Maybe you’re craving some chocolate chip peanut butter pancakes for breakfast (or dinner, or dessert). Maybe you’re thinking about lobster ravioli for lunch. Or maybe you’ve just got the urge to carve your name into a wooden table.
Princeton’s famous landmark, PJ’s Pancake House, wasn’t always the place to satisfy all those cravings. In fact, it’s only been possible to even dine at PJ’s after 2 p.m. since last August, when brothers John and Tino Procaccini came in as co-owners and partnered with original owner Martin Tuchman.
Since it opened in 1962 under the Tuchman brothers, PJ’s was all about exactly what its name states. The restaurant served up the famous pancakes every morning, until the buzz died down around 10 a.m., leaving only a few stragglers who popped in around lunchtime.
“Like most breakfast places, they closed at 2,” John Procaccini said. “But in a university town, when there’s so many kids and people walking around, it doesn’t make sense to close a business at 2 o’clock on the main drag.”
Procaccini said the restaurant’s reputation kept tourists coming in, but often times days would go by without him seeing a Princeton resident stopping in for breakfast.
“Everybody rested on the fact that there was a line out the door all weekend long, but it was just tourists who would come to see what this PJ’s was all about, and then they would never come back,” he said.
That’s when Procaccini made several changes to the menu. The pancakes stayed the same, but he added lunchtime and dinner options that had never been considered before. Breakfast is served all day, and the lunch menu is available after 11:30 a.m.
The brothers also own the Princeton Sports Bar and Grill and Osteria Procaccini in Kingston. Born and raised in Princeton, Procaccini said the pastas are all recipes their mother made while they were growing up.
But it’s not just Italian specialties like Linguine Vongole and Ravioli L’aragosta. Salads, burgers, sandwiches and more now span the revamped menu, and customers have the option to BYOB.
“Our menu, it’s so diverse, but we just filled in a lot of hollow spots that a breakfast and lunch place should have,” Procaccini said.
Aside from the pancakes, the breakfast menu was actually lacking some key items, Procaccini said. Part of the new menu included additions like eggs benedict (now a popular menu item), salmon lox, smoothies, steel cut oatmeal and parfaits.
Though the original idea was to invite in the lunch and dinner crowd, the breakfast-all-day option still attracts customers who don’t limit breakfast food consumption to the morning hours. While breakfast items are not a highly demanded item in the afternoon and evening, it’s not unheard of for customers to request breakfast at any hour of the day.
“You don’t see as many pancakes going out for lunch and dinner, but you do get a lot of omelets…I think eggs you can’t go wrong with any time of the day,” Procaccini said. “And then whoever gets pancakes at dinner, it’s just very little, but you can tell it’s almost like a dessert type thing. They order the pancakes because they want something sweet.”
On their visits to PJ’s, diners might also notice a sign detailing the rules of writing their initials on the tables. Every table at PJ’s is worn down with initials and names ingrained into the wood with pens or knives. It’s a tradition that’s been upheld since the day the restaurant first opened, Procaccini said. Even Brooke Shields and Christopher Reeve have carved their initials in the tables, though Procaccini doesn’t know which one.
“These are layers and layers of names on top of them. I don’t think we could find them even if we wanted to,” he said.
After launching the new version of PJ’s, Procaccini said his next endeavor is to make the restaurant more attractive to students. In April, the restaurant will introduce “PJ’s Starving College Student Menu,” a price-fixed menu available all day weekdays for any student with a college ID. For $6.95, a student may order an entreé and coffee or a soft drink.
PJ’s is open Sunday-Thursday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday-Saturday from 7 a.m. to midnight. Phone: (609) 924-1353. On the Web: pancakes.com.