Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 8
 
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
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It’s New to Us by Jean Stratton


CREATIVE COOKING: “I love the creativity of cooking. I love trying things out, new cooking experiences, and I want to introduce customers to our new special events dining experience.” Elizabeth Hunt, chef-owner of the Lawrenceville Inn, is shown preparing for work in the inn’s kitchen.

Lawrenceville Inn Offers Variety of Special Events Dining Experiences

Elizabeth Hunt loves to cook, and she loves to see people enjoying what she has created. As chef-owner of the Lawrenceville Inn, she is excited about the new format the inn introduced last October.

“We have shifted from a traditional restaurant to special events dining,” she explains. “This includes prix fixe dinners, private parties, corporate events, and family gatherings. Our goal is to create a culinary experience such as wine dinners, private catering, and food classes. We’ll have Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, graduations, and such events as ‘Girls’ Night Out, with a seated massage and manicure, as well as dinner. The idea of a theme is fun.”

Customers are adjusting to the changed format, she adds, and are enjoying this unique approach.

Involved in cooking from a very early age, Ms. Hunt liked to help her mother and grandmother cook. “I grew up cooking and watching my mom and grandmother,” she explains. “By the time I was 14 or 15, I was cooking for the family.”

Farm House

Her family owned the Meyersville Inn in Meyersville, N.J., and Ms. Hunt worked in every facet of the business. She later owned her own catering business in Summit. In 2001, she and her husband Jonathan Hunt purchased a house in Lawrenceville, which was originally a Victorian farm house built in 1892.

“Initially, we planned to renovate it and sell it,” she recalls. “We did renovate it, but after September 11, I thought we should turn the house into a restaurant. I wanted it to be a comfortable place with home cooking. I did all the decor myself, and it’s very eclectic with a lot of mixing and matching. It’s all vintage, including furniture, flatware and china.”

It became a popular restaurant in the area, garnering excellent reviews from food critics and diners alike. But last year, Ms. Hunt decided to change the format so that she could focus all her attention on her love of cooking and less on the administrative details of running a restaurant, overseeing staff, etc.

The idea of special events dining, with pre-fixe menu, took shape. and Ms. Hunt is delighted to be able to concentrate on her first love — cooking. “What I enjoy most is creating food that nourishes the body and fills the soul,” she says. “Food that really fills you and keeps you healthy.”

Healthy, fresh ingredients are key, she adds. “I get organic ingredients whenever I can; I don’t use any vegetable oil and no Canola oil, just extra virgin olive oil. Also, we don’t have heavy cream. I like food to be light. We have fish (I like to poach my fish because it’s healthier), tomatoes, vegetables, all cooked like Italian food. Our cuisine is really across the board, but Italian cooking is where my gift lies.

“We always ate this way at home,” she continues. “It was very healthy. I’m not buying food, I’m buying ingredients. I buy the healthiest, freshest ingredients I can find. I hand-pick everything. I buy from local farmers, and l like to shop right before I cook, so everything is very fresh.”

Unique Dining

Meat served at the Lawrenceville Inn is from free range farms, where cattle are grass-fed, she adds, and many of the recipes she includes have been passed down in her family. “I also like to try new things, too, and we use cook books and the internet. I like to branch out.”

Among the dining options are Monday Hospitality Industry and Community Night dinners, which include four courses for $25, with choice of two entrees, soup, salad, and dessert. “Monday is a night when other chefs, restaurant workers, and farmers can come, along with other customers,” points out Ms. Hunt.

A recent Monday night dinner included buttermilk-marinated, all-natural hormone-free, oven-fried chicken, broccoli, rosemary mashed potatoes, salad with gorgonzola dressing, cream of tomato soup with goat cheese croutons, and chocolate cake or tapioca pudding with chocolate sauce and coconut flakes.

It was pronounced delicious by one enthusiastic diner. In addition to the chicken, vegetable lasagne was on the menu. There are always vegetarian selections.

A more extensive dining experience is available on Saturday nights twice a month, with the 8-course Saturday Tasting Dinners at $75. A typical dinner could include: “amuse bouche” (“something to make you smile”), such as heart-shaped puffed pastry, salad, soup, light fish entree, sorbet to cleanse the palate, meat, dessert, cheese, and a complimentary limoncello Italian cordial and biscotti made by Ms. Hunt.

“These diners can easily last two and a half to three hours, and many people bring more than one kind of wine to enjoy with the dinner,” she notes. (The inn does not have a liquor license, and customers are welcome to bring wine).

“High Tea”

Saturday afternoon special lunches or “High Tea” are offered twice a month at $30. These include five courses, with choice of four tea sandwiches, such as truffled egg salad in cream puff shell; herbed chicken salad on mini brioche; smoked salmon hearts on pumpernickel with dill and red onion; also seasonal salad, fresh seasonal soup, and five sweets, including such choices as petite scones with clotted cream and jam; tartlets, and chocolate-dipped strawberries, among others.

Sunday brunch buffets are also served twice a month for $25. Such specialties as quiche de jour, scrambled local organic eggs, whole grain cinnamon swirl baked French toast, spiral sliced ham with local maple syrup glaze are featured, along with assorted breakfast breads and muffins, homemade soup of the day, and fresh seasonal fruit salad with yogurt and granola.

Another popular option is “Foodie Fridays.” “This is more of a culinary educational experience,” explains Ms. Hunt. “On February 29, we will have a venison focus: ‘Are you Game?’ with Matt Wilkinson, an expert on venison. These are really presentation dinners.

“Some areas of discussion will be how is it best to prepare venison? What cut of venison should I use? Can a beef recipe be used on a cut of venison? What type of side courses pair well with game? We will serve loin of venison, rolled and stuffed with arugula and smoked gouda; roasted garlic mashed potatoes, oven-roasted asparagus, and braised red cabbage.”

In addition to these scheduled events, the inn is available for special occasions, such as wedding receptions, wine tastings, bridal showers, holiday gatherings, and corporate meetings. The inn’s four dining rooms (upstairs and downstairs) can accommodate up to 85 guests.

“Nadia Musacchio is our events coordinator,” says Ms. Hunt. “Nadia is introducing ‘team building’ culinary classes, and building a program that will incorporate fun learning experiences for a corporate business team — bringing them in to work together to cook and serve a meal. Doing something fun together.”

The inn is also outfitted with wireless internet access to allow for web-based presentations, she adds. Projection screens, easels and white boards are available for corporate meetings.

In addition to the delicious food, diners enjoy the setting at this charming inn, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “We wanted it to be comfortable and welcoming,” says Ms. Hunt. “I hope people will enjoy this new dining experience we are offering. I love cooking the whole meal. I love to feed people, and there is always room at the table for one more. We’re here to cook for you. Just please call ahead. Reservations are required.”

For further information, call (609) 219-1900. Website: lawrencevilleinn.com.

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