Longtime reader Libby Zinman Schwartz wrote in this week with two reflections on important aspects of the community that have changed as a result of the current pandemic.
One is public transportation, where people who used to happily share a row of seats on a train or bus are now finding ways to get from point A to point B without interacting with any strangers. A casualty of this is the Princeton freeB, a free shuttle bus that offers rides into downtown Princeton, the Princeton Shopping Center, and the Dinky train station.
The small shuttle, where social distancing would be nearly impossible, has not been running, and Schwartz hopes that it is not a cancellation that persists beyond the threat of COVID-19.
Bring Back the freeB
Many of us stuck on Elm Road and in other locations, entirely dependent on the freeB bus to get us into town to enjoy the wonderful university seminars (hopefully soon beginning again); dine at the delicious restaurants, some now serving outdoors under charming wedding-like white tents, sparkling with tiny Christmas lights; or to simply buy an ice cream cone and walk about the town are concerned that the municipality may not open the freeB bus line again.
This would be unimaginable to most of us, who now must either walk four miles round-trip to get into town (not easy for most seniors), or remain secluded in our buildings.
I think the municipality has a responsibility to those of us without daily access to transportation, especially along Elm Road, off Route 206, to provide regular service into Princeton to enjoy all its many offerings. Princeton Crosstown (Ride Provide) has begun again to offer rides, but to pick up a quart of milk and carton of eggs at the Princeton Shopping Center would cost $6, round trip, and the service, though excellent, is really not designed for that purpose.
Schwartz also commented on the unexpected joys of outdoor dining, which returned in mid-June and has brought socially distanced crowds out to streets and sidewalks that have been transformed to accommodate tents, tables, and diners.
While the return of indoor dining has been put on the back burner in light of surging coronavirus cases in states that had allowed indoor service to resume earlier, restaurants are finding creative ways to serve their customers outdoors even on the hottest summer days.
Yes, we can now dine outside but not inside. An intense heat wave has covered the northeast and much of the nation, making the reprieve of dining more a curse than a pleasure.
In my town, Princeton, beautifully set tables and chairs set under a sparkling white tent, bordered with white Christmas lights appear inviting, but in 90 degree heat and higher those tables remain empty, and the heat wave as yet shows no signs of stopping for at least several weeks.
So, imagine my surprise and delight when shopping at Mercer Mall, in Lawrenceville, I discovered Bonefish Grill, a fairly new restaurant on the block, directly across from Shop Rite market where I had been shopping. It was high noon. I was hungry, hot, and desperate to find a restaurant offering outdoor seating, hopefully with umbrellas to provide shade.
I looked across the parking lot at Bonefish Grill, which tempted me because I love good seafood, and the restaurant seemed to be enjoying more shade than I could cull on my side of the mall.
Taking a deep breath I began the trek across the macadam blazing in the hot sunlight. When I arrived dripping from the brief trek, I was faced with another surprise: Sitting square in the bright sunlight on a boiling afternoon were two chairs and one lonely table placed at the restaurant’s entrance.
How could this be? I knocked on the door until a waiter arrived and asked him if the one table was all he had. He politely informed me that the restaurant would open in 10 more minutes and shrugged. Then I looked toward the end of the building and noted a small gated patio. Using my best implorative skills I asked him if he could take my order while I sat at the other lone table out of the sunlight.
The waiter waved me over to the tiny patio and rounded the corner. Another surprise! A long, heavily shaded veranda cooled by overhead fans housed seven or eight tables, dressed with stiff white napery, wine glasses, and a bouquet of flowers at the center.
Need I say more? Of course, the food, the best surprise of all. I preferred a light lunch on such a hot day so I ordered Bonefish Tacos. No words can do credit to the crispy tacos, brimming with saucy salad and artfully cut chunks of bonefish, a favorite my father taught me to love from his many stories of fishing on Marathon Key, Florida.
I never forgot his description of the light, tasty bonefish he caught and then asked the chefs at the hotel to prepare for him. Now I was enjoying beautifully prepared bonefish tacos on a cooled veranda with a glistening goblet of icy Sangria on a brutally hot afternoon at Mercer Mall. My only regret is not having room for the Macadamia Nut Brownie.
Libby Zinman Schwartz
Elm Road, Princeton
For daily dining updates, follow Mercer Eats on Facebook and Instagram.
Editor’s note: Another long-running institution that has felt the impact of the pandemic is the Bryn Mawr-Wellesley Book Sale. The 89-year-old sale was abbreviated this past March as COVID began spreading and has suspended operations until further notice, once it is again safe to receive and sort donations of books.