Brothers Carlo and Raoul Momo have been fixtures on the Princeton dining scene for decades, the well-known names and faces behind their restaurants, which include Teresa Caffe and Mediterra, plus Eno Terra in Kingston. Then there’s their Witherspoon Street bakery, a cafe and cooking school inside the YMCA, and concessions inside the public library and McCarter Theater.
But one name you may not have heard over the years is Anthony Momo, their youngest sibling. Anthony, 44, quietly joined his brothers in Princeton in July, 2012, after having run Momo family restaurants in Colorado and California. I recently met with the three brothers to find out what brought about the move.
Even though the West Coast flagship in Denver, Cucina Colore, is still going strong, several forces drew Anthony back East, where he and his siblings grew up under the tutelage of the mother they’re all devoted to, Teresa Azario Momo. (Another brother, Venanzio, and a sister, Caroline, remain in Colorado.)
“After 10 years in Denver, life threw me a big curveball,” Anthony explains. “My first child was born with a serious heart defect, and that kind of changed our path.” Momo and his wife, April, have two sons, the older almost 12 and the younger, 10. Denver’s high altitude exacerbated their son’s condition, so the family needed to relocate — and because of the rarity of the illness it had to be somewhere near one of the few hospitals nationwide equipped to treat the boy.
Over the subsequent years the family moved around in California, starting in the south and working their way north almost to the Bay Area. “But we never really landed anywhere,” Momo says. “And I was still traveling back and forth to Colorado, which was taking quite a toll. I took some time off and during that time was having conversations with my brothers here in Princeton. The timing was right for me to come here.”
His son’s health is an ongoing issue, but Momo says, “Right now he’s doing great. We couldn’t be in a better place, because of CHoP (the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia). We’re thankful for that. We’re just thankful every day.”
As a principal in the operational arm of Terra Momo Restaurant Group in Princeton, Anthony Momo, who has a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University, sets the gastronomic direction of Teresa Caffe and is general manager of Eno Terra. Developing menus and creating dishes for the group has been his ongoing contribution to the family business since its earliest days, including the first iteration of Teresa’s in New Brunswick in the 1980s. “Some of the dishes that are on the menus here in Princeton were actually created in Denver,” he says proudly. “The fettuccine pecorino dish, the orzo salad — they started there.”
What does a typical day at Eno Terra look like for Anthony Momo? “I’m usually the first one here. I’ll walk through the building and take a look at the grounds. We do a lot of events, so I make sure we are organized for those, both for the day and the week. Right now I’m handling a lot of the wine, making sure the inventory’s set, orders are in place, and everything’s put away,” he says.
Earlier this year Eno Terra’s original chef, Chris Albrecht, left. A new chef will be announced within a few weeks, but meantime the restaurant’s sous chefs have stepped in. “Even though I’m not in the kitchen on a daily basis,” Momo says, “I do involve myself with them quite a bit.” Other duties include training the staff on wines, familiarizing them with new dishes, and doing what he calls “boring things,” like paperwork. “But the best part is dealing with the guests. Once it’s show time, I’m available to them 99 percent of the time.”
Adds brother Carlo, 11 years Anthony’s senior, “We’ve started to make Anthony the face of Eno Terra because he’s spent most of his professional career in the front of the house.” But then he adds another talent: “You know, the reason he went out to Denver in the first place was that, although sales from the restaurant we had opened there were quite nice from the beginning, it was kind of out of control cost-wise. Anthony fixed that up! He did a great job of taking hold and turning that around. And now that restaurant is a landmark. That’s what we want for Eno Terra, and every day we get a little closer.”
That same keen eye for margin will be put to good use on their next project. Terra Momo Group was chosen by Princeton University to run a restaurant and cafe inside the long-unused building at the former Dinky train station. Raoul Momo says they hope to open the 1,800-square-foot artisanal pizzeria-style cafe by next summer, with the full-service Italian restaurant (5,000 square feet) coming online in 2016. “We’ve tried many concepts over the years,” Raoul Momo says, including as an example Nova Terra, the unsuccessful Latin fusion spot they opened in 2000 in New Brunswick. “Now we’re refocusing on the roots of our company and our family’s heritage.”
The Momo brothers hope to someday write a cookbook that captures their mother’s recipes. Teresa Azario’s family emigrated from Bergamo, Italy, to South America when Teresa, now in her 70s, was 12. She met her husband, Raul, a Chilean, when he was working in Cayenne, French Guyana, for her father, a contractor. In 1960 Teresa and Raul moved to the Bronx. By 1970 they had opened a small, successful Italian deli in Rockland, New Jersey, and had moved to Bergen County, where they went on to raise their five children.
Pat Tanner blogs at www.dinewithpat.com.