Disclosure: I attended Witherspoon Grill’s Cocktail Hour Menu tasting as a hosted guest. Opinions expressed are my own.
As a food writer, I’m occasionally able to give my spatula a night off from recipe testing to attend culinary events. This past Tuesday, I was delighted to be a hosted guest for a VIP menu tasting at Witherspoon Grill, a critically-recognized, classic American grill located in downtown Princeton, New Jersey. Set against the backdrop of Witherspoon’s weekly jazz performance, Owner, Jack Morrison, Executive Chef, Christian Graciano, and Assistant General Manager, Laura English, graciously treated us to a sneak peak of their new “Cocktail Hour” menu, debuting on Monday. Served in the bar area, Monday to Friday from 3 to 6 p.m., the menu will feature beer, wine, and cocktail specials ranging from $3 to $5, in addition to a fantastic selection of small plates. The atmosphere and menu both strike a great balance of casual sophistication, making the bar a great option for mingling with friends after work, or a light bite before an evening engagement.
Since Striped Spatula readers near and far have a shared enthusiasm for the culinary arts, I thought you might enjoy reading my tasting notes on the previewed menu items. (Please excuse my grainy cell phone photos. Showing up at the event with my DSLR and accoutrement would’ve been a bit “much”!)
Cheese Dip Duo. Sun-dried Tomato Cream Cheese and Pesto Goat Cheese, served with slices of soft baguette. Both infused cheeses were delicious, but I was particularly fond of the pesto. (So much so that with lunchtime approaching, I’m eying a wedge of chèvre in my refrigerator and wishing my basil plant had grown a little faster!) The soft tang of the goat cheese married beautifully with the bright, lightly-peppery flavor of the pesto. The nosh was delicate and lent itself well to a crisp, chilled glass of white wine. (I spied Soave on the menu, which would be a perfect accompaniment.)
Shrimp Ceviche Tacos. Served in a corn tortilla, these tacos were a delicious option for those following a gluten-free diet (and those who weren’t!). Light, fun, and fantastic with a Mojito. I don’t recall seeing any leftovers of these when the platter was cleared, which is usually a solid indicator of a dish’s success.
Warm Pub Pretzel with Whole Grain Irish Whiskey Mustard. Perhaps the pièce de résistance of the evening, a few of us are still reminiscing about these pretzels on social media. If you’re anything like me, you’ve had run-ins with far too many disappointing pretzels. You know: those heavy, gummy masses that sit in your throat and leave you grabbing for the nearest glass of anything to wash them down. Witherspoon’s take on the pretzel was nothing short of nirvana: soft, buttery, and surprisingly light. The whiskey mustard that accompanied it was sophisticated and well-flavored, with a lovely caviar-like texture that popped on the palate. I appreciated that the mustard wasn’t too assertive in terms of spiciness or acidity, complementing the pretzel without overpowering it. Two enthusiastic thumbs up.
Duck Fat Potatoes with Black Garlic Sour Cream. I wasn’t sure how Chef planned to follow the show-stopping pretzel. That is, until the words “duck fat” were uttered. Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, with the sweet, deep notes of black garlic, I might’ve sneaked an extra taste of these when no one was looking (ssh, don’t tell anyone!).
Nueskes Bacon with Maple-Chipotle Syrup. Serve a 1/4-inch thick slice of applewood smoked bacon as a standalone dish, and you’re speaking my language. Grab a fork, folks. We discussed this dish in some detail with Chef Chris during the feedback portion of the event. The bacon was fantastic, but I agreed that some minor tweaks could be made to the glaze to best balance the dish’s sweet, spicy, and smoky components. I’m looking forward to returning to the Grill to see how Chef has adjusted the plating for the final menu.
Lamb Lollipops with Blackberry Mint Jam and Mint Yogurt-Feta Sauce. The most substantial of the Cocktail hour offerings, the lamb chops were exquisitely tender with a satisfying crust. I love a bit of sweetness with my lamb, so I naturally gravitated toward the Blackberry Mint Jam over the Feta Sauce. A+.
Witherspoon Grill is part of the JM Group (a Princeton staple since 1982), which also includes Nassau Street Seafood, Blue Point Grill, and The Princeton Farmer’s Market. (If you follow my Instagram, you already know that many summer Thursdays find me browsing the market, stuffed crêpe or croissant in hand. The best!) The JM Group has been recognized in many publications including The New York Times, Zagat, Food & Wine, and Wine Spectator. For more information about Witherspoon Grill, or any of the JM Group establishments, visit them on the Web at jmgroupprinceton.com.