Brunch in Princeton: Cargot Brasserie

Ham and Gruyère Omelet Mornay Sauce

Brunch at Cargot Brasserie

Cargot Brasserie opened near the renovated railroad station in Princeton last year (2017)—a welcome addition to the University Campus’ new Arts and Transit Neighborhood opposite McCarter Theatre. Fenwick Hospitality Group, which also owns Farm-to-Table Agricola in town, has an agreement to run both Cargot Brasserie and the nearby American Dinky Bar and Kitchen, a casual bar housed in the former passenger station.

The Setting for Brunch

I arrived early today as I was planning to walk around town until the “Hearts Afire” ice sculpture event at Palmer Square in the afternoon, and I wanted a leisurely day. The entry way opens onto a pretty, easy-on-the-eyes, yes, beige room, with a large bar, a banquette lining the opposite wall facing cane chair seating at moveable tables for two in one room and a large dining room in another.
It was quiet at 9:00 a.m. when I was seated and still comfortable an hour later. Inexplicably, the flat screen over the bar was broadcasting a soundless Midwest weather report for the entire hour. As a solo diner, I notice these things.

Fusion Polite Service

Service is fusion polite. There are lots of questions—”Water, still or flat?…With your croissant—butter or jelly?… The potatoes served with the omelet are fried in duck fat, or would you prefer a salad?” At the next table, the server began, “Good morning, gentlemen, can I get you guys something to drink?” My server was training a colleague, so there was some duplication of politesse, which was endearing.
The brunch menu focuses on French classics—croissants, pain perdu…my ham and Gruyère omelette was dressed lightly in Mornay sauce. Fenwick owns a farm, and the well-presented food is delightfully clean and fresh, and the cappuccino is generous.
One note—the croissant, ordered separately from the omelet, tasted wonderful, except the texture was less flaky than one desires. I had requested the butter, which arrived nearly frozen and inoperable, so I cannot give you a perception of its taste. These are things to work on. The omelet, by contrast, was perfection as was the lightly dressed salad. The service was timely and unrushed and offered with polite smiles.

Beyond Breakfast at Cargot Brasserie

At Cargot, you can purchase pastry items to “grab and go” as early as 7 a.m. if you are rushing to the train or, on a vacation day, to the canoe or kayak rental nearby. The restaurant serves Breakfast, Brunch on the weekends, Lunch, Afternoon Café Menu, and Dinner—including raw bar, and plats du jour, plus a pre-theatre menu, all French-inspired and sourced from the owners’ Great Road Farm. Cocktails, beer, and French wines from all regions, interspersed with those of a few other nations, complement the traditional and modern brasserie offerings. Make a reservation to avoid disappointment. I will be back to explore.
Cargot Brasserie Bar

The Bar at Cargot Brasserie

Where do you get the kale in the winter? Ask Farm-To-Table Agricola Restaurant in Princeton!

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So, it seems a little nutty to be heading to a farm to table restaurant when the mercury can’t find its way above freezing, right? But I’m on a mission to find kale salad, so I’m taking the 40-minute trek to Princeton.

Agricola: Fenwick Hospitality Group

With a nod to the previous establishment, Lahiere Restaurant, a nearly century-old Princeton institution, Agricola  opened to great fanfare in 2013. Big shoes to fill, and as a sentimental gesture, the Lahiere sign will continue to hang, in homage, above the street. Executive Chef and Partner, NJ-born Josh Thomsen has brought Napa credibility to the challenges of farm-to-table in the sometimes wintry Garden State. Along with partner Jim Nawn who owns the nearby Skillman farm cultivated by Steve Tomlinson, later joined by Kyle Goedde, Fenwick Hospitality Group has brought delight-your-mouth-and-senses meal experiences to the area. Fenwick also introduced the French brasserie Cargot, across from Princeton’s McCarter Theatre last year, and they also operate the nearby Dinky Bar & Kitchen. Welcome additions to the local scene.

Savoring the Farm-To-Table Experience

Ambience is casual and Agricola simply furnished with a lot of wood—tables, floor–and ceramics on the walls. When it’s crowded, the dining room is not the place for an intimate meal, but if you are looking for convivial and loud, you’ll enjoy. My meal was enjoyed near the end of the lunch hour where noise subsided gradually to more peaceful surroundings.

Needing to take off the chill, I began with the smooth, delicate local potato and leek soup finished with crème fraiche and chives and crispy croutons. The soup arrived at a perfect temperature for immediate consumption so necessary on a chilled winter day. I had planned ahead to try a desert, so I followed up with the crave-worthy organic kale salad, dressed with radish and carrots, pumpkin seed vinaigrette—generous and delicious. Next time, I will doubtless be tempted by various items, including LoRé Beet Rigatoni, or possibly Hangar Steak, if they are still available. Prices peaked at $17 for the Margherita Flatbread appetizer, or $25 for the steak, with plenty of options. The wine list is international and the bar presents whimsically titled libations—“Wake Up and Smell Four Roses”—along with non-alcoholic hot and cold selections, including house-made flavored sodas.

