The newest addition to the Princeton dining scene is the renovated space at 277 Witherspoon Street, the former site of Jim Nawn’s Two Sevens Eatery and Cantina. The warm and inviting Meeting House had been only open one week when my friends and I arrived for dinner, and it was already lively. Although we did not have a reservation, we were seated immediately — it was a Thursday night at 6 p.m. — in the main dining room.
Co-owners Amanda Maher and her husband, Amar Gautam are transplanted Manhattanites. Their goal is to create a family-friendly, unstuffy space with American themed food at reasonable prices. Gautam owned a bar and restaurant in New York before their move to Princeton a couple of years ago.
The interior has been completely redecorated from its former industrial style into a cozy space with warm wood accents and soft green walls, farmhouse lighting, and an enclosed kitchen. The eclectic decor features antique store/flea market finds that attract the eye and remind you of things from Grandma’s house. Having the kitchen enclosed does help with the noise level, but the high ceilings do still carry the buzz of conversation. Some draped fabric from the exposed girders would help muffle things, but we had no trouble conversing the night we were there.
The entrance is inviting, leading you to the warmly lit bar and into the main dining room. The far end of the room features a private dining area that was set for 12 the night we were there but could seat more. There is also a private bar with a stage downstairs. While that area is not used at the moment, we were told that plans are being developed to offer music or other special events. Tables are well spaced and there will be a common table in the main dining room, a nod to casual European dining. The large U-shaped bar was jumping when we arrived, and the single TV in the bar area is positioned so that it is not intrusive to the main dining room.
Consulting chef Carmen Gonzalez, a “Top Chef Masters’’ finalist, brings diversity to the menu and avoids the typical high price tag with an entree price range of $16 to $26. My friends and I love to share so we were able to try several items, starting with the Sweet Pea Guacamole with house chips ($13). The surprise of this dish is the combination of three different style chips: potato, yucca, and plantain. The guacamole is hearty and blends well with the different chip tastes. The Crispy Rhode Island Calamari with pickled peppers, lemon, and romesco sauce ($14) has a very light coating. The soup that day was hot and creamy cauliflower ($8). Of particular delight was the roasted beet salad with orange slices, pistachios, farmers cheese, and yogurt dressing ($13)
We moved on to the grilled cauliflower as a main ($11), as well as the mushroom flatbread ($17) and the vegan dish, which featured root vegetables and lentils ($18). The Scottish Salmon was served on a bed of puy lentil stew with roasted carrots and romesco sauce ($24). The flat breads also include chicken ($17) and fresh Mozzarella ($16) and are a good size to share or have as a main.
The sides are all $8 and include mashed potatoes, roasted Brussel sprouts, cheesy polenta, charred broccoli, and a three cheese mac & cheese. Other main dishes are short ribs, scallops, and a house burger ($15) that looked very tempting as it went by.
The menu lives up to the goal of providing rich comfort food at a reasonable cost. Our only quibble with the meal was the bread. The rolls seemed to have been out for a while and they would be more in keeping with the tone of the menu if they were served hot.
Desserts are all very appealing, and we three shared bites of the banana bread pudding, a nice twist on a classic recipe ($6). Drinks are also very reasonable and the bar well stocked.
Diners need not be concerned with parking. It is very convenient, just in the parking deck behind the restaurant on Albert Way. The Meeting House takes care of the cost of parking up to three hours, a generous gesture as parking on Henry Street is now metered.
Princeton has sorely missed a relaxed, friendly spot for light dining ever since Main Street closed. The feel of the Meeting House and the varied menu definitely evoke the comfort of that beloved institution. Children are welcome, and it is a fine choice for a casual date night or a friends’ gathering. Our group will meet at the Meeting House again for sure.
Meeting House, 277 Witherspoon Street, Princeton. Tuesday, 4 to 9 p.m.; Wednesday through Friday, 4 to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. 609-436-7891 or www.meetinghouseprinceton.com