Forget everything you know about the tonjiki of 11th century Japan upon entering Koro Koro (538 Jersey Avenue, Jersey City; 201-432-9030), downtown Jersey City’s Kickstarter-funded rice ball shop, now open a few doors down from Jersey Avenue’s Choc-O-Pain bakery. Partners Carrie Grosso and Vincenzo Bove have converted a former Polish travel agency into the region’s first cafe exclusively dedicated to the Japanese lunchbox eats, reinventing them with ethnically diverse meaty and vegan fillings pressed between hot white or brown rice, and wrapped up to order in triangles of fresh Nori.
Bove left his longtime position managing Taqueria LES to partner with Grosso, a veteran of the Jersey City restaurant scene who discovered the snack on a trip to Los Angeles four years ago. In just the past four months, they’ve built out their slim Jersey Avenue storefront, and they opened its doors last week after a successful last minute push for funding on Kickstarter. Koro Koro crowdsourced more than $12,000 in capital, repeating the success experienced down the street two years earlier by Thirty Acres.
Unlike Jersey Avenue neighbors Thirty Acres and Choc O Pain Bakery, the flavors here are a nod to the culturally diverse neighborhood, and so are the prices. While gentrification west of Jersey Avenue’s a foregone conclusion, it’s a surprise to find fresh, thoughtful, and imaginative eats for under $5.
While Grosso’s west coast inspiration only served traditional fillings like salmon and pickled plum — both on the menu here — the partners brought on a consulting chef to develop seven additional fillings including coconut and green curry chicken, ginger miso beef, and a fiery habanero roasted pork, as well as zesty vegan Indian, Moroccan, and Mediterranean options. Sides include wasabi cole slaw and a Japanese potato salad tossed with spicy mustard and shredded carrots that could serve as a course in its own right.
If you can’t figure out how to unwrap the sandwiches: Unlike the classic rice balls of the ancient Heian Period, the fresh nori here is wrapped in plastic to prevent it from getting too chewy, so follow the 1-2-3 instructions, or ask the owners for a hand.