For years, Princeton’s high-end restaurants were stuffy affairs with old-fashioned menus; they were hardly worth the trip and certainly not worth the price. That all changed with the opening of Agricola, Princeton’s venture into the farm-to-table movement.
A partnership with Great Road Farm (a 112 acre farm in Skillman), Agricola offers an ever-changing, inventive gourmet menu using fresh, seasonal ingredients. With formal service in a relaxed atmosphere, this is the perfect place for a dinner before the theater in Princeton, or a nice date. Or, if you’d like something more casual, their bar area is a spectacular addition to the Princeton options.
There’s not a lot of places in central New Jersey that serve food of this quality. Agricola’s first courses are a rotating selection of seasonal salads, charcuterie, cheeses, soups, and pickled vegetables. Their cheese board is always beautifully curated, and includes a fresh honeycomb to complement the cheeses. The market salad is bountiful (over the winter it’s usually a kale salad), and the pickled & fermented vegetable plate is full of surprising tastes and textures. Their second courses include a variety of meats (currently roasted chicken breast, duck breast, salmon, prime ribeye steak, scallops and braised short ribs), as well as a few vegetarian options (currently a mushroom pot pie and a delicious beet linguini). You can always find their flatbreads, made in their wood-fired oven (their mushroom flatbread is to die for, and stays on the menu while a second flatbread rotates seasonally), as well as a few sides such as market vegetables and mac and cheese.
But their menu is constantly changing, and you’ll be delighted each time you come in. On a recent visit, they had an “ofal-ly good”section of the menu, featuring a tripe stew with house-made chorizo and a beef tongue “reuben”with house-made kraut. It’ll be replaced with something else by the next time we come in.
The food here is beautifully plated, and flavored to reach true gastronomic heights. You’ll find your palate surprised and delighted with each bite, and you’ll certainly leave feeling good about yourself (I’ve never seen anything fried on the menu, and they aren’t too heavy-handed with the starches). Of course, it comes at a price. Firsts are between $8-$15, and entrees are typically $19-$20 for the vegetarian options, and $25-$29 for the meat (with the exception of the prime ribeye, which was $46 at last visit). Flatbreads are $17-$18, and sides are $6-$8. (Lunches are slightly cheaper, with some additional items, such as sandwiches and burgers, in the $13-$18 range). It’s easy to drop $50 just on your meal, and that’s without ordering a drink.
But you must order a drink, as inventive cocktails are Agricola’s strongest suit. They, too, are seasonal and inspired by the produce at the Great Roads Farm.
Last Spring I enjoyed the irreverent dirtymartini (featuring pickled vegetables from the farm), which I replaced with the startlingly citrusy kale martini this autumn. Now I’m enjoying their fireside cider and their delicately-flavored ruby rose (rosemary-infused gin, grapefruit, lime, maple syrup, and bitters). These are cocktails at their absolute best, each carefully crafted with specialty-made ingredients and designed to pair deliciously with the menu. The wine list is impressive as well. With drinks, you may add another $25-$50 (or more) to your bill. If their food is too pricey, just go for cocktails, and split a plate of fermented and pickled vegetables, or a cheese board.
Whether you sit at the communal tables in the central eatery or the bar,or at a private table in any of the side rooms, you’ll get flawless (but not stuffy) service. The waiters are knowledgeable, responsive, and respectful. It’s not the cheapest place to eat, but it’s nice that those Princeton folks can finally go to a good restaurant.
Agricola, 11 Witherspoon St, Princeton, NJ
Brunch (11AM-2:30PM Saturday, 10AM-2:30PM Sunday); Lunch (11:30AM-2:30PM M-F), Dinner (5PM-9PM Sunday, 5:30PM-9PM M-Tu, 5:30PM-10PM W-Th, 5PM-11PM Friday-Saturday). Bar open till late. (609) 921- 2798
Decor: *** Cost: Proximity: $30-40
This article originally appeared on Hidden Trenton. www.hiddentrenton.com.