The neon letters glowed through sheets of rain toward the end of the first week in November. "Wine," said one. "Beer," said another. The Urban Word was open again, and that it had obtained a liquor license, just as Roland Pott, one of its founders, had said it would.
In an interview at the end of the summer, Pott had said he thought that liquor licenses at both the Urban Word, formerly a hip casual restaurant/performance space, and at Conduit, an entertainment hall right next door, were key to the renewal of the pair of businesses, which are located right across the street from the Sovereign Bank Arena. Both had been closed for several months at that point, and Pott, who planned to retain ownership of the buildings, was looking for new owners for the businesses.
Conduit is re-open, and is keeping its name, but the Urban Word has been reborn as the Congress Rotisserie. On that early-November evening, David Cunningham, the restaurant’s new owner, was busy in the kitchen, and Rosie O’Donnell was passionately stating her case against the publishers of her defunct magazine on CNN, playing over the bright red bar.
"We just got our liquor license today," says Cunningham, emerging from the kitchen with plates of chicken wings for two of the bar’s first patrons. Cunningham took a moment to chat in his new restaurant, whose exposed brick walls are decorated with Central American art. He has never wanted to be anywhere but in a restaurant. "I started at 13, working in greasy spoons in Connecticut, where I grew up," he says. He then studied cooking in France for three years before returning to the States, and spending 12 years working in restaurants in New York City.
His wife, Patricia, works in human resources for the United Nations. When the couple, who have a two-year-old daughter, were ready to take the big step of opening a restaurant, and relocating in the process, they looked everywhere. Did you draw a circle around the city? Oh yeah, he says. A big circle. "We looked as far away as Alabama," he says.
Trenton was the choice for the restaurant, he says, because it is urban, but not too big. Already, he has met a number of residents, many from nearby Mill Hill.
The arts elements that distinguished the Urban Word are continuing, says Cunningham. Open mic nights have already begun. Kevin Swider of Capital City Concerts is organizing art and entertainment events, which take place on the SideStage. This space is apart from, but just behind, the restaurant. It holds 30 people, who can order food and drinks from the restaurant as they enjoy singer/song writer, open mic, and poetry slam events.
Now, about the food. Undecided, I ordered the sample platter to take home. At just over $20, it contained enough roasted turkey, chicken, prime rib, pork loin, and ribs for a large extended family to share — with ample leftovers for lunch the next day. The spouse especially enjoyed the pork loin, but his choice of a favorite could have been dictated by the fact that the ribs had all but disappeared before he got home. They are, bar none, the best I have ever had anywhere.
The turkey was excellent too, as was the prime rib, which came with a horseradish sauce. A side of potato salad, made with red bliss potatoes, was outstanding.
All of the rotisserie meals are available at lunch. The rib platter is $11.50, and includes French fries. Other lunch choices are BBQ pork on a Kaiser roll with fries for $6.50, Peruvian-style cerviche for $7, chicken and bean stew for $6, and sweet corn and turkey chowder for $6. For vegetarians, there are a number of salads, including spinach and pine nut for $6, Asian Soba noodle and sesame salad for $7, and an avocado and tomato salad for $5. Sides, available at lunch and dinner, include saffron rice, black beans, seasonal vegetables, and baked potato, each for $2.
The Congress Rotisserie opens at 7:30 a.m. during the week. It serves right through until 10 p.m. from Monday through Thursday, and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. It opens at 11 a.m. on week-ends, and closes at 9 p.m. on Sunday. There is substantial parking behind the restaurant. All major credit cards are accepted, and it is handicap accessible.
Congress Rotisserie, 449 South Broad Street, Trenton 08611. David Cunningham, owner. 609-989-7777; fax, 609-989-7737.