Eno Terra is a restaurant that seems blessed and cursed at the same time. What were the odds that the upscale Kingston eatery, just over the Princeton Township border, would have been caught up in a flood that is only supposed to happen once every 500 years?
But then again, what were the odds that after Hurricane Irene’s flood waters destroyed much of the restaurant’s equipment–none of it insured–that five weeks later, the restaurant would be back with an all-new menu?
Raoul Momo, who owns the restaurant with his brother Carlo, said the good outcome had less to do with luck and more to do with the fact that Eno Terra is part of the Terra Momo restaurant group that also includes Princeton restaurants Mediterra and Teresa Cafe as well as Witherspoon Bread Company.
With the help of the other restaurants, Eno Terra was able to pay its bills through more than a month of being closed, and hung on to 85 percent of its staff.
Star chef Chris Albrecht even came up with a new menu and a new approach to dining. But it would have been a different story without the other restaurants paying the bills while Eno Terra was recovering.
“If we were just one restaurant, it would have been a horrible situation. It would have been game over. I don’t think you could survive something like that,” Raoul Momo said.
Albrecht used the opportunity to come up with a new menu that features smaller plates of food and encourages diners to combine them to create unique meals.
“What has come out of it is a recognition of a new style of dining: one that is more interactive,” he said.
Eno Terra had no choice but to change its menu: it was that or go out of business. The flood took out its homemade pasta machinery and the downstairs refrigeration.
The famous grassfed ribeye over braised short ribs the restaurant was known for was out of the question. “Without that refrigeration, we had to focus on what the core essence of what this food was about, which is flavor,” Albrecht said.
Albrecht said dinners at Eno Terra are made up of three or four selections from the menu, rather than a single entree, and that patrons are encouraged to converse with the waiter to come up with the ideal combination of foods.
A new focus of the menu is foods from the restaurant’s own Canal Farm half a mile up the road from Eno Terra in addition to the food from other local farms. So much of the food is local, that most of it is not even listed as such in the menu.
“Our Canal Farm provides a daily taste of a place,” Albrecht said. The menu also features artisinal meats from Olli Salumeria. The food at Eno Terra is meant to be shared among diners. On some of the dishes, the plates are long and thin so they’re easy to pass around. Albecht said it’s all to encourage sharing and conversation.
“The menu can be so many different things to different people. It’s versatile in that sense,” he said.
One of the new menu items is sciacciate, a grilled Tuscan flatbread grilled to order that is somewhat similar to a pizza. “We were always about simplicity and a seasonal menu of fresh offerings,” Momo said. “We had gotten away from that … and with adversity, you make lemonade out of lemons. I think people get it and they love it more.”
Eno Terra is located at 4484 Old Lincoln Highway in Kingston. Phone: (609) 497-1777. On the Web: Enoterra.com.