The same team that brought us the popular Lucy's Ravioli now has another hit on its hands! Caron Wendell and Joseph McLaughlin opened One 53, the hot new restaurant located at 153 Washington Street in Rocky Hill, last November.
People are lining up to get in, and it has been so popular in such a short time, that parties of four on Saturday nights are already booked for the next three weeks. During a recent daytime visit, the phone rang regularly for reservations.
Little did Mr. McLaughlin and Ms. Wendell know what was ahead when they made that first batch of ravioli more than 15 years ago. "I met Caron through her husband who is my best friend," says Mr. McLaughlin. "We started out making ravioli for family and friends at our beach house in 1990. We certainly had no idea it would take off the way it did.
"We had kicked the idea around of opening a restaurant," he continues. "Lucy's had done so well, and a lot of our customers said, 'When are you going to open a restaurant?'"
The partners have been busy with Lucy's, known for its outstanding pasta, for the past 15 years, and opening another establishment was guaranteed to swallow up any free time for the near future. Nevertheless, the time was right, and together with chef Justin Braun, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute, they have created an intriguing dining experience.
"We really like what we do," explains Mr. McLaughlin. "We keep everything straightforward and simple. It's simple bistro cuisine, with a blend of dishes from macaroni and cheese to boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin.
"Also, we don't overdo sauces. Our approach is to try to get the ingredients as close to the natural state as possible. We want to keep in all the nutrients."
A Princeton High School graduate, who has lived in Princeton for 35 years, Mr. McLaughlin believes that One 53 is filling a dining need in the area. "There is a need to get back to the freshest ingredients and simplify the process and presentation. You will get a nice hot plate of food here, executed in the best way.
"For example," he continues, "in the case of our French fries, we double-cook and hand-cut them, as they do in Belgium. They come out crispy and taste like a potato. We always use fresh oil."
Of course, all the pasta comes from Lucy's, and the freshest, healthiest ingredients are emphasized in all the dishes, he adds. The restaurant will also use seasonal products from local farms when possible.
"All our chicken is from Murray's, and they are raised humanely, with no steroids. Our pork is from farm-raised pigs, and all our beef is certified Angus."
Customers, many of whom are repeats, have been enjoying a variety of dishes, which are presented in the most straightforward manner. No pretension here: the one-page menu is printed on rustic brown paper, with the wine list on the reverse.
Diners like everything from appetizers to desserts, says Mr. "McLaughlin. "The house-cured salmon on homemade potato crisps is a very popular appetizer. Our double-cut pork chops are a specialty and are really in demand. They are a signature item. Also popular is the 16-ounce filet on the bone, as well as winter squash ravioli with sage cream sauce. The next most popular item is mussels in white wine."
One 53's array of desserts tempts the tastebuds, with chocolate bread pudding, chocolate gelato, double chocolate stout (beer) with two scoops of ice cream, and blood orange panna cotta (a delicious cross between custard and gelatin) proving irresistible. Cappuccino or espresso can top off the evening.
One 53 offers a comprehensive wine list, as well as a full selection of spirits, including a variety of the popular flavored martinis. The handsome wine cellar will soon be available for larger groups or private parties, complementing the current seating space for 71.
Prices cover a range, including $6 and up for appetizers, $11 and up for entrees (typically $18 to $26), and desserts from $6.
Ms. Wendell and Mr. McLaughlin have been delighted with the positive response from area customers (some returning two and three times a week), as well as a recent excellent restaurant review in The New York Times. "I thought my mother wrote it!" says Mr. McLaughlin, with a smile.
Clearly, they are doing something right. "We take a lot of care and pay attention to detail," he points out. "The challenge is you want to do your best every day. You must pay attention to all the little details and never become complacent. You have to stay on top of everything.
"The big thing we did at Lucy's was to get everyone all the staff on the same page. All feel they are a real part of the operation. We want to do that at One 53, and I am very happy at having such a great staff so soon.
"We're in the hospitality business," he adds. "You have to make people welcome. We want good vibrations. I look forward to everyone settling in and feeling comfortable here."
One 53 is open for dinner only, Sunday through Thursday 5:30 to 9:30; Friday, Saturday 5:30 to 10. Bar opens at 4:30. Reservations are strongly recommended. (609)-924-1019.
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