Good Times, Good Food Once Again at Teresa Caffe, As Customers Hurry Back to this Longtime Favorite
TEST OF TIME: “We really specialize in hospitality. We want people to feel better when they come in, and especially now, enjoy being out together again. We look forward to welcoming everyone. We love working with our staff and serving our guests. It’s the people — the Momos love people!” Shown from left in the recently reopened and longtime favorite Teresa Caffe are the Momos: Carlo (co-owner), Alessandra, Gianni, and Raoul (co-owner). Above is an enlarged photo of a young Teresa — Carlo and Raoul’s mother and the inspiration for the restaurant.
By Jean Stratton
It has a new look, but the same warm hospitality and delicious dining that have always been its hallmark.
Teresa Caffe, at 23 Palmer Square East, is open again after having been closed for 14 months due to COVID-19 and an extensive renovation. Reopening in May, this popular mainstay on the Princeton dining scene is up and running, offering its neighborhood trattoria-style atmosphere and tempting Italian pizza, pasta, and a variety of other specialties.
Originally opened in 1991, Teresa’s is one of five restaurants owned by the Momo brothers, Carlo, Raoul, and Anthony. Part of the Momo Restaurant Group, they also include Mediterra, Eno Terra, Momo Bread Company, and the new Albariño tapas and wine bar in Red Bank. The Bread Company also has a branch in the Trenton Farmers Market.
“It really all started with our mother, Teresa Azario Momo, who was born in Italy, and our father Raul Momo Marmonti, who was born in Chile,” explains Carlo. “They came to the United States in 1960, and by the mid-1970s, Teresa and Raul opened the very first ‘Teresa,’ an Italian specialty food store.
“We worked alongside our parents when not in school, learning how to cook in the tradition of our ancestors. That’s where we acquired our passion for fresh food and a dedication to provide warm and welcoming service.
“In 1982, we opened Teresa II in New Brunswick, and by 1987, we had an outpost on Nassau Street combining Teresa Pizza and David’s Cookies!”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
With their emphasis on high quality fresh ingredients, special recipes, attentive staff, and engaging environment, Teresa and the other restaurants were all flourishing.
Then came the pandemic and all that it entailed. People stayed home, restaurants were forced to close their doors, except for those which could improvise with outdoor dining opportunities.
“The town and all the government agencies have really made it possible to keep our business afloat,” reports Raoul Momo. “Clearly, the word got out about how vital restaurants are as cornerstones for the community. The cooperation has been excellent from everyone. And most importantly, from patrons who supported us.
“Outdoor dining was a savior,” he continues. “And it continues to be very popular. It really is a huge hit! Guests want to be outdoors after such a long lockdown. Nothing beats sunshine, a glass of wine, and a nice meal with friends and family.”
“Now that Teresa is open again, it’s as if we never closed,” adds Carlo. “Customers poured right back in, they were so happy for us to be back, and they are so eager to be out again.”
As customers return to Teresa’s, they will notice a new look. It is an intriguing modern motif — a “New York City Sophisticated” feel. Dark wood distinguishes the tables and banquette, all adorned with white linen napkins, and they align perfectly with the overall theme: a sleek modern design, but ensuring at the same time a down-to-earth, unpretentious atmosphere in which people can relax and feel at home.
The design is the work of Carlo’s wife, architect Leslie Dowling of Dowling Studios. “Leslie addressed the existing configuration, but she has her own aesthetic,” points out Carlo.
Large black and white poster-like photos of Italian celebrities, including Sophia Loren, decorate the walls, and the bar offers ample seating. An extensive wall wine rack displays almost 500 bottles.
In addition, an attractive outdoor patio can accommodate more than 20 people, and this is an especially popular choice at the moment.
The menu is as appealing as ever, with its special pizza and homemade pasta always top choices. Noted for its thin, very crisp crust, the pizza includes a variety of options: pesto, ricotta, eggplant, and mozzarella; or fresh mozzarella, ground tomato, basil, and extra virgin olive oil; or artisan pepperoni, grand tomato, nardello peppers, and fresh mozzarella — to name just a few.
