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Best Dining Towns - Princeton

Posted January 31, 2008 by Valerie Sinclair

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Does anyone really need to explain why we love Princeton? Of course, there are the university’s impressive Gothic buildings and myriad cultural, academic, and sporting events.

Beyond that, if you close your eyes you just might be able to conjure up the presence of Albert Einstein or Princeton grads F. Scott Fitzgerald (’17), Jimmy Stewart (’32), Brooke Shields (’87), or even Josef Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, who defected to the West in the 1960s and worked in the university’s Slavic department. Today you still might run into esteemed figures like writer Joyce Carol Oates, a Distinguished Professor of Humanities at the university, who makes her home here. Factor in the Princeton University Art Museum, the McCarter Theatre, places with odd names like Drumthwacket and Morven, and Jasna Polana, onetime home to J. Seward Johnson of J&J fame—and now an exclusive golf club—and it’s easy to understand the town’s appeal.

When it comes to food, it’s worth noting that many establishments cater to the university crowd and are student-friendly in price, atmosphere, and menu selections. The whimsically named Moondoggie Café is popular with students because of its panini and deli sandwiches, flatbread pizzas, soups, wraps, pastries, coffee, smoothies, hand-dipped ice cream, and frozen yogurt. Recently, Al Yeganeh (aka the Soup Nazi) opened his first franchise, the Original Soup Man, in Princeton, so now you can wait in line for his famous soups here instead of schlepping to Manhattan. Be warned, though: Lines are already out the door.

Halo Pub, a Princeton legend, isn’t a pub at all but makes ice cream at its own dairy farm; cakes and coffee are also on the menu. Another popular ice cream joint is Thomas Sweet Ice Cream & Chocolate, which is crowded with kids of all ages at almost all hours of the day. The Bent Spoon, in Palmer Square, serves homemade ice cream, gelato, and sorbet in unusual flavors—try the clover honey ice cream or organic pineapple sorbet. Among baked desserts, the cupcakes are particularly good, and there’s fresh-roasted coffee and thick, rich, indulgent European-style hot chocolate topped with homemade marshmallows. The Bent Spoon has a rival for desserts in Chez Alice Gourmet Café and Bakery, also in Palmer Square, which serves light meals that include tea sandwiches and gourmet cole slaw (made with garbanzo beans, carrots, zucchini, cilantro, basil, and horseradish sauce); be sure to try one of Alice’s great desserts, such as chocolate macadamia tart, sacher torte, or mango mousse. If you should need to order a wedding cake, the ones here are fabulous.

As for restaurants, the grande dame is Lahiere’s Restaurant, where practically every famous visitor to Princeton has eaten. There are several dining rooms both upstairs and down, but the best is probably the main room, where you can watch the people walking by on Witherspoon Street. Classic Continental food is served with a wonderful wine list. Nassau Street’s Blue Point Grill, which specializes in seafood, has a new sibling, the Witherspoon Grill, an old-fashioned steakhouse with a full bar and a daily Blue Plate special. Just across the road is Bobby Trigg’s Ferry House, where the eclectic menu—where you can choose from menu items like Cajun crusted striped bass and grilled duck breast with puff pastry roll and and a black-pepper and ginger reduction—is pricey but considered by most to be worth the tariff.

The attraction at the Triumph Brewing Company is, of course, the artisanal beer and the bar scene; the casual food and atmosphere make this a good choice for a family with kids. Mediterra is a bustling casual restaurant with an eclectic menu. Though the service can be ho-hum, there’s no denying it’s a fun place, whether the food is great or mediocre on the night you visit. Nearby are Ajihei, a bare-bones Japanese storefront that serves some of the best sushi around, and Masala Grill, where you can indulge in Indian food without leaving town. If you are in the Princeton Shopping Center, Main Street Euro-American Bistro is the place to stop for a reasonably priced lunch or dinner; the menu changes monthly and can feature anything from hearty stews and Italian-style post roast to and shrimp Creole.

Many Princetonians consider Lawrenceville part of their backyard, and it’s worth the few extra miles to go to the Lawrenceville Inn, set in a charming old Victorian house with several rooms for dining and an open kitchen that serves contemporary American food at competitive prices. The popular, romantic restaurant Acacia, a little farther down the road, is also worth the trip; here you will find inventive American cuisine such as Japanese spiced shrimp and hanger steak topped with chimichurri sauce. For a simple meal with imaginative dishes and great desserts in a funky but comfortable setting with live music, then Lawrenceville’s Fedora Café is the place go.


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