For one special night, restaurateur Jack Morrison opened the doors of the Witherspoon Grill in Princeton for a special tasting of the new Cocktail Hour menu and Jersey Bites was invited to be part of the preview.
It only took seven years to craft the perfect pretzel. This pretzel is warm, buttery, salty, dark crusted and soft. An absolutely perfect, life-changing pretzel. A moment was needed after tasting the first bite to collect myself because it was unlike any other pretzel I’ve ever had, anywhere. And I’m NOT a pretzel fan. In fact they are usually my least favorite snack food.
I ripped off a piece, not expecting much, it’s a pretzel, how good can it be?
How good can it be? I stopped talking about food with 12 other foodies in stunned silence. They asked what was wrong. I said nothing, I just needed a moment with my warm pub pretzel.
Executive Chef Chris Graciano said Morrison had been trying to get a pretzel at the bar for seven years, so this was definitely a pretzel worth waiting for.
The pretzels, $3, come with an Irish whiskey or stout whole grain mustards. The mustards are a whole new ballgame.
I generally dislike whole grain mustard as it’s usually to sharp for me and crunchy. Not these mustards. They are both like butter, literally. They are so soft and smooth with wonderful large pearl seeds that delicately pop in your mouth. None of us could quite pinpoint the flavor profile, it was unlike any other mustard any of us had tasted before. It’s mustard, but it doesn’t taste anything like regular mustard, it’s missing the vinegary, acidic punch and bright yellow or yellow-brown color.
Chef Chris said he soaks the mustard seeds in the whiskey or stout for 24 hours before making the mustard. He got the ideas for the mustard by studying the endless jars of mustard on store shelves.
The darker of the two condiments, the stout mustard didn’t have any hoppy or yeasty flavor, and was delicious. The yellower of the two is the whiskey flavor, which is definitely brighter and more acidic, but much milder than traditional yellow mustard.
Both were equally tasty.
And then there was bacon. Berkshire pork bacon. The Neuski bacon is served in a 1/4″ slice in a maple chipotle syrup. The bacon was tender, but not chewy, perfectly salty with a deep, smoked flavor. It comes to the Witherspoon Grill in slabs and is sliced on site. The mild chipotle heat builds as you eat the slice; it leaves you warm, but is not unpleasantly hot.
The maple chipotle syrup was good, but was missing something. I think it lacked true maple flavor, and Chef Chris said he would work on the recipe based on the feedback from the food writers, so it will be interesting to see how the dish evolves. The bacon plate is $4.
A tasty duo of cheese dips, $3, was presented offering a combination of sun dried tomato cream cheese and a pesto goat cheese. The tomato dip had a rich tomato flavor what went well with the tang of the cream cheese. The green pesto flavored goat cheese was mild and creamy all around. The pesto wasn’t too overpowering or garlicky and the goat cheese was nice and mild, not too tangy, they balanced perfectly. The delicate flavor of the cheese shines through, complimented by the pesto. Each spread, served with un-toasted baguette slices, was delicious, and were even better when scooped together.
A gluten-free shrimp ceviche taco in a corn tortilla, $5, is a light and refreshing addition to the menu. The filling is a mix of shrimp (from sister business Nassau Street Seafood) and tomatoes with light smear of guacamole. Squeezing lime on top wakes the whole thing up with a burst of acidic freshness.
Duck fat potatoes, $4, were the most decadent item on the new menu. The confit-style spuds were perfectly cooked and salty, not greasy or fatty at all. The potatoes were so perfect, I ignored the black garlic aioli on the plate and didn’t miss anything.
My least favorite item on the new menu were the lamb lollipops, which was a disappointment because I love lamb. The chops, $6, were cooked perfectly medium rare and served with a blackberry mint jam and a mint yogurt feta sauce. I felt the creaminess of the feta sauce overpowered the delicate flavor of the meat. No one I was sitting with was really a fan of the white sauce, but they loved the blackberry mint one. Talking with Chef Chris during the tasting, he said he would definitely take the feedback into consideration, so this will be another dish to watch evolve.
My cocktail, a mojito, went very well with the lamb, and lent some of its minty flavor, which I love with lamb, to the dish. The lime of the drink added some brightness and sweetness that I look for when I have mint jelly with the traditional spring meat.
Besides all the food, the highlight of the night was a behind the scenes tour of the back of the house. Yes, we got to see the kitchen! At the height of the diner rush! And the wine cellar with the sommelier! I was so excited, I was almost speechless. It was a symphony with the clanging of metal bowls, the sizzle of steaks on the grill, the flare of the fire on the stove and the delicate pop of oysters yielding their meat as the were shucked.
The bar menu will be offered from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday in the bar only.
As someone who has eaten at Witherspoon Grill a couple of times, I can’t wait to go back and sit at the bar on Tuesday nights to hear some live jazz and munch on some more of those pretzels. And at these small-plate prices, I can do it more often.
57 Witherspoon St.
Prices are subject to change.