The Taste Chase: Hopewell Restaurant Week, Extended Cut and the Boro Bean

The Boro Bean's Johnny and Corey (Photo credit: Renata Barnes)

Someone pointed out to me that the timing of Hopewell Restaurant Week was bad. Well, it was obvious that it wasn’t so much the timing that was bad, it was the weather. Nobody would knowingly choose a week bookended with two Nor’easters and two snow days in the middle, topped with power outages, as a prime business week but, as PT Barnum would say, “The show must go on.”  And on we are going, straight through to March 15th! Will Mooney and the other restaurant owners and chefs have decided to extend Hopewell Restaurant Week until March 15. All of our local restaurants have created special menus for lunch and dinner with special pricing that simultaneously allows them to put their best fork forward and give you an opportunity to exercise your taste buds, all while supporting our local eateries. So shovel that drive, put the generator away, and get to downtown Hopewell Borough, but beware the Ides of March, for when they come, Hopewell Restaurant Week will be gone.

Johnny and Ellen’s Magic Bean

“Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name and their always glad you came…” There is a wordless comfort that comes with a visit to Hopewell’s Boro Bean. The creak of the steps as you ascend the porch and that squeak the spring in the outer front door gives this place that “I’m home” feeling. Although, you won’t see Norm and Cliff there, you are bound to run into friends, neighbors, and strangers sipping lattes while perusing the entertainment section of the New York Times, checking FaceBook, or feverishly clacking their keyboards at a frenzied “working-from-home” pace.

Part diner, part cafe, part bistro but mostly “kitchen table of a good friend’s home”, owners Johnny and Ellen Abernathy have created a place that is so much more than just eating. With just enough space for wooden tables, chairs, and some over-stuffed lumpy but comfy armchairs in the corners, the Boro Bean has crafted an atmosphere where you truly feel like family. Friends come to meet and chat, job interviews are held there, first dates, birthday lunches, and the occasional tear fest, have all unfolded at “the Bean”. This un-Starbucks cafe offers what one would expect from such a place: homemade muffins like banana nut and blueberry, to BLTs and salads, but also some surprises that show up almost daily. There are vanilla Heath Bar crunch muffins, Johnny’s favorites and various paninis, hummus, and morning egg platters.

“We experiment a lot… well, Ellen does,” confessed Johnny. “If we find something that we like, we often will make it and offer on the menu to see what the response it. We don’t really plan it, we’re just playing in the kitchen.”

Since today was the second of two snow days in a row, my “taste bud” for this excursion was my son Josiah. He was hungry, and since he is not particularly picky, that makes for a great taste bud. He scoured the menu and decided on a chicken asiago panini sandwich with a side of tabouli. He choose tabouli instead of chips. I needed a minute.

When I recovered from my disbelief, I settled on a bowl of potato leek soup and a cheddar jalapeno muffin. In about four minutes, our food was delivered to our table. Josiah’s panini was crisp and looked just thick enough to provide a nice bite with a little bit of everything in it. My soup was not how I usually have potato leek. Ellen makes it rustic with big, tender cubes of red-skinned potatoes and translucent slices of leek, perfectly seasoned and accompanied a generous sharp cheddar cheese topping and buttered rectangles of crusty bread. Well worth slushing through the snow for.

Ellen Abernathy is the wizard behind most, if not all, of the menu offerings, Johnny informed me. Homemade stocks and muffins, along with tasty flavor combinations come from their home kitchen where Ellen has long been whipping up delicious food for family and friends, which explains the homey atmosphere that greets you when you visit the Boro Bean.

“We want people to feel like they are in our home,” said Johnny swinging a dish towel over his shoulder. Given that The Boro Bean is actually located in a house on East Broad Street, I’d say they have accomplished that.

During the week, laptops are welcomed but, on Saturdays and Sundays, they are only allowed after 1pm. I’ve been told this is to free up space, but more importantly to Johnny and Ellen, it’s to encourage people to step away from the screens and connect with each other.

As we lunched, you couldn’t help but hear the friendly banter of the wait staff chatting with various customers who came in. Not the kind of gratuitous chit-chat of mannerly strangers, but there was a real knowledge of patrons individual lives. From Johnny’s gregarious greeting of small children while simultaneously waving and greeting by name an older Hopewellian, to Corey, Johnny and Ellen’s son and barista, jovially describing which chai he likes better, they truly do know your name when you go there. This type of relationship the Abernathys have with their clientele comes naturally to them. It’s part and parcel of who they are and the value they see in genuinely caring about people as individuals. This has been the cornerstone of their success and has served them well throughout all of their business ventures.

Along with valuing their customers, Ellen and Johnny honed the kitchen magic skills as one half of the fantastic four who served as the heart and soul of a Princeton business icon, Thomas Sweet. Way back in the “day-day”, the Abernathys managed both the Palmer Square store and the Nassau Street store and made the ice cream with all of their children eventually working the counter, adding the toppings and doing the dishes. If anyone remembers the lines that used to snake down and around both Palmer Square and Nassau Street, then you will know that those lines always led to one of the Thomas Sweet shops. That was Johnny and Ellen in their heyday and they loved it.

“We did good work there,” Ellen shared. “I think the one thing we always taught our workers — ‘sweeties’ we called them — was that each customer mattered and that even if there was a very long line, each one was to be taken care of properly. We knew many people by name and by their favorite flavor.”

After slinging sprinkles and cones for 26 years, Johnny and Ellen brought all that customer love and kitchen magic west of Princeton and, in February 2008, the Boro Bean was born.

If you have not been to the Boro Bean, you are missing a real Hopewell treasure. With an eclectic menu teeming with treats for whatever your palate may fancy — savory or sweet — the Boro Bean’s got you covered. A comfortable chair and walls dotted with drawings and paintings from local artists, you’ll be tempted to bring your fuzzy slippers and a good book. And you should. By the time you leave, you will think you were at a good friend’s home sharing a meal and a good laugh. That’s because you were.

Please join the Boro Bean and the other local restaurants in celebrating Hopewell Restaurant Week: The Extended Cut.

Here is a list of participating restaurants:

  • Entrata – $44.44 3-course price fix dinner (please note that website lists the price differently — current listed information on MercerMe confirmed with Entrata on 3/9/18)
  • Peasant Grill – $20.18 price fix family entrees
  • Thana Thai Kitchen – $22pp dinner entrees
  • The Boro Bean – Check out their restaurant specials on twitter and FB
  • The Blue Bottle Cafe – $45pp 3-course price fix dinner entree. $20.18 for price fix lunch
  • Antimo’s Italian Kitchen – $35pp 3 course dinner. $20.18 3-course lunch
  • The Hopewell Bistro & Inn – Special Restaurant menu and pricing lunch and dinner
  • Brick Farm Tavern – $45pp 3-course dinner
  • The Brothers Moon – $43pp 3-course price fix dinner. $20.18 price fix lunch
  • Brick Farm Market – A la carte lunch menu
  • Nomad Pizza – #25.00pp 3-course meal featuring one of 5 pizzas to choose from

*Please note that in addition to the special menu, there will still be the usual menus available.*

See each restaurant’s menu and specials being served until March 15:

Come and eat.  Bring family and friends.  Yum it up.

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