Funny thing, I just read an article naming Saratoga Springs as one of the best college towns for food; with the abundance of great restaurants in & around Saratoga, I can’t disagree. But also named on the list was Princeton, where I happen to go to several times a year to visit my favorite (and only) daughter, who attends school there at Westminster Choir College. It’s concert season, so I’ve been to Princeton for 2 of the past 4 weekends, and maybe because I’m spoiled by living in Saratoga, I’ve never been all that impressed with the food. Admittedly, I do have some pretty high standards, and since I’m not going to any of the 3 or 4 $$ restaurants on the Yelp scale right now, to impress me, you need to show me some great, moderately priced food to impress me. While I have found a great bagel place outside of town in Plainsboro (Bagel Street Grill), the local spots just weren’t thrilling me; they seemed to be either geared towards students with the munchies (a hoagie with chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks, fries, and fried macaroni & cheese – yes, all on the bun @ Hoagie Haven) or to the parents of the trust-fund crowd (sorry, I’m just not looking a burger garnished with fiddlehead ferns & fish roe)
My second trip of the season this past weekend might have changed my mind about Princetonian fare. Mike G. and I had several hours to ourselves, and the weather was gorgeous, so we took to the streets. My daughter says Princeton is like Saratoga on crack, and there’s definitely truth to that. Where Saratoga’s main downtown consists of about 7 blocks (5 on Broadway and one each on Phila & Caroline), Princeton’s downton is roughly 4-5 times that. I don’t think there are as many restaurants/block in Princeton as in Saratoga, but if you keep walking, especially down the side streets, there are more than I had previously realized.
We pulled into town Friday night, cranky from our drive down 287. Mike G. had been yelping for the past hour of the drive, but nothing was standing out. We decided to try Triumph Brewery, which had been on our list to try for a while, but somehow the timing was never right. After walking down the entry ‘tunnel’ off of Nassau Street, you emerge into their main space, which if it weren’t sub-divided into several sections, would be a cavernous room; instead the soaring ceiling made it airy, and the double-decker bar, side room, and mezzanine seating areas gave it definition. The gleaming fermenting vats & some exposed brick gave an industrial, but cozy look.
It was busy, but we were seated right away. After quick review of the beer offerings, we knew what we wanted; the ’95 Pale for me, and the Bengal Gold IPA for Mike G. After the perfect first sip of crispy coldness, we finally started to relax. The menu is upscale pub fare, with some surprises, like duck confit, tuna tartare, and bahn mi, but we stuck with burgers. Perfectly cooked grass-fed burgers with cheddar cheese and local bacon. They were great. I got mine with salad – a fresh choice, and more thoughtful than usual, it included chick peas and some pickled onions. Mike G’s fries were just average, but for his usual side of mayo he was given an option of regular or chipotle, and that chipotle mayo really worked with both the burger and as a dip for the fries.
What really impressed us at Triumph was the service; our server answered all of our beer questions knowledgeably, and when she couldn’t (about the bacon), she asked the kitchen and got the information for us. We had a nice surprise when she presented us with two tokens for a free pint after we payed which made Mike G. wonder if a $50 bill had snuck in with the $20’s he had paid with, but not to worry – we didn’t over pay, just got a little gratitude back for our gratitude. Triumph is doing a good thing by giving their customers good food, good service, and a little love, which is sure to get us to come back. Oh, and their coasters feature the chemical composition of beer, which is just cool.