Lending a helping hand; comfort food from Latin America in Montclair (Robin’s Nest)
By ROBIN WOODS
For Montclair Local
Have you ever met someone who you take to immediately, as if you’ve known them for years? There was an instant connection between Melissa DiMarco and me when we first met at the 50+ Drag Bingo event in October 2021, sponsored by Out Montclair.
A 15-year resident of Montclair, Melissa started her company, Run Around Melissa, in 2018. We met for a long coffee chat while she explained what she does, as the name could mean just about anything.
Her career path seems random and all over the map, as she earned a bachelor of arts in political science and speech, and completed the journalism program at American University. She also has a background in writing and marketing for television news and worked as a teacher in between.
As owner and president of Run Around Melissa (RAM), she assists homeowners and real estate agents in preparing homes for sale, including downsizing, estate sales, online sales, whole house clean-outs and carpentry.
Guiding seniors, or elders, as she prefers to call them, is the favorite part of what she does. She values all of her clients, and knows when a little hand-holding or encouragement is needed.
Her job keeps her running around locally and sometimes to other towns and states, and she said, “I didn’t plan any of this, and it’s been amazing the way it’s evolved. I was all over the place and wanted to see if I could find something that sticks. I help people.”
RAM uses a hometown crew of local appraisers, electricians, plumbers, handymen, interior designers and garbage-removal companies. Melissa goes into homes recommended to her by real estate agents and makes sure that there is a clean slate for photos to show when a listing is made, assisting in clearing out clutter.
For some, the hardest thing to do is to get rid of their furniture and other possessions that are taking up too much space, and RAM guides clients through the process of taking down any personal items, sorting and packing them into the categories of Keep, Sell, Throw Out or Donate.
Melissa suggests that we should get rid of something every day, which she said is harder for some of her elder clients, who “might be hoarders who save everything because they grew up with literally nothing, and save broken appliances, indoor/outdoor furniture, and clothes that they’ll never wear again.”
Melissa is also known for her volunteer work, organizing fundraisers for people in town who experienced devastating house fires and coordinating furniture delivery to replace what was lost.
I asked her what she would take if she had to leave her home quickly due to an emergency, and she said, “I would take my purse, client folders, laptop, cowboy boots and my favorite Sophia Webster platform glitter heels.”
A visit to Minia's Montclair
After all the planning, packing and moving that you’ve done, it’s time to take a break to eat and relax. Head over to Minia’s Montclair for a taste of authentic Latin American food. The small, cozy restaurant is owned by Lorena Coitinho and Mariel Fernandez. They are partners in business and in life, opening Minia’s Montclair on Oct. 28, 2021.
Their first restaurant, Minia’s Breakfast and Lunch, opened in Bloomfield in 2011 and has a loyal following of people who enjoy eating the foods from their native countries all over Latin America, with family recipes from Brazil and the Dominican Republic, to cite just two examples.
Mariel learned to cook from her abuela (grandmother), Maximinia Herrera, and named the restaurant after her. Abuela died just three months before Minia’s Montclair opened, and she wanted to serve what she learned to prepare as a child from the recipes and cooking techniques shared by family. “I came from the Dominican Republic, and my parents cooked a lot. We only went out to eat in restaurants on very special occasions.”
Lorena came to the United States from Uruguay, in an economic move to find better opportunities in a country where she only had a few friends. She worked in the fast-food industry for 12 years, saying, “This gave me the discipline and know-how to run a business and go through the necessary steps to do so.”
So, how about the food? I rarely eat at restaurants due to my many allergies, but I couldn’t resist the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen. I ordered the small bites but quite substantial serving of tostones, twice-fried plantain slices, freshly made dipping sauce of garlic, spices and olive oil on the side, and a flavorful and crunchy arugula side salad.
The tostones were crispy, light and delicious, something I couldn't make at home if I tried. I asked for the exact recipe, but the best cooks don’t divulge all of their secrets. Lorena said, “Seasoning is the key to the cooking, and we use a lot of garlic, lime and oregano in many of our dishes, especially in our chicken. You can try to guess our secret ingredients.”
I brought my food taster with me, Woody Woods, who loves a good Cuban sandwich made with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, mayonnaise and ketchup. He left only a few crumbs on his plate.
The order of avocado toast had a Latin twist to it, and I’m curious to have him try the Mangu, made from mashed plantains and served with two eggs over easy, fried Tropicano cheese, Dominican salami and sauteed onions.
This is only served on the weekends, and I can live vicariously through the meals of others or go there at 8 a.m. and enjoy a freshly baked guava with cheese pastry while sipping excellent coffee, cappuccino or fruit smoothie.
As we close out 2021, another challenging year, I want to wish you all happy, healthy and harmonious days throughout the New Year 2022, when you’ll read about the new people and places I encounter while gallivanting up and down Montclair.
In this article:
Run Around Melissa (Melissa DiMarco)
22 Lackawanna Plaza
Robin Woods is a local girl-about-town, writing about activities, stores, restaurants and interesting people that catch her eye. She’s written memoirs and personal essays, as well as music and fashion columns for various New York City newspapers. Her writing awards include the Shirley Chisholm Award for Journalism and the Director's Award for Essex County Legacies Essay contest.