It’s a typical Saturday night in Princeton and environs. People are queued up for precious dinner spots everywhere from Blue Point Grill on Nassau Street to Big Fish and even TGIFriday’s at MarketFair. But if you drive a few miles further south down Business Route 1, to where it turns into Warren Street in Trenton, you will come to Maxine’s 2. There you will find no lines, no shortage of parking spots right on the street in front of the restaurant, and – surprise – a menu and ambiance that you won’t find anywhere else around.
After its prior incarnation fell into bankruptcy Maxine’s 2 has risen at 120 South Warren Street, just before Lafayette Street and just around the corner from the new Marriott Hotel and refurbished Trenton War Memorial. The awning boasts "fine southern cooking" and you will get that, with a Jamaican twist, from the new owners, Dino Cummings, 25, and his mother, Jennifer Legore, immigrants from Jamaica who also own the Coconut Restaurant near Helene Fuld hospital.
Maxine’s 2 is a retro Art Deco gem, reminiscent of the dining and dancing clubs of the 1930s. The grand balcony conjures images of Nick and Nora Charles sipping sidecars to the tunes of Xavier Cugat. We were treated to more of a reggae than Cuban beat but the Latin ambiance was there. "We see ourselves as a supper club that wants to bring some entertainment into the area," says Cummings, who studied business management at Rutgers and sees this restaurant as a case study for his college lessons. "We think we are here at the right time."
Maxine’s 2 reopened in April of this year, on a block that also is home to the successful Cafe Ole, Gallery 125, and the new Classics Bookstore, where one of the attractions is a Friday night Scrabble contest. This Wednesday, September 7, Trenton re-developer Roland Pott is breaking ground on a complete renovation of the long-vacant property next door to Maxine’s to offer retail and small office space.
And Maxine’s is creating its own excitement. Monday nights it features line and salsa dancing. It’s a part of the second Fridays program in Trenton – this Friday evening, September 9, should be a busy one for the restaurant, with a jazz trio entertaining starting at 5 p.m. On Sunday, September 11, from 5 to 9 p.m., Maxine’s is hosting a fundraiser with live music for the Red Cross hurricane relief efforts. The Metropolitan Trenton African American Chamber of Commerce will meet there for its monthly luncheon on Wednesday, September 14. And on Sunday, September 18, Maxine’s 2 will host a cocktail party after the Ebony Magazine Fashion Fair around the corner at the War Memorial.
The menu is extensive and features Jamaican dishes and southern staples. We tried curried goat with collard greens and rice (just $11.95) and red snapper "escovitch," a Jamaican style in which the whole fish is steamed with herbs, vinegar, and vegetables, resulting in a moist, flavorful dish ($12.95).
Those extremely reasonable prices are the rule – most entrees running between $12 and $16. At this point the bar offers only a limited beer and wine list, but beer drinkers may want to try Red Stripe, a Jamaican favorite that goes well with that snapper. Dinner for two, which came with salad and two side dishes, was just under $50, including several drinks.
The recent history of Trenton is filled with stores and restaurants that were hailed as emblems of the city’s rebirth, but which are no longer there today. Utopia, the restaurant featured on the cover of this newspaper in October, 2002, is now gone. Maxine’s is a big room – 8,500 square feet including a wrap-around balcony – and the challenges will be great, as well.
If it makes it, Maxine’s 2 and the block it is on will be a visual reminder of what Trenton once was, and could still be.