you are way off.

    *Are they close friends or family? Hey, I understand.

    • Pete says:

      Eric, I have to totally disagree with you. I’m a Cuban American and this food reminds me of the way my mom cooks. By the way I’m not related to the owner.

    • Maidie says:

      Nope, not personal friend OR family. Good one though… lol

    • cgwestwood says:

      Eric, after having tried the food at El Caney I have to kindly disagree and say that you’re crazy. Not only is the food at El Caney cooked with love and soul that you can taste in each bite, but it is by far the best value in the entire county. Maybe it’s not served on white porcelain with little sprinkles of chopped parsley like at Little Havana NYC, but when you can get two very large and tasty complete meals from El Caney for the price of one ropa vieja entree with boring black beans and bland white rice at Little Havana NYC I think you’ve entirely missed the point.

      • Eric says:

        I tried it again just to make sure I wasn’t the victim of a bad batch of food the first time. Unfortunately, it was just as unexciting as last time. The food is mediocre at best, sorry. Let’s be honest. I guess not too many here have not had really good Cuban food.

      • Eric, you’re allowed to dislike things other people like. But you might want to check in with the Bergen Record soon. :)

  15. Eric: They are certainly not related to us and while they are very nice people, the owners aren’t personal friends of ours.

  16. Eric says:

    I was being facetious. However…..might I recommend you try a Little Havana in the West Village of NYC. It has good Cuban food. The website is http://www.littlehavananyc.com .

  17. david wilson says:

    The King Kong of Fressors hits a homerun again. I ate there yesterday and it was just like you described it Jason.

    Very nice friendly people. The food was excellent and very moderately price. I’d call it a bargain. Now that the weather is getting mild, sitting outside at the few tables, overlooking the railroad tracks, is a pleasant way to eat. There is no question that this is a Cuban place. But it is also a New Jersey urban place too. What I mean by that is the easy familiarity and kinship that you can choose while sitting around the intimate setting of the tables with strangers.

  18. Walter says:

    Just went to El Caney today. The Cuban sandwich was one of the best I have ever had. Got a free sample of the picadillo and it was so good i ordered a sandwich with picadillo. The empanadas where also some of the best I have ever had anywhere, pan fried and delicious.

  19. JR says:

    Jason, why was my comment deleted?

    Here it is again:

    Went to El Caney on Firdaty. Had the roast pork and pescado special. The food was bland and portions on the roast pork were tiny. I won’t be going back to El Caney again.

  20. I went to EL Caney a couple of weeks ago and had the best Cuban sandwich I ever tasted. Tony also let me try his amazing Yuca y bacalao, which is my wife’s favorite. I went back for more this week, and the place is closed up, with a FOR RENT sign in the window. Does anyone know what happened to this gem of a restaurant? DId it move? Expand? Help!!!!!

    • They moved across the street. Might not be open yet.

      • Rachel Perlow says:

        They reopened today, right across the street. Jason put some new pics above. He was there for lunch and didn’t bring me some of their awesome ropa vieja, so he’s in trouble. Lol. Beautiful evening… a piccadillo sandwich al fresco sounds like an idea for dinner.

  21. tom k says:

    they have relocated across the street to a bigger location!!

  22. Gabe says:

    According to northjersey.com, they were forced to move because their landlord jacked up the rent after northjersey ran a feature on them last month. The place across the street was a hot dog joint looking to move out so they took over their lease. Haven’t been but I will be soon because it looks to be the real deal.

  23. Eric says:

    Oh my….the great Bergen Record says they have cheap tasty food. Let’s run to get our orders in, I mean, after all, such a reliable source of food critique says we should. I understand everyone wanting to give them a good review because they are very, very nice people and we all want nice people to succeed. However, the food is still subpar. I do not care what the Bergen Record says, never did. They are more often wrong than right. I can only give an honest opinion.

  24. Mike P. says:

    Eric, Please tell us what you think was wrong with the food. Not enough garlic? Too much salt? You’ve repeatedly said “not good”, but fail to be specific. The people here (the commenters) seem to be people who have been eating Cuban food all their lives, like myself. I haven’t tried El Caney yet, but I’ll likely try it soon
    .
    The appearance, and the apparent ingredients, from the photos, indicate to me that this is food *exactly* like my mother cooks, like you can get in any Miami eatery (and have been able to get since the Cubans moved into Miami in numbers).

    The flan looks exquisite (one of the hardest Cuban dishes to get precisely right), and the ropa vieja looks spot on. The pastelitos and the croquetas look authentic as well. The moros, the yuca, mojo from scratch??! These are time consuming dishes and condiments to make, and the repeat business El Caney gets indicates that you may, in fact, be the outlier here.

    Forgive me, but to clarify in case there is misconception: Might the naysayers be confusing savory Cuban food with spicier Mexican fare, or Caribbean/Jamaican Jerk-style seasonings? While a little more subtle in some ways than these styles, they are very different, and might put off someone expecting something different.

  25. Mike P. says:

    Went this weekend, Friday before Memorial Day. The naysayers are WRONG. This place is terrific! Everything my wife and I had (carnitas, moros, pasteles de guayaba, empanadas de carne, Cuban sandwich, oxtail (rabo), red beans over yellow rice, faln, flancocho, even the Cafe was terrific. And to be specific, everything was properly crispy/soft/textured, flavors were very good (nothing fancy, but nicely garlicky and properly seasoned), the desserts were very nicely prepared and tasted terrific, the cuban sandwich was outstanding, and the moros were actually some of the best I’ve ever tasted, including (blasphemy!) my own mother’s.

    Now to be sure, it’s more of a take out place than a sit in (there’s a tiny table inside, and a couple of picnic tables outside) but while I was there, I was served graciously, a had a nice chat with the owners who were working their tails off, and i enjoyed outstanding food. It seems like the kind of place every neighborhood should have.

    Please check this place out if you like Cuban food – it was worth my 3 hour trip!!!

  26. Tongo Rad says:

    Another thumbs up here. Waaaay better than comparable take-out places in the city, like Tina’s or Sophie’s, which I know are more Cuban-style than true Cuban, but that seems like more of an apples-to-apples comparisson, or even the original Migdalia’s. I will definitely be going back.

    One thing should be made clearer, though, is that they don’t serve everything every day; you can only get that chicken fricasee on certain days, etc.

    The sandwiches, however, seem to be an everyday item, and they are worth going out of one’s way for. They do take a good time to make, with the constant basting of that garlic oil, but even that’s worth the wait. I can’t recall that texture of the bread on any other Cubano I’ve had, and it’s definitely special around these parts.

    I wish them well, with continued success.

  27. andy says:

    Jason,
    thanks for you video post on Twitter!
    Been going almost every week since. Tony is so gracious and the food is AMAZING!

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