North End Bistro partners Tino Procaccini, Z. Pappas, and John Procaccini.

North End Bistro in Princeton offers comfort food from around the world

If you visit the North End Bistro on Nassau Street, located next to the Whole Earth Center, you can expect to find the comfort foods popular across America, like macaroni and cheese, meatloaf or chicken pot pie.

But Americans aren’t the only ones who like comfort food, so the bistro offers traditional dishes from other countries: soft tacos from Mexico, and pasta dishes from Italy.

Co-owner John Procaccini likes to say: “We serve meals you grew up with, no matter where you grew up.”

The bistro will celebrate its grand opening Dec. 2 to 5, offering customers a free appetizer plate per table. Even though the bistro has been open since June, Procaccini said he wanted to fine tune the menu before announcing a formal opening.

Over the past several months, Procaccini and his two co-owners, his brother Tino, and their friend “Z” Pappas have learned their customer’s favorites: from the appetizers menu, chili con carne with avocado, sour cream, cheddar cheese, and corn bread; and from the entree menu, meatloaf with North End fries and onion rings.

“It’s a very diverse menu,” Procaccini said. “There’s something every ethnicity can enjoy. [This matters,] especially for customers from Princeton and the university. We want to appeal to everyone.”

“People tell us, ‘We come to you because we know what we’re going to get.’ Some people come to our other restaurants two or three times in one week, or even in one day.”

The other restaurants he mentioned, co-owned and operated by the Procaccinis, are located in Princeton and nearby towns. Every restaurant has its own style and is geared toward its community.

In Princeton, there’s the original PJ’s Pancake house, serving the original pancakes, lunch and dinner, and recently added pasta dishes. The second PJ’s a t Windsor Plaza in West Windsor is popular with locals and commuters using the train station.

Just north of Princeton is Osteria Procaccini in Kingston, serving pizza made with organic ingredients and baked in a terra cotta oven. It also serves Italian dishes and salads. Their second Osteria in Pennington offers the same menu and serves alcohol.

Procaccini believes that their restaurants are popular, in part, because the three owners spend time every day in each of the eateries. “There’s almost always a manager at any one of the restaurants. Our customers like that,” Procaccini said.

John Procaccini, Tino, and “Z” are all graduates of Rider University. They all majored in business and studied entrepreneurship, John graduating in 1997, and Tino and “Z” in 2001.

Although Procaccini doesn’t have formal training in the culinary arts, food has always been a part of his life.

“You can’t live without food,” he said. “My mom was a typical Italian mother. She made her own pasta, and she was always cooking or jarring food.”

The partners are thinking about opening a new restaurant in the New Brunswick transit village sometime in 2015. But for now, Procaccini is focused on the grand opening of the North End Bistro.

Offering a variety of dishes is also important for the Procaccinis, who visit Italy every year and bring back new recipes.

Mac n’ cheese dishes are always popular, he said, especially the lobster mac, the mushroom mac and buffalo blue cheese mac.

Popular from “The Usual” menu is the Thanksgiving dinner: turkey breast with cranberry orange relish, and mashed potato, served only on Thursday; and spare ribs with corn bread, and pork & beans, served only on Wednesday.

The soft tacos, served with black bean and corn salad are another popular dish. Among the pasta dishes, porcini mushroom ravioli is a favorite. A very popular dessert is fried Oreos, fried in PJ’s pancake batter and topped with powdered sugar. Aside from the North End Bistro, you can only get this dessert from the shore area, Procaccini said.

Entrees and platters are priced from $13-$34. Diners can bring their own bottle of wine or they can purchase a bottle from the Hopewell Valley Vineyards selection on the menu.

“The key to being successful in a weak economy is having the right concept. In this case, it’s diversity. We offer a lot of options to a lot of different people,” says Procaccini.

“People tell us they come back to our restaurants because they know what they’ll get. That’s great, but with that comes some pressure because you have to do it right and be on your toes.”

But being on your toes is okay with Procaccini. Before becoming a full time restaurateur, he worked at Sarnoff as director of international operations and spent a great deal of time in Asia.

“I was traveling a lot, and I have a family. It’s hard leaving your kids behind. And after 9/11, travel restrictions made everything more difficult. The nice thing about having our restaurants is that everything is local. And, we’re home at night.”

For Procaccini, being close to his family and enjoying his work is what matters. He often ends his e-mail messages with a quote attributed to Confucious: “Choose a job that you love and you will never work a day in your life.”

North End Bistro, 354 Nassau Street. Phone: (609) 683-9700. On the web: northendprinceton.com