A Tasty New Find: Pearl Street Cafe

A well-seasoned chef makes memorable meals in Metuchen.

Once upon a time, in the late 1990s into the mid-2000s, there was a man in Metuchen known for his pierogies. His name was Dan Slobodien, and he had a swell restaurant called Dan’s on Main. You could get pierogies of all stripes as appetizers, entrees or even a side to most anything. I love pierogies, and I loved Dan’s on Main.

Sadly, all good things come to an end. Chef Slobodien moved on, doing time at Princeton University, cooking for lucky students there. Those of us not enrolled at the Ivy Leaguer mourned our pierogi loss.

But late this past spring, Slobodien came back to Metuchen to open a sweet little BYO called Pearl Street Cafe. It’s tucked away at the end of a side street—and there’s not a pierogi on the menu.

Darned if I don’t love the place. Even without pierogies. Turns out, Slobodien is quite capable of diverting my attention from stuffed pockets of cooked dough to dishes such as poutine, ramen, shawarma, bibambap, chopped salads and dips. And he’s found quite the pastry-side kitchen companion in a young fellow who makes a mean olive-oil cake.

They’re making the comfort foods for a new generation. It’s clear that in Slobodien’s time at Princeton, he learned a thing or five about what foods the younger set yearns for—and the foods that those with more, ahem, experience at the table will cotton to as well.

Take the poutine. It’s a bow to the Quebec classic of cut-in-house French fries slathered with a beefy gravy and topped with Cheddar curds that melt into the fries-cheese mix.


Snag the dip trio of smooth hummus, chunky caponata and smoky-earthy, diced portobellos you can scoop with pita chips. Consider a chopped salad with a Mexican accent, flush with black beans and corn, avocado and tomato, crisp jicama and greens. The chef builds it all on a foundation of quinoa, bringing a nutty, nourishing note to the dish, then tops it with matchsticks of fried tortilla.

Mexican chopped salad

You get the idea. Slobodien is serving forth a world of comfort foods.

The menu has sections for burgers and also for sandwiches. But I find as I look over the menu that I cannot resist the bowls, so first we snatch a shoyu ramen plumped by shrimp and scallops and noodles that have sopped up a broth of rousing strength and depth. We also bob into the bibambap like it was filled with apples instead of gobs of beef infused with warming spices, thick slices of shiitakes and threads of spinach and bean sprouts. The seasonings are passed onto the rice and the topper of fried egg, making this one hale and hearty dish.


Looking for chicken comfort? Do as we did and order the chicken shawarma, with hunks of deftly seasoned chicken sharing a bowl with a salad of chickpeas, tomatoes and cucumber, a big dab of hummus and a pool of herbed yogurt. Eat individually, at first, then give it all a swirl to let its elements mingle—and enjoy all over again.

Chicken shawarma

By this time, we are sated. But every sandwich that passes by en route to another table is driving me crazy. So we get a Cubano. Glad we did. The slow-roasted pork is pulled and spiced, with a citrus base acting as unifier, then layered with country ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles. A humdinger.

Speaking of humdinger, Slobodien’s pastry chef Gabe Francobandiero may claim no experience before joining the Pearl Street Cafe crew, but his lemon-glazed olive oil cake is as profound and technically precise as if it was baked by a Mediterranean mamma living amid her own olive groves. (It’s topped prettily with raspberry ice cream, too.) Not only that, his Key lime parfait rebuilds the classic pie by layering crushed Graham crackers in the middle and sprinkling crumbs on top, while his pots-de-creme is given the perfect touch of salted caramel to bring the custard-to-flavor ratio to just-right proportions.

Lemon-glazed olive oil cake

What a find this is!” my dining companions say as we leave Pearl Street Cafe. I was so taken with the place, I didn’t have one pierogi thought the entire dinner.

Pearl Street Cafe, 10 Pearl Street in Metuchen. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday. 732-662-1600; pearlstreetcafe.com.

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