January 20, 2016

From Belly Dancing to Bubble Tea: New Restaurants Offer a Range of Tastes


IN WITH THE NEW: What was once a gas station in Princeton Shopping Center is about to become Nomad Pizza, one of several casual eateries opening in and around town this spring.

Hungry? Depending on what you are craving, the new crop of casual restaurants set to open in Princeton in the coming months might just hit the spot. Styles and flavors run the gamut from middle eastern cuisine with belly dancing to Asian food with bubble tea.

“We’re very excited,” said Tracey Branson, who owns Marhaba, a middle eastern style eatery that will go into the former Cheeburger Cheeburger spot at 182 Nassau Street. A fixture in Lambertville for nearly seven years, Marhaba, which means “hello” and “welcome” in Arabic, is targeting late February or March for an opening date.

Ms. Branson’s husband is the executive chef at the restaurant. “He’s from Egypt. He studied pharmacy but ended up finding his calling in cooking rather than dispensing drugs,” she said. The couple also own a small gyro place in New Hope, with an abbreviated menu. But the Princeton menu will be more extensive than the one in Lambertville.

“Since the space is much bigger than what we have here, we’re looking forward to expanding the offerings,” Ms. Branson said. “We have a wider variety of foods. We’re working on a surprise, as long as we find the right person. It’s something new that hasn’t been served in Princeton before. But we’re not sure yet.”

What is definitely on the menu is a middle eastern style brunch. “It’s definitely different from your typical pancakes and French toast,” Ms. Branson said. “We will add something new and fresh.” Also among the offerings: belly dancing. As in Lambertville, the restaurant will present belly dancers every Friday night.

What used to be Zorba’s Brother at 80 Nassau Street is soon to become Noodle House and Kung Fu Tea, which specializes in bubble tea. At the other end of Nassau Street, the Subway chain closed its store at 252 last July, and an ice cream shop is said to be coming in. The other Subway shop, at 18 Witherspoon Street, will close in the next few months. Moving in is a branch of Jules Thin Crust Pizza, which has stores in Cherry Hill, in Newtown, and Doylestown, Pa., and other locations in Pennsylvania and California. The gourmet pizza shop uses organic flour and a variety of toppings, selling by the slice or whole, thin-crust pie. Gluten-free pizzas and salads are also on the menu.

The Nomad Pizza restaurant taking over the former Amoco gas station in Princeton Shopping Center was announced nearly two years ago. Finally, construction is well underway and the doors are supposed to open in the spring. The sleek, wooden exterior has a mid-century look.

Nomad’s Hopewell location is nearly always crowded with fans of the thin-crust, gourmet pizza. Owner Tom Grim was the co-founder of Thomas Sweet ice cream, which he opened in 1980 and sold in 2008. Nomad also has locations in Philadelphia.

Another addition to Princeton Shopping Center’s food offerings is LiLLiPiES, an artisanal bakery coming into the space located next door to Bella Boutique. Owner Jen Carson already supplies her baked goods to Small World Coffee, Tico’s, the Blawenburg Cafe, and the West Windsor and Forrestal farmers’ markets, so she has an existing fan base awaiting the spring opening.

Ms. Carson, a New Jersey native, bakes breads, muffins, and sweets in small batches using local ingredients. But pies are her specialty. LiLLiPiES was named one of the best bakeries in a recent coast-to-coast ranking by The Food Network.