This article was originally published in the June 2017 Princeton Echo.

The latest on Cargot

One of the most eagerly anticipated restaurant openings on the current Princeton scene is for Cargot Brasserie, the second, and final, eatery to open in the old Dinky train station buildings across from McCarter Theater. The first is, of course, the Dinky Bar & Kitchen, established last year by Jim Nawn’s Fenwick Hospitality Group (FHG), which also owns Agricola on Witherspoon Street and Great Road Farm. Here are the latest developments, straight from Anita Fresolone, FHG’s manager of marketing and community relations:

“The target for opening is the end of June. It is a French-inspired brasserie menu and will be serving breakfast, lunch, dinner. There will be a ‘grab & go’ component for the neighborhood with coffee, fresh baked items, and limited menu items packaged for convenience of commuters, students, and anybody in a rush. We have 130 indoor seats with two spaces that can be used for private events of groups from 12 to 70 people. There is a wonderful outdoor dining area that will seat up to 70.

Chef Alex Spitale, who has grown from our Agricola team and is now at the helm of the Dinky Bar & Kitchen, will be in the Cargot kitchen, along with executive pastry chef Liz Sale (formerly of BR Guest Hospitality, Maritime Park, The Bernards Inn). Liz will be adding Cargot to her baking roster, as she currently is creating desserts for Agricola and the Dinky Bar & Kitchen. Both are in the process of finalizing their menus.”

Stage Left raises a glass to 25 years

This popular, thriving New Brunswick restaurant reached the quarter-century mark in May, and owners Francis Schott and Mark Pascal celebrated with a little help from a friend. “Dale DeGroff, the father of the modern cocktail renaissance, helped us put together our first cocktail program in 1993,” the pair announced. “That made Stage Left one of the first bars in the country to join the contemporary cocktail movement, and the first in Jersey by about 15 years.”

On the afternoon of the Preakness Stakes, the cocktail maven — who is also an accomplished raconteur — saluted his old buddies and led a bourbon-based cocktail tasting while holding forth on his twin passions of whiskey and horses. The final cocktail was DeGroff’s renowned Belmont Breeze, which was for years the official drink of the Belmont Stakes. That race takes place Saturday, June 10.

Here’s DeGroff’s Belmont Breeze recipe: 1.5 ounces bourbon, .5 ounce medium dry sherry, .5 ounce fresh lemon juice, .5 ounce simple syrup, splash of orange juice, splash of cranberry juice, 5 fresh mint leaves, and mint sprig and orange peel for garnish. In a cocktail shaker, shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish.

Aja hopes for success

Can a restaurant space be doomed to failure? The owners of Aja Asian Cuisine, whose first restaurant by this name has an enthusiastic following in New Brunswick, are hoping to break the string of restaurant failures that have plagued the space at 1736 Route 206 in Skillman. Veteran area residents can recall when it thrived for decades as the County Line Inn. But when that beloved eatery closed and the space was expanded and rebuilt by subsequent owners, restaurant after restaurant failed to thrive. (Names that spring to mind: Casey’s, Dakota Steakhouse, the Plaid Piper, and Tusk.)

Recent observations on Aja, which opened in January and has a whopping 250 seats to fill, indicate it has a fair chance of making it. Interest by locals has been high (judging from the number of hits my website got from a short mention of it before it opened) and reviewers on Yelp! have awarded it 4 stars out of a possible 5.

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