“My son Gianni is the ‘pizzaiolo’ or pizza-maker, just as I was 30 years ago,” says Raoul. “He is now the third generation, as it all began with Teresa, my mom!
“Everyone loves the pizza,” he adds, “but our homemade pasta is also a specialty. It is all made from scratch with high protein flour at the bakery (Terra Momo Bread Company). It is a big item for us.
“The Pasta Vongole with clams is a favorite, and other popular dishes are Tagliatelle Bolognese and grana; penne, tomato, pepperoncino, and basil; and chitarra, clams, garlic, red pepper flake, and parsley.”
In addition, main dishes, such as pan-seared Scottish salmon, with broccoli rabe, maitake mushroom, and onion agrodolce; and roasted eggplant involtini, ricotta, grana, mozzarella, spinach, and tomato, are favorites.
Salads include a variety of choices, as does the antipasti with many options, from fried calamari to prosciutto di Parma, to avocado grilled bruschetta, among many others.
One’s sweet tooth is not neglected at Teresa’s! Among the most popular desserts are tiramisu, focociolatto pizza (chocolate Nutella), and cannoli.
Coffee, cappuccino, espresso and more are all available, along with the restaurant’s wide selection of wines, cocktails, and beer. Cocktails have become increasingly popular in recent years, and Teresa’s has one for every taste.
The big hit at the moment is the Rossini, with prosecco, Lillet, and strawberry puree. Other favorites are Columba, with tequila, campari, lemon, and aranciatta; Passero with rum, aperitivo del professore, and lime juice; and Siciliano with averna amaro, sweet vermouth, espresso, and soda.
“Many of our cocktails are created by our mixologists Justin Donegan and Chris Canavari,” says Raoul, ”but many are also classic recipes like the Bellini from Harry’s Bar in Venice, and made just right, with great spirits and fresh ingredients.
“By the way, our bartender Chris Canavari was the longtime bartender at Princeton’s former classic French restaurant Lahiere’s.”
Prices cover a range at Teresa’s, with antipasti starting at $3, salads from $12, pizza from $13, and pasta from $16. Desserts begin at $6.
The Momo brothers are proud of their outstanding staff, including chef Shane Spigner, restaurant manager Jaime Sanchez, bar manager Justin Donegan, and director of hospitality Devin Rosa.
In addition, they are very pleased that a new generation of Momos are joining the family business. In addition to “pizzaiolo” Gianni, Carlo’s daughter Alessandra is the general manager at the new Albariño restaurant, and Raoul’s son Luke is Terra Momo Restaurant Group’s marketing and social media manager, as well as helping manage financial controls and also handling all the media production, videography, and photography.
Serving the community in many ways is very important to the Momos, and they recently received the Reginald Lewis Community Award from Princeton’s First Baptist Church.
“Reginald Lewis was the first Black billionaire,” explains Raoul. “In his honor, the Baptist Church gives the award to recognize local business leaders for their community service. I attended the Sunday service to receive it, and we were so honored.
“It’s always about getting better,” he continues, “and after 40 years in the business, we know how to keep getting better. There is no silver bullet to success. it’s all of it: the food, the hospitality, the design, the people, the service. You have to manage all of it.
“Of course, it is really all thanks to our loyal patrons and new guests too. They are what keeps us going.”
In addition to on-site dining, Teresa’s offers takeout. On-site private parties are also available.
Always at the forefront, as Carlo explains, is “to offer dining experiences with the common theme of earth, food, wine, and an enjoyment of life. And through it all, our mother Teresa has been our inspiration. She taught us to find harmony between tradition and innovation. Every detail — from the olive oil to the wine, from the basil to the artwork — is in keeping with her sensibility that every guest feels that ‘this visit’ is the best one yet!”
Teresa Caffe is open Tuesday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. No reservations necessary. (609) 921-1974. Website: teresacaffe.com.