December 18, 2013

New Chef, Expanded Menu and Welcoming Setting Highlight Legendary Yankee Doodle Tap Room

“Rest Traveler Rest And Banish Thought of Care;

Drink to Thy Friends And Recommend them Here.”

These words were originally found in an old English inn near Oxford. Now carved above the mantel in the Yankee Doodle Tap Room of the Nassau Inn, they have cheered guests here since 1937, when the Inn was rebuilt on Palmer Square. The fireplace beneath is lit during the winter months, adding welcoming warmth and a glow to the informal pub setting.

The Tap Room’s name is derived from the unique 13-foot Norman Rockwell mural of Yankee Doodle situated above and behind the bar. It is the largest Rockwell mural, was commissioned in the 1930s, and was a gift to the Inn from Princeton University. The mural took just over nine months to complete in the Rockwell studio. He thought it would be fitting to paint Yankee Doodle because of Princeton’s strong connection to the Revolutionary War. It is a big attraction at the restaurant.

Guests at the Tap Room find themselves in good company, as evidenced by the gallery of famous faces who have visited the Nassau Inn. From John Foster Dulles and Adlai Stevenson to Jimmy Stewart and George Gallup to James Baker and George Shultz to Thomas Kean and astronaut Pete Conrad to Bill Bradley and Ralph Nader to Brooke Shields and Michelle Obama and many more, the portrait gallery covers a wide spectrum of Princeton University graduates over the years.

Culinary Creativity

History and culinary creativity come together at the Tap Room. Michael LaCorte has returned as executive chef after a hiatus of 20 years. “I had been a chef at the Nassau Inn for some years back then,” he recalls. “At that time, I worked at Palmer’s, one of the inn’s three restaurants. It was a happy experience, and I met my wife there!”

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Mr. LaCorte had always been interested in cooking. “I liked to look through my mom’s cook books and I also enjoyed watching ‘The Galloping Gourmet’ TV cooking show. I tried my hand at making some dishes and I also worked at an Italian restaurant during high school.”

His later experience included time at the River Cafe in New York City, and then as a corporate chef in the business world. “I wanted to solidify my base,” he explains. “It’s very important to be able to execute. You can have all the proper ingredients, but then you have to execute. This is crucial. Here at the Inn, we make a point of hiring new people, with fresh ideas. I have two sous chefs and one line staff for the Tap Room, and one sous chef for catering. I cook, do prep work, and also administrative work.

“Catering is a big part of the business, with banquets, weddings, corporate events, etc. With the holidays coming up, we will be very busy from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, and then we have a break until Valentine’s Day.”

Chef LaCorte is very happy to be back at the Inn, and he especially enjoys the Tap Room experience. “We are repositioning ourselves as a ‘Gastro Pub.’ The choices have expanded and evolved, and we have American-focused food, including a bar menu, regular menu, and children’s menu.”

A variety of choices for breakfast, lunch (also Sunday brunch), and dinner is offered every day, and diners are enjoying everything, including vegetarian and gluten-free options.

The “Princetonian”

“We try to satisfy all dietary needs,” says Mr. LaCorte. “We are especially getting known for the best burger around. It’s a blend of chuck, short ribs, brisket, and choriza (Spanish sausage). We call it the ‘Princetonian’, and it won first prize in the Mercer County ‘Burger Mania’ 2013 contest. It is topped with smoked mozzarella cheese and port wine onion marmalade, served on a toasted sourdough roll, with fries, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickle.”

Three other hamburgers are also available, including a mushroom and barley veggie version.

Other favorite dishes include seared salmon with roasted butternut squash, served with Brussels sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, bacon lardon, and toasted quinoa; also salted duck breast with sun-dried cherries, root vegetables, and roasted sweet potatoes. The roasted all-natural semi-boneless chicken with rosemary, and served with bread pudding, local vegetables, and pan gravy is gluten-free. Braised boneless short ribs in red wine and chipotle, served with cipollini onions, horseradish, with beets and olive oil mashed potatoes is another popular dish, as is Orecchiette pasta with sausage and broccoli rabe, including spicy Milford Farms all natural pork sausage, with garlic, and “little ear” pasta.

Specials are also available every night for dinner.

Appetizers include cheese soup, featuring a blend of sharp cheddar, mozzarella, smoked Gouda, and blue cheese with smoky paprika; also, hummus, Nassau wings (gluten-free), and Tap Room sliders (mini burgers on toasted mini sourdough buns with cheese and pickle).

In addition, “Small Plates” are available, notes Mr. LaCorte. “These are larger than appetizers, but smaller than an entree. They are very popular, because people can sample a variety, such as fried basil risotto balls, stuffed with fresh mozzarella cheese; duck confit stew, simmered in roasted garlic sauce, cipollini onion and parsnips; and sauteed shrimp and cheesy grits, with garlic, tomato, mushrooms, preserved lemon, and chorizo.”

Molten Chocolate Cake

The variety of salads is very popular and chicken, shrimp, and steak can be added to the greens for more substantial fare. One of the most popular is fried goat cheese with toasted almonds, balsamic vinaigrette, fall greens, and roasted baby red and golden beets.

Everyone loves the Tap Room’s desserts, from the creamy Tiramisu and the classic crème brûlée to the warm apple tart with vanilla ice cream to the individual pumpkin pie, and of course the molten chocolate cake. Assorted ice cream, gelato, and sorbet are also offered.

In addition, coffee, cappuccino, and espresso are on the menu, along with a variety of after dinner drinks.

Diners can also enjoy a wide selection of beer, wine, and spirits, notes Mr. LaCorte. “We have 22 world beers, including some from micro breweries, on tap and a variety of wines and cocktails.

“I think we are set apart because we have found our niche and offer quality food. We have the freshest ingredients and special recipes. Of course, presentation is important. You want the dishes to be pleasing to the eye. We try to focus on local farms, and we get our produce, beef and chicken locally. We also change the menu twice seasonally, for fall and winter, and spring and summer.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served seven days. Hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. With late night in the bar until 11 Friday and Saturday. (609) 921-7500. Website: