December 8, 2011

Ann Ridings with Zur, Princeton

“An African Safari.”

— Ann Ridings with Zur, Princeton

Magali and Jan

Magali: “In the tropics, I would like a room on the beach with a boardwalk to the water. I would want my husband to be there and also a nanny for our baby.”

Jan: “Travel around the world, go to every continent, and stay at least a week in each location.”

— Magali Jacobs and Jan De Locker, Princeton

Bill Gray with daughter Cory Gray, Princeton

Bill: “Hawaii”

Cory: “My dream vacation would be to go to Australia.”

— Bill Gray with daughter Cory Gray, Princeton

 Tim Carney, Princeton

“Navy Seal training, you go away for two weeks and push your mind and body past its limits.”

— Tim Carney, Princeton

 Kelly Twamley and Chris Cornick, Robbinsville

“Our dream vacation would be to go to Bora Bora and Tahiti.”

— Kelly Twamley and Chris Cornick, Robbinsville

Patricia Vieira and Steven Cutler, Princeton University Students

Patricia: “Going home to my country Portugal.”

Steven: “To go to Portugal with Patricia.”

— Patricia Vieira and Steven Cutler, Princeton University Students

December 1, 2011
NTU Savory Spice

SIGNATURE SPICES: “We get the spices delivered every week, and you can come in and buy as little or as much as you want — starting at half an ounce.” Owner of the Savory Spice Shop at 15 Spring Street, Jon Hauge (second from right) is shown with his son Alex, wife Janet, and daughter Olivia.

There’s a spicy new look on Spring Street. Just added to the street’s popular mix of stores, businesses, and restaurants is the Savory Spice Shop, which opened November 21.

“I wanted to open the shop in Princeton, and Spring Street was my favorite space of all that we saw,” says owner Jon Hauge.

Formerly in the corporate world, Mr. Hauge worked in the purchasing department of a building products company. When he had an opportunity for a career change, he knew he wanted something related to cooking. “Several years ago, I went to visit a spice shop in downtown Denver. I’ve been an avid cook. I always loved to cook, and I was very interested in all the spices.”

When he learned there was a franchise opportunity with the Denver-headquartered Savory Spice Shop, and that it could be independently-owned, he decided to make the move.

Fresh Spices

“There are 14 Savory Spice Shops in the U.S. and only one other in New Jersey, in Westfield,” he notes. “I always thought it would be great to have my own business, and my background in purchasing has been helpful.”

What especially appealed to Mr. Hauge about the Savory Spice Shop operation was the freshness of the spices, the attention to high quality items, and the focus on customer service. “Savory Spice Shop is built on the principles of providing you with innovative, high quality products and excellent customer service. The spices are ground weekly, and we get them delivered fresh every week. We have a range of common to exotic herbs and spices and more than 140 blends. There are also baking extracts, organic spices, hard-to-find spices, and more.

“Also,” he continues, “I want people to understand that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to improve the quality of what you eat. The addition of spices and seasonings can make a big difference, and we are happy to offer advice to people. We also have lots of recipes to share.”

The array of fresh spices includes traditional cinnamons, curries, salt and pepper, to exotic herbs and spices, such as grains of paradise, saffron, kaffir lime leaves, pomegranate molasses, achiote paste, and other specialties. There are signature seasonings, barbecue rubs, chicken and seafood blend options, dip and dressing mixes, salt-free seasonings, chili powders, and other flavorful mixing spices.

The visually appealing shop is conveniently arranged for browsing and buying. “We set up according to category, color, and appearance,” reports Mr. Hauge.

Enticing the senses is important in a shop like this, and every effort has been made to tempt the taste buds. Aromatic mulling spices are available to sample in hot libations, cinnamon rolls and dips have been offered, as well as freshly made popcorn.

Truffle Salt

“We have a popcorn popper and have popcorn with truffle salt for people to try,” says Mr. Hauge. “We also have a wonderful coffee-based blend, Baker’s Brew, to use for a barbecue rub, and a great cheddar cheese dip with a baked smoky flavor.”

There are so many treats in store: cinnamon sticks, Mayan cocoa, Mexican cocoa, Dutch cocoa powder, Chai spices, pizza and pasta pairings — and so much more.

Special advice is offered with cards featuring “Top 5 Spices for Pork”, “Top 5 for Seafood”, and “Top 5 for Steak”, and recipe cards are available for people to take home.

Mr. Hauge is very pleased with the number of customers coming in and calling as well. “People have been coming in from the beginning, and now they’re calling too. They want specific spices. One person called asking for sumac, a middle eastern spice — which we do carry.”

Related items, such as pepper mills and mortar and pestle sets are also available, and Mr. Hague points out that the spices, including a variety of gift sets, and the other products make excellent housewarming, hostess, holiday, and teacher gifts. In addition, there are fun seasonal items, such as small sachets of frankincense and myrrh, suitable for incense-burning.

“We can customize a gift set, and there are also tubes filled with different spices for $5, a terrific stocking stuffer and a way for someone to explore a new spice and flavor. We have a big price range, from $2 up to $50, and everything in between. Right now, if you buy five or more gift sets, you will get 15 percent off the price. Gift cards are available too. Spices are available in resealable plastic bags, small 2-and 4-ounce glass jars, and 8-ounce plastic bottles.”

Adult School

Mr. Hauge is happy to be in Princeton, and is already taking part in community activities. “I am teaching classes in spices at the Adult School, both now and in the spring.”

The enthusiasm, both of students in the classes and customers at the store, has been especially pleasing to him. He has also been warmly welcomed by the other merchants.

“I’m doing this because I love doing this, and I want people to have the same experience,” he says. “I like talking to customers and sharing information about spices. I often learn from people too, who have traveled and know about different spices. They like to share their recipes. And it is particularly nice that customers seem to enjoy talking to each other about spices in the shop.

“I felt that Princeton would be a great match for my shop. I knew that people here appreciate food and wine and dining experiences. I hoped to build a good solid customer base, and I think I’m off to a great start!”

He is happy, too, that his family has been part of this new adventure. “It’s really like a family business. My wife, Janet, who is a librarian at the Princeton Public Library, and my son Alex and daughter Olivia all help out.”

Savory Spice Shop is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday 11 to 5. (609) 454-5627. savoryspiceshop.com.

New To Us: Taste of Mexico

TEMPTING TASTES: “Mexican food has that spice, that tropical feeling. It not only tastes good, it makes you feel good. There is a fun feeling about Mexican food.” Leslie Paredes (left), general manager and Felipe Cruz, owner of Taste of Mexico are happy to welcome customers to the restaurant’s second location at 180 Nassau Street.

“Mi casa es su casa,” as they say in Spanish. “My house is your house.”

Nowhere has that sentiment been more happily translated into a restaurant setting than at the new location of Taste of Mexico at 180 Nassau Street. No one is a stranger here. The warm, friendly atmosphere welcomes customers, inviting them to enjoy the southern Mexican cuisine.

“I love restaurants! I sleep and eat restaurants!” says owner Felipe Cruz, who is also proprietor of Taste of Mexico in the Princeton Shopping Center and El Oaxaqueño in New Brunswick.

“I had been wanting to expand,” he explains, “and then the opportunity to move here became available. It was perfect. I think it was meant to be.”

New Things

The location is the site of the former Calico Restaurant, just behind Cox’s Market. Cox’s came with the restaurant, so Mr. Cruz is now also running the deli as well as all of his restaurants! He is not daunted by this challenge. With many years experience in the food industry, including managing restaurants in New York and the Princeton area, he looks forward to the opportunity.

“People in Princeton love to try new things,” he points out. “They have traveled and have experienced other cuisines. We are encouraged about the customer base that we are building. We already have regulars. The town has also been very welcoming to us.

“Another thing, the advantage of having multiple restaurants is that if you should run out of something, you can always get it from one of the other places.”

Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, Mr. Cruz came to the United States when he was 15. He always enjoyed cooking, and from his early years in the restaurant business, he looked forward to having his own place. His first, Taste of Mexico in the Princeton Shopping Center, has been a success for 16 years, and El Oaxaqueño for eight years.

He has every expectation of that success continuing at the new Taste of Mexico. “We have a unique product, the most authentic Mexican food around here. We have our own special recipes that have been passed down, and our chef’s recipes are one-of-a-kind. In authentic Mexican cooking, we use the freshest ingredients — cheese, vegetables, meat.

“We very much focus on healthy eating. Most of our items are grilled, and we use olive oil and very fresh vegetables. It’s healthy food, but with all the great flavor. I try to keep the originality of the flavor and the food with our recipes. We definitely stress our own way of doing things, our own special way of cooking and preparing dishes. You won’t find our kind of cooking everywhere. It’s our own special touch.”

Authentic Mexican Food

Two Princeton University students, one a repeat customer, one sampling Taste of Mexico’s dishes for the first time, agreed. “This is really great authentic Mexican food, and there is also a really nice atmosphere here.”

Many customers have already found their favorite dishes, reports Mr. Cruz. “Mole Oaxaqueño, the traditional dish with chicken and mole sauce; enchiladas with soft rolled corn tortillas with chicken or cheese, and green or red sauce; and fajitas, and tamales are all in demand for lunch and dinner.”

Among the appetizers, guacamole is a clear favorite, reports Mr. Cruz. “This is a real specialty for us. It is one of the most popular dishes, and people want it all the time. We also have a lot of vegetarian dishes, and more and more customers are wanting them. They are available in burritos, quesadillas, tostadas, fajitas, tamales, and enchiladas. Also, all our dinner and lunch specials are served with chips, salsa, rice, and beans.”

Special low fat platters are also available, including grilled quesadillas, shrimp, chicken, and steak, as is a variety of salads.

Lunch, dinner, and take-out are very popular, and on Saturday and Sunday, breakfast is also served. “Breakfast is getting more and more popular,” says Mr. Cruz. “We have specials like breakfast burritos, breakfast quesadillas, and also pancakes, waffles, French toast, and fruit platters. Orange juice is hand-squeezed.

“Two of our most popular breakfasts are Huevos Ranchero with fried eggs, black beans, and ranchero salsa, topped with queso fresco (fresh cheese), and flour tortillas; and the Spanish Continental, with fried eggs, black beans, and tomato salsa, topped with queso fresco, served with fried plaintains and flour tortillas.”

Breakfast Dishes

A variety of Mexican sodas and juices is available, and customers are welcome to bring wine and beer.

Prices include breakfast dishes at $6.99, appetizers from $5.99, lunch specials at $7.99, and dinner specials at $10.99. A children’s menu offers items from $4.99.

Catering is another specialty of the restaurant and also Cox’s Market, points out Mr. Cruz. “We cater anything, and we do a lot of lunches. Cox’s has the best panninis! We do a lot of catering for Princeton University.”

He is pleased, too, that even within the intimate setting of seating for 31 (with additional outside patio dining in seasonal weather), the restaurant has been able to accept groups and private parties. “We do our best to accommodate everyone, and that includes groups.”

Mr. Cruz looks forward to more people enjoying Taste of Mexico’s unique atmosphere with its bright and vivid decor and beautiful ocean mural, and of course, its signature cuisine. “People who come here will have the most authentic Mexican food. It’s the real deal! I am very encouraged, and the best thing is that people are coming back again. It’s everyone — all backgrounds, including lots of families, kids, and Princeton University students.”

Owning and operating a restaurant involves long hours, dedication, and determination. As Mr. Cruz points out, however, “Warren Buffet has said that if you find out what you’re good at and find your passion, you will be successful. Then, you don’t mind getting up early and staying late. You have found your passion.”

Taste of Mexico is open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday until 10, Saturday and Sunday 8 to 10. Call (609) 924-0500 or go to www.coxmarket.com.