The reviews are in, and they just keep getting better and better! Everyone who has sampled the dinners at Cafe 44 Fusion is ready to go back for more.
Just opened January 2, the restaurant is owned by Peter (‘P.J.”) Young, Jr., and offers “Southern Soul” food with a twist.
“We call it ‘Fusion’ because it’s really a mix of Southern/American food,” explains Mr. Young. “The focus is on Southern Soul food, such as fried chicken, fried fish, cajun shrimp, collard greens, sweet potato casserole, and spare ribs. But we also offer Surf ‘n’ Turf burger, stuffed with high quality crabmeat, and Jack ‘n’ blue grilled cheese — a marriage of Monterey Jack and blue cheese, served with apple chutney on whole grain bread. All entrees are served with two sides, such as French fries, macaroni and cheese, or collard greens, among others.”
Located at 44 Leigh Avenue, Cafe 44 Fusion shares the space with Cafe 44, the popular breakfast and lunch eatery.
“Cafe 44 finishes up at 2 p.m., and then we open for dinner at 5,” says Mr. Young. “There was really nothing like our establishment in the area. So many people say to me, there is a real need for Southern cooking in Princeton. There is just nothing like it here.”
And Mr. Young definitely knows the area. He was born in Princeton Hospital, grew up on Leigh Avenue, graduated from Princeton High School, and served as a Princeton Township police officer for 20 years. Not only that, his parents, Peter Young, Sr. and Ricky Young owned the Koffee Kup diner at the very same location that Cafe 44 Fusion now occupies.
“I was really born into the business,” he explains. “My parents had a breakfast and lunch diner, and I used to help out. We lived upstairs, and as a boy, I brought in all the groceries. So when, I was able to open this, it was a dream come true. I had always been interested in cooking and good food. It was my background. This is reminiscent of my mother’s cooking and my grandmother’s too. She also lived on Leigh Avenue.
“I love this! It’s not like going to work, it’s like going home. I have all the memories; I hear the footsteps. I remember Christmas here; I remember my first bike here.”
Because of his long association with Princeton — he has also had successful real estate and landscaping businesses after his retirement from the police department in 2007 — Mr. Young is well-known in town. He has had no trouble getting customers to sample the fare at Cafe 44 Fusion.
“We are very encouraged. We’re getting people all the time and already have regulars, even in the short time we’ve been open. I see a lot of old friends and even those from my parents’ generation. We’re getting so much support from the local people. Most are from Princeton, but we expect to have people from around the area as time goes on. We are also very family-oriented, and we are glad to welcome families with children.”
Customers are enjoying everything on the menu, he adds, including fried chicken with sweet potato waffle, shrimp “Po Boy” sandwich with cornmeal-crusted fried shrimp, lettuce, and tomato on a soft torpedo roll, with crabmeat mayonnaise.
Jambalaya fritters are another favorite with sausage, chicken, shrimp, peppers, and onions, delicately battered and fried — a “Chef’s Signature Creation.” Prices range from $4 to $22, with entrees typically at $11 to $16.
Mr. Young is very proud of the staff at Cafe 44 Fusion, including Chef Gina Jackson-Beale. “Chef Gina is outstanding. I’ve known her a long time — we went to high school together, and she used to bring me her homemade chocolate chip cookies! She attended the Art Institute of Philadelphia, obtaining a culinary degree.
“We use the freshest ingredients, and we have special recipes passed down from generation to generation, both from my family and Chef Gina. We also cook to order. Everything is always fresh, not frozen. We also have rotating desserts, and always two on the menu, such as key lime pie, strawberry shortcake, sweet potato pie, and pineapple upside down cake.”
Cafe 44 Fusion’s reviews — both word of mouth and on-line — have been consistently outstanding. A recent diner reported that the restaurant “brings a new flair to the Princeton restaurant industry …. You feel the owner’s passion in both the food and the excellent service. The head chef Gina Jackson-Beale is on top of her game, and I guarantee the spot will become one of your favorites. Everything was super delicious!”
Cafe 44 fusion can seat 50, and also offers take-out. It will soon add catering to its service. Live music is available on selected nights.
The restaurant does not have a liquor license, but customers are welcome to bring wine, and set-ups are available. Cafe 44 Fusion is currently cash only, with an ATM machine on-site.
“I am enjoying this so much,” says Mr. Young. “I am definitely a hands-on owner, and I like meeting all the customers. I’m a local guy, and I greet and seat everyone. I like it when people feel full, and their plates are empty. I like to see a smile on their face; then I know I have done my job. And, I am proud that I am carrying on my parents’ tradition.”
Cafe 44 Fusion is open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. (609) 924-3900. Website: www.cafe44fusion.com.