Appealing, authentic, and accommodating. These adjectives come to mind when North End Bistro is mentioned.
Just opened at 354 Nassau Street (a near neighbor to the Whole Earth Center), it is the latest venture of the Procaccini brothers, John and Tino, and their partner Zissis (“Zi”) Pappas, who are rapidly establishing a reputation as up-and-coming restaurateurs and entrepreneurs in the Princeton area.
Owners also of P.J.’s Pancake & Pasta House, Osteria Procaccini in Princeton and Pennington, and the new P.J.’s in West Windsor, the Procaccini brothers and Mr. Pappas have worked hard to create unique and convivial dining experiences for their customers.
“A friendly, knowledgeable staff, customer service, and quality food are a priority for us,” says John Procaccini. “People know they can count on us. It’s our experience and reputation. With the Bistro, people have said to us: ‘When we heard it was you guys, we knew it would work.’ They know they can count on the quality and value we offer. There is no cookie-cutter feeling in any of our restaurants. Everything is fresh and made to order.”
Quite A Journey
It has been quite a journey for John and Tino Procaccini since — at the ages of 24 and 21 — they first opened La Borgata Ristorante & Pizzeria (later known as La Principessa) in the Kingston Mall on Route 27 in 1999.
This was followed by Sotto Ristorante (later the Princeton Sports Bar & Grill). They discovered their passion for the restaurant business, with Tino as chef and John handling the business end and “front of the house.”
“We never really envisioned where we are today,” says John. “It just evolved. The turning point was when we opened Sotto with our cousins in Princeton, and we have continued to learn with all our different experiences. Once you find the right concept and model, it falls into place.”
“Our business motivation is diversification,” he continues. “This is important in today’s world and economy. We offer something for everyone. You can go to P.J’s. for breakfast, and to the Osteria or Bistro for lunch and dinner. We have people who come to each of our restaurants every day.
“We have such a nice mix,” adds Mr. Pappas, who joined the team two years ago. “The mix is fun, and it keeps us busy. We can go to five different restaurants throughout the day — starting with P.J.’s, then to the Bistro and Osteria, and then over to Pennington, and soon to West Windsor. I really enjoy the variety.”
They certainly seem to have found the right “M.O.” Each of their restaurants is a hit with customers, and chances are you will see someone you know enjoying lunch or dinner.
This is certainly true of the Bistro, which offers seating for 70 inside and 26 outside in a charming setting. Tables and booths are available, as well as a small bar area, with four chairs.
“We wanted to establish a feeling of tranquility and comfort,” points out Mr. Pappas, whose mother, interior designer Urania Pappas, is responsible for the decor. “Our design elements emphasize earth tones, restfulness, and serenity.”
Design features include depictions of sepia-toned tree branches (so softly rendered that they almost resemble a waterfall), and color scheme of moss green, and egg plant purple. A comfortable waiting area offers a small sofa and chairs.
Indeed, comfort is the key — both in the appealingly down-to-earth atmosphere and in the choice of food.
As one recent diner noted, “To me, the first thing that comes to mind is the lobster mac and cheese. Super! Then, being able to sit outside on a nice warm evening or afternoon is such a pleasure. I think the Bistro has a European feel to it, with lunch or dinner served outside next to the sidewalk, with people walking by and a sense of activity. It’s a very appealing atmosphere.”
The menu, which is the same for lunch and dinner, has proved to be a big success. There is truly something for everyone’s taste. Sandwiches, salads, tacos, pastas, entrees, such as chicken rustica, glazed salmon, steak, and more offer choices at reasonable prices.
For customers who like to plan ahead, the menu features regular specials for each day of the week. Monday: chicken pot pie; Tuesday: corned beef and cabbage; Wednesday: slow-cooked spare ribs; Thursday: “Thanksgiving Dinner” turkey breast, cranberry orange relish, mashed potatoes; Friday: seafood steam pot; Saturday: braised pork ossa bucco; Sunday: chicken parm.
The “Thanksgiving Dinner” has been a conversation piece, and as Mr. Pappas points out, it was a result of “the genius of the minds melding together!”
Appetizers include such specialties as truffle spinach and artichoke dip; poutine (fresh cut fries, gravy, and melted provolone cheese); and cannelini bean hummus, among others.
The French onion soup is a favorite of many diners, as is the mac and cheese (in many variations), and spaghetti and “mama’s” meatballs (John and Tino’s mom’s specialty!).
“Popular sandwiches include the lobster roll, our special half-pound La Frieda burgers — a blend of filet, short ribs, and sirloin,” reports John. “Customers also love the blackened chicken with bibb lettuce, avocado, and cherry wood bacon; the traditional Reuben, and our fish, chicken, or beef tacos are always in demand.”
A specialty on the menu is the Kids Corner, featuring a variety of choices, such as spaghetti and meatballs, mac ’n cheese, grilled cheese sandwich, chicken tenders, and peanut butter and jelly, served with beverage and brownie for $8.
Jersey Shore Favorite
No one forgets desserts at the Bistro. Seasonal cobblers, brioche bread pudding, brownie a la mode, fresh berry and cream parfait are all in demand. And the restaurant is now known for offering that special Jersey shore favorite, fried Oreos!
The Bistro does not have a liquor license, but it has an arrangement with Hopewell Valley Vineyards, and can sell bottles of wine. Customers are also welcome to bring their own libation of choice.
Take-out is available, and many people stop in to take something home after work, or back to their office for lunch. The proximity of the restaurant to nearby offices, stores, and residences is a real plus, notes the Bistro team.
“Lots of people walk in. We’re conveniently located with sidewalks right in front, and we want to be the local place for people to stop in. And, if people are driving, we have convenient parking space as well.”
Prices start at $8 for appetizers, $10 for sandwiches and salads, $12 for tacos, and $15 for entrees.
The Procaccini brothers and Mr. Pappas are very happy about the enthusiastic response to the restaurant, and they look forward to giving customers a warm welcome. “We want to make our guests feel good. We offer hospitality, quality, and a unique atmosphere. And you don’t have to break the bank to eat here. We have reasonable prices that can work for everyone’s pocket book. We are very popular with families. We’re easy-going, and very kid-friendly. We really appeal to all ages. We love what we do. We will have opened 3 restaurants in one year, 2013!”
North End Bistro is open seven days, from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. (609) 683-9700. Website: www.gretaliahospitality.com.