Saving the best for last, I had to try the ricotta beignets and fruit, and I am so happy I did.  Don’t scold. The fluffy beignets arrived with sweet roasted seckel pears, currants, milk chocolate crema, almond crumble. These accompanying flavors were the perfect complement.

Beignet

What about the Kale?

The kale salad is one of Agricola’s specialty items, so I had to ask because it’s February, and the local farms are covered with snow and ice. The answer was gladly researched by the wait staff, and I learned about Zone-7 Farm—a New Jersey farm-fresh distribution service for 120 sustainable area farms.  They deliver produce, grains, meat, and dairy to restaurants, school services, and supermarkets from New York to Philly. The Great Road Farm itself cultivates 120 different vegetables during the growing season. In the summer, yes, there’s also some greenhouse farming to keep the kale flowing.

Treat Yourself Well

Agricola is a warm and welcoming restaurant, serving brunch on the weekends, lunch on weekdays, dinner, and an abbreviated afternoon bar menu. Ahem—it’s almost Valentine’s Day—take a look at the menu.

Open every day, Agricola is located at Eleven Witherspoon Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08542.

Reservations recommended, especially for large parties:
(609) 921 2798
info@agricolaeatery.com

 

 

Thrills, Chills, and Palpitations: Cirque Italia in New Jersey!

 

Cirque Italia tent (1 of 1)

Well, the state parks of New Jersey, along with many other services, are mostly shut down due to a budget dispute, so on Sunday, I was looking for some holiday weekend  fun. Last week when I was driving out of Woodbridge Center, I noticed circus tents in the parking lot proclaiming—”Cirque Italia.” A traveling circus with a European flair. I had to find out what that was about, so I bought a ticket.

In a state that doesn’t shock easily, it would be a good thing to get a dose of humorous awe, and Cirque Italia does not disappoint. It delights. From the first release of low fog clouds to the last contortions of a Cuban contortionist, the Gold Unit international players of “America’s First Water Circus” do a tremendous job of reminding us of what it’s like to play and be amazed. There’s something for everyone in this one-ring extravaganza with high production values, and, yes, a lot of water. 35,000 gallons in magically appearing fountains and pools. Did somebody say “send in the clowns”? They’re there, and they’re funny–and they can dance! All the good things you remember about high wire, juggling, and acrobatics persist, and the focus is on action. There’s only one non-human animal—a large and photogenic green dinosaur, who affably poses with families through the entire intermission.

I was sad about the end of Ringling Brothers, so I’m especially glad I found this show, created by Italian entrepreneur, Manuel Rebecchi beginning in 2012. Tickets range $45-$50 for these talented players hailing from, among other places, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, the U.S., Argentina, and Cuba. The troupe I saw (Gold Unit) is headed down the shore later this week, so you can still catch them in Mays Landing, July 6-9, and after that in other mid-Atlantic States. The Silver Unit is appearing in the mid-West, July 6-16. The website’s videos for the gold and silver highlight similar shows. Seats were full in Woodbridge, so get a ticket before you go if location is important. Bring plenty of cash for cotton candy, face-painting, popcorn, fluorescent drinks, led toys! Plus, it’s a day away from our media circus in the intimacy of the Big Top—priceless!

Get off my back!–Rodeo Practice April 26, 2015

Roping the Bull at Cowtown Rodeo.

Roping the Bull at Cowtown Rodeo.

Ok, so Rodeo and New Jersey don’t usually appear in the same sentence. Unless you know about Pilesgrove, NJ’s Cowtown Rodeo, a South Jersey institution since 1929. Not only is there a weekly rodeo at Cowtown all summer, the Harris family’s Saturday night show lays claim to being “the oldest weekly running rodeo in the USA.”

The season begins on May 23, so I recently scoped out a daytime practice, where wannabe wranglers can get their feet and everything else wet—well, er, dusty. A horse and a few angry bulls didn’t kid around. The longest ride was about 90 seconds—which seemed like an eternity compared with the others. Shouts of “Get Up! Get up!” shocked the fallen dudes back to reality just in time to avoid the animals’ revenge. True to form, it took longer to re-pen the animals than to ride them, but that effort provided some edgy entertainment. A fearless spectator dog even got into the act to show the dudes a thing or two about rounding up the animals.

Looks like an exciting entertainment for a hot summer Saturday night, and a great way to bring those school vocabulary worksheets to life. Probably not the right birthday party for the squeamish child. Prior knowledge tip: How do you say rodeo in sign language? I’ll give you a hint—it’s as easy as twirling a lasso over your head!

The area around the Rodeo stadium allows you to explore your inner cowboy/girl with Cowtown Cowboy Outfitters nearby for your western wear and gear.

Beige Factor 9/10—Though it’s high on the violence scale for human and beast, I’ll be heading back there sometime this summer for an actual show. The sport is not kind. It puts into perspective another NJ passion—road rage. The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) affirms its commitment to livestock welfare and Cowtown is a member.

Cowtown Rodeo: 180 Harding Highway, Pilesgrove, NJ

 

Wild horse capture at Cowtown

Wild horse capture at Cowtown