Princeton encapsulates the old-world charm of the ivy league, cobblestone architecture within one quaint town. Close your eyes. The lush green ivy hugging the sides of Tudor-style buildings lined up like the homes in a model snow globe. Students dressed in tiger orange and black, flood the streets while visitors stroll past the downtown sector. A tight-knit community of families, friends, and school-aged children call the picturesque town tucked within the company of winding trees home.
But less than a mile from the downtown district, facing the Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood stands a unique community of its own. The Meeting House Princeton is a rising star where elegance is simplicity, family and friends become a bonded community, and the infectious laughs, unexpected conversations, and a lifetime of memories meet over the joys of refined food and refreshing cocktails.
Owners Amanda Maher and Amar Gautam imagined a common ground for anyone to meet for the simple, yet elegant stylistic choices in both design and cuisine. Three and a half years ago, the former New York professionals moved their three young kids from the Manhattan hustle and bustle to the charming Princeton suburbs. And two years later, Maher and Gautam officially opened The Meeting House Princeton to warmly invite the same community that welcomed their family.
Drawing culinary inspiration from the exciting flavors from Maher and Gautam’s favorite spots around New York, The Meeting House brings fine dining in a casual atmosphere to life. Maher and Gautam enlisted the help of restaurant consultant and award-winning chef Carmen González. Maher imagined beautifully plated food inspired by seasonal ingredients that were family-friendly and affordable.
“We wanted to create an accessible place where there’s something for everyone. A fresh, light fish dish to a classic, quality burger with house-made French fries, this is a meeting place for everyone,” said Maher, the creative side of The Meeting House pair, envisioning a piece of home in New York brought to Princeton.
The Meeting House represents a new Princeton of its own, assembling an elite team while championing community. Somewhere among the hasty orchestration of welcoming hosts, cocktail-shaking bartenders, and food-knowledgeable waiters is Maher and Gautam seamlessly gliding through the restaurant, planning private events, meeting old friends or colleagues, or just greeting guests with their favorite bottle of Pinot Noir. Chef Fito Belteton valiantly runs the kitchen while expert GM Dago Villanueva smoothly directs the whole show. Star baker Kathia Castro from The Pink Little Cake provides all the confectionary creations including the perfectly balanced and moist carrot cake, the best cap to any meal.
A Timeless Charm
Dinner at The Meeting House sets the scene for every gathering from the long-term catchup session with an old friend to a six- o’clock family dinner after soccer practice. Upon entering, we immediately noticed the full stream of natural light pouring into the space from the tall, crystal-like panel windows lining the front of the restaurant. Reclaimed wooden chairs and tables and woody branches budding springtime florals placed in clay vases introduced a timeless charm. By evening, the incandescent glow of the brass lights painted every corner with gold, from the neutral olive-green wood paneling to the coffee-colored leather sofas.
The Princeton restaurant features a minimal, rustic-chic design envisioned by Maher along with interior designer Hillary O’Carroll of Philadelphia-based Isabella Sparrow. I met O’Carroll while she sifted through pages of a 19th century American Agriculturist Almanac with dusty, amber-tinged pages discovered in a Pennsylvania countryside shop. O’Carroll envisioned framing a page to hang up on the wall. O’Carroll and Maher dreamed up the eye-catching, yet toned-down design for the restaurant, creating an overall memorable aesthetic.
Private Event Spaces
The Meeting House contains two private event spaces that both reflect the vast history of the Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood, the historical, middle-class sector of Princeton and home to the rise of mid-19th century Black entrepreneurs and laborers. The Jackson holds four bright-white walls adorned with a collection of countryside vintage frames. The bright sun pours in during the day, contrasting the gothic inspiration on the other side of the restaurant. A long-wooden table seats up to 15 guests for a festive bridal shower brunch or an intimate, springtime family reunion after the past tumultuous year.
Descending upon the subway-like stairs to the base floor transports you to the Witherspoon, decorated with warm ruby red rugs, brass light fixtures, and a front-and-center mini-stage. The Witherspoon can host between 30 to 60 guests for sit-down events and up to 80 for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. The flexible table set-up can form a charming long dining table spanning the room or several intimate candlelit settings. And with a private bar, every meeting, no matter how big or small, will be memorable.
A fully stocked bar with a sophisticated collection of botanicals, spirits, and fresh herbs and citrus sit on top of a marble finishing. Deep, chestnut vertical paneling complement the warm golden accents scattered throughout, transporting you instantly to the timeless Princeton from a century ago.
Classic American Comfort Food & Craft Cocktails
Classic American comfort food transforms into art, plated like an alluring sculpture from a nearby museum. The talented Chef Fito Belteton carefully designed the seasonal, farm-to-table menu that sources high-quality, local ingredients, capturing a seamless harmony of flavor. Celebrated General Manager Dago Villanueva runs the floor and developed the craft cocktail bar menu.
A curated cocktail list features fresh seasonal ingredients. The popular Paisley Palace mirrors a light, bubbly French 75 replacing the botanical gin with an aromatic lavender-infused vodka topped with elderflower liqueur, herb honey, lemon, and refreshing prosecco. Gautam’s favorite, El Guapo, features a pungent combination of tequila finished with the slight spice of jalapeño and the acidity of lime.
The indulgent Fried Chicken’s crispy exterior contrasted with the tender interior offers a homey welcoming to every first-timer. Buttery, flaky biscuits come with chili honey, blending the flaring spice with the natural floral sweetness. Try to combine each element of this dish in one bite and a cozy countryside daydream awaits you. In fact, Chef Fito used more than 200 lbs. of chicken trying to perfect the recipe.
The artisanal salad has never left the menu since its debut opening day and Maher and Gautam plan to keep it that way. Demonstrating effortless finesse with fresh greens, the artisanal salad combines crisp cherry tomatoes and subtly sweet roasted carrots in an organic cider vinaigrette. The silky richness of the sheep’s milk cheese adds an indulgent element, complementing the local produce.
Brunch on Sundays AND Saturdays
The Meeting House Princeton experienced increasing popularity with their weekend brunches. Serving the decadent fried chicken with the fluffiest pancakes, Maher and Gautam envisioned a weekend community spot just like in Manhattan. Whether joining the house for a fresh mimosa in broad daylight or taking the family out for a Saturday breakfast, brunch at The Meeting House covers it all.
“In New York, brunch is a Saturday and Sunday celebration of the workweek with family, friends, and everyone in between. Imagine a place where our kids celebrate their birthdays and return in years time for a cocktail at the bar. We wanted to bring that same hub to New Jersey where many restaurants only chose to brunch one day of the week: Sunday,” said Gautam.
Opening Before COVID-19
Opening three months before the COVID-19 global pandemic shutdown stunted the growth of The Meeting House among many other restaurants. Within 48 hours of closure, Gautam decided to work with local charity Share My Meals to help feed the food insecure in the Princeton community. A powerful act of kindness, The Meeting House uplifted a community in need during a time of uncertainty and isolation, the complete opposites of gathering together.
“It’s not easy going to work every day knowing you’re going to lose. But as the world returns to a version of normal, we are better equipped for any challenge now,” said Gautam, opening up about the tumultuous year of staying optimistic.
As the world opens back up, The Meeting House Princeton stands as the common ground to celebrate the ups and downs of the past year. Within the casual yet sophisticated atmosphere of The Meeting House, there’s a reason for everyone to gather, to laugh, and to embrace the rocky yet gratifying parts of life. I’ll meet you there.