Michelle and Barry Klein didn’t have any formal training when they opened the Peasant Grill, but they still turned the eatery into one of the town’s most popular lunch destinations. Staff photo by Carolyn Steber.)
Michelle and Barry Klein didn’t have any formal training when they opened the Peasant Grill, but they still turned the eatery into one of the town’s most popular lunch destinations. Staff photo by Carolyn Steber.)

Cooking food for his buddies in college, Barry Klein never imagined that one day, he’d be serving up lunch for the whole town of Hopewell Borough.

Neither Klein nor his wife Michelle ever had any formal training before opening Peasant Grill in 2007, but you’d never know that from reading the reviews. The restaurant, best known for its sandwiches and salads, received the critic’s choice award in the sandwich shop category from NJ Monthly last summer.

Klein got his start cooking for his university roommates, who liked his food so much they agreed to do all the cleaning and shopping if he made the meals.

Many of the dishes served at the shop are ones that Klein came up with in those days. The best known example is the grilled flank steak sandwich, which is made with marinated flank steak, homemade peppers and fresh mozzarella.

The most popular salad is baby spinach with dried cranberries and candied pecans with balsamic vinaigrette.

While Michael makes soups and sandwiches, Michelle bakes desserts. She’s self taught, too, but does a brisk business with her homemade scones, banana bread, brownies, cookies and other desserts.

The Kleins, who are South Brunswick residents, have been busier and busier lately, as Hopewell Borough becomes known as an eating destination. They have noticed an uptick in business with each new restaurants that opens. Barry said he welcomes other eateries opening in town, and that more restaurants definitely help each other more than compete.

“It’s kind of like antique stores or the lighting district in Manhattan. The more choices there are, the more people are drawn to town,” he said.

The restaurant is small and cozy, with a home-like atmosphere.

“We didn’t go into a strip-mall because we wanted a community type of atmosphere,” Michelle said.

Customers get their food at the counter and eat at one of the tables. The Kleins work fast, with the system designed to let diners eat lunch and return to work in a hurry.

Peasant Grill comes from humble origins. In 2000, it was just a sandwich shop attached to a bar in New Brunswick called the Court Tavern. It only lasted 17 weeks, before it became too much work for Barry to handle in addition to his other jobs. He decided to do catering out of his house instead, which he did until he saw a location on Railroad Avenue that seemed like the perfect spot to open a restaurant.

The negotiations to rent that place fell through, but as Klein was driving through Hopewell one day he saw an even better spot, on Broad Street. By July 2007, the Peasant Grill was open for business.

The Kleins didn’t stop catering, however, and still offer catering and take-out dinner after the luncheonette dining room closes at 5 p.m.

Working breakfast through dinner is demanding, but also rewarding for the Kleins.

“It’s a taxing business,” Barry said. “It’s a tough business. Long hours on your feet are physically and mentally demanding, but when the accolades come in, and when you can make people happy, it’s worth it.”

Peasant Grill is located at 21 E. Broad Street in Hopewell Borough. It is open from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., with just take-out served after 5. On the web: thepeasantgrill.com. Phone: (609) 466-7500.

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Diccon Hyatt is business editor of U.S. 1. He has worked for Community News since 2006 and was previously community editor of the Ewing Observer, the Hopewell Express, the Lawrence Gazette, and the Trenton Downtowner. From 2003 to 2006, he was a general assignment reporter for the Middletown Transcript in Middletown, Delaware. In 2002, he graduated from the University of Delaware, where he was features editor of the student newspaper, The Review. He has won numerous awards from the Maryland-Delaware D.C. Press Association and the Association of Free Community Newspapers for features, news, and opinion writing. He is married and lives in Marlton, NJ.