By Chris Sturgis
Stuart Alexander, owner of Simply Radishing, chose a life of soups and quiches over a life of writs and torts.
After studying political science for four years at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, his parents wanted him to go to law school. Instead, he moved to Atlantic City and worked in the restaurants.
“In the early years of the casinos, I was young and had a lot of energy. There was a lot of money to be made as a server,” Alexander said. He grew up in Yardley, Pennsylvania. His father owned Alexander’s Twin Pharmacy in Hamilton.
He also had the opportunity to work in the gourmet restaurants of two casinos at their openings, Harrah’s Resort and the Claridge Hotel. Then, he moved on to the Ground Round’s manager training program, and opened and managed a Marita’s Cantina in Princeton.
In the mid-1980s, Alexander was tired of working for the restaurant chains and wanted to open his own place, somewhere between New York City and Philadelphia. The Dandelion Café, tucked around the corner from Strauss Auto Parts at the Lawrenceville Plaza, was available, affordable and had plenty of parking.
Alexander renamed the place Simply Radishing since he wanted a play on words that people would talk about. Radishing made sense because the previous restaurant specialized in salads and he wanted to carry on that tradition. Alexander credits his wife, Elizabeth, with helping him create the restaurant. They met when she came to work as a server, but she decided to try office work after about 10 years at the restaurant.
Eventually Alexander had to step into the role of chef. “At first, I was panicked, but then it was fun and creative.”
In some ways, Alexander turned his back on what he learned in the chain restaurants. They put a meal in front of customer quickly by reheating food that was cooked ahead of time, he said.
Not so at Simply Radishing. “I make my own soups. I make my own quiches. I make a total of 16 salad dressings from scratch,” he said. “We roast our own turkeys, which takes up most of my morning. At night, the chef is making dinners from scratch.”
Simply Radishing serves pea soup on Mondays and New England clam chowder on Fridays with other soups in between, including gazpacho in the warm months. The quiches are broccoli, spinach and mushroom, and bacon and onion and mushroom.
All that cooking-to-order is much slower than simply re-heating, he said. So he decided customers wouldn’t grow restless if they made a visit to the bread table while they waited for their entrees. The table features a variety of fresh breads from the Italian Peoples Bakery and a choice of butter with herbs, garlic or cinnamon and sugar.
The made-from-scratch strategy paid off with loyal clientele, Alexander said. The tough thing is that a menu gets boring without new items, but regulars will complain if their favorite dish disappears. So the menu grew from one page to four.
He is working up a new bill of fare that will feature wraps, grilled pork chops, chicken and steaks, and a “build-your-own” dinner where customers will choose their own meat, sauce and side dishes.
“I like being my own boss,” he said.
For more information, call Simply Radishing, 2495 Brunswick Pike, Lawrenceville, at (609) 882-3760. On the Web: simplyradishing.com.