Kingston’s Main Street Cafe, on Route 27 in the middle of town, remained a popular fixture from its earliest days in 1984 until its closure this past November, after having been bought up by Fenwick Hospitality Group, the folks behind the Princeton restaurants Agricola and Dinky Bar & Grill.
Similarly, PJ’s Pancake House in Princeton has gained iconic status in its six decades of operation and continues to go strong. Now a new PJ’s Pancake House will make its debut in the former cafe building in March.
Last year the cafe and other Main Street enterprises — the bistro at the Princeton Shopping Center and the catering operation in Rocky Hill — were sold to Fenwick. In November it was announced that the cafe operation (only) was sold to another local restaurant group, Gretalia, whose principals are brothers Tino and John Procaccini and Zissis “Z” Pappas. Gretalia already owns two PJ’s: the original on Nassau Street and a satellite in West Windsor.
Their portfolio also encompasses three artisan pizza restaurants under the mantle Osteria Procaccini in Kingston, Pennington, and Crosswicks; Trattoria Procaccini, the Italian restaurant in Princeton that had been North End Bistro; and two side-by-side casual spots on Nassau Street in downtown Princeton: Porta Via, for Italian take-out fare, and Dolceria, a gelato and coffee bar. The Gretalia Group leases its Kingston premises from its longtime collaborator and landlord, Princeton International Properties, whose principal is Martin Tuchman.
And PJ’s Kingston, while retaining several beloved factors of the old Main Street Cafe (described below), will offer something the original could not: expanded parking options. With limited on-street parking and only a small lot behind the historic building, which dates to the 1880s, finding convenient a space was always an issue for customers. To help remedy that Princeton International Properties also purchased the building diagonally across Route 27 (i.e. Main Street) from the cafe. That property, which over the years had been a series of boutiques (such as PoohPeach), is at 56 Main Street; the cafe building is at number 61. PJ’s customers will have access to the parking lot behind the building. In addition to that option, there are a potential additional 118 spaces available just up the street, behind the Gretalia Group’s Osteria Procaccini.
This newest PJ’s is expected to open its doors in March. It will differ from its siblings in that it will also encompass an onsite bakery. “Basically, we’ve been trying to get into the bakery business for a long time,” says John Procaccini. “We serve so much bread in all our restaurants that it makes sense for us to be our own artisan bakers. That was a main catalyst when the Fenwick folks reached out to us about buying the cafe. The decision was just that easy.”
PJ’s Kingston will encompass a full-service, sit-down cafe with 50 seats, a bakery, and grab-and-go counter offering breads, sweets, and savories such as soups and wraps and, on the newly renovated second floor, a seat-yourself cafe to eat them in if desired. A freezer case will offer 24 flavors of the same gelatos that are sold at their Dolceria on Nassau Street, which can be made into milk shakes if desired. “The whole set-up is modeled on Ferrara’s,” Procaccini says, referring to the legendary bakery in New York’s Little Italy. Like its two siblings, this PJ’s will be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The existing outdoor patio is being renovated and will offer additional seating in fair weather.
Another new feature will be the nighttime menu. “We’ll be open until 10 p.m. and in the evenings will have what I call a ‘tavern’ menu, even though we won’t serve liquor,” Procaccini says. “Choices like sliders, old-school meat loaf, Thanksgiving dinner, and fish and chips. Kingston needs good fish and chips!” The cafe/bakery will be open seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The group has looked to New York City for its incoming head baker, who is currently at Eataly, the large Italian marketplace owned by Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich. Besides offering breads and assorted sweets, the bakery will also make special occasion cakes, including wedding cakes. A glass wall is being erected behind the takeout counters so that the entire baking operation in the room behind it will be on view.
As before, customers entering the building will come face-to-face with grab-and-go counters and display cases, and the sit-down bistro will be in the room to the left. But that room has been opened all the way to the back of the building to offer more seating, including at booths. “We’re keeping all the historic elements,” Procaccini says, including the fireplace between what were originally two rooms, as well as exposing more of the old brick walls and refinishing the original hardwood floors. Procaccini promises “lots of warm wood tones and a color scheme like that of PJ’s on Nassau Street.”
The Procaccini brothers have retained key staff members from the old Main Street Bakery & Cafe. “It’s a mother and her three daughters. They’ve been there for 18 years and they’re all staying,” John Procaccini says. The team will train at one of the existing PJ’s.
Additional PJ’s Pancake Houses are in the offing. The next one is expected to open in June in Robbinsville’s Washington Town Center, near De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies. At 5,000 square feet, it will be the largest PJ’s and will seat between 140 and 150.