Out and About

Chambers Walk settles down in historic Lawrenceville

By: Pat Tanner
   Chambers Walk has enjoyed success as a café and as a catering business since its inception 16 years ago. What it hasn’t done is stay in one place — until now. On April 11, Chambers Walk launched its newest incarnation as Chambers Walk Café and Catering at a grand opening party at its new quarters in the heart of the village of Lawrenceville. About 80 well-wishers attended, including family, friends, township officials, village residents, and loyal customers.
   The invitation-only gala was also a benefit for the Lawrenceville Main Street project, to which a portion of the $40 ticket price was donated.
   The peripatetic Chambers Walk began life in 1986 as a café, located on Palmer Square in Princeton. In 1991, owners Laura and Mario Mangone decided to focus solely on catering, closing the café and moving the operation to a larger facility in Trenton. "For years we have provided our clients with food and services in the comfort of their homes," said Mario Mangone, "and now we’d like to offer them the same — in the comfort of our home." Well, not quite his home, but his stunning new café on Main Street (Route 206) in Lawrenceville, just across from the Lawrenceville School.

From Princeton to Trenton to Lawrenceville: From left, chef David Ercolano, catering director Susan Olson, and Chambers Walk proprietors Laura and Mario Mangone are happy to have Chambers Walk join Lawrenceville’s "restaurant row."

   Mr. Mangone decided to make his grand opening a benefit for Lawrenceville Main Street in recognition of that group’s help to businesses like his. Ann Garwig, executive director of Lawrenceville Main Street, was on hand for the evening’s festivities, which included a ribbon-cutting ceremony, speeches by Lawrenceville Mayor Doris Weisberg and others, and, of course, lots of good food and drink. Main Street Lawrenceville is a civic-improvement association focused on revitalizing the economy, appearance, and image of the village.
   As of now, the 50-seat Chambers Walk Café is open for lunch every day and for breakfast on Saturdays. The lunch menu includes soups, sandwiches, and salads, in half or full portions, alone or in combination. Sandwiches range from $4 for roast beef to $7.25 for Prosciutto di Parma with Parmigiano and arugula on Tuscan bread. Among the entrée salads is one of mizuna greens with roasted duck, green apples, farmer’s cheese, and citrus vinaigrette ($7.50). In the evening, the space is used for private parties and occasional dinners open to the public. Chambers Walk will continue to focus on catering, but Mr. Mangone plans to add gourmet take-out meals and cooking classes, as well.
   The interior has been designed with a half-circle counter/bar facing an open kitchen, and that is where Chambers Walk chef de cuisine David Ercolano hopes to present classes. For the opening gala, the staff prepared a series of beautifully appointed tables laden with themed specialties from the Pacific Rim and the Mediterranean, as well as a selection of cheeses and fruits, artisanal breads, and pastries.
   Mr. Ercolano, who has been with Chambers Walk for three years, says that the outfit prides itself on using local suppliers, which include Witherspoon Bread Company and Nassau Street Seafood, both in Princeton, and Indian Rock Produce of Doylestown, Pa. Mr. Ercolano is a graduate of the New York Restaurant School who has worked at such well-regarded New York restaurants as Picholine, San Domenico, and Felidia. But he got his start at Chambers Walk. "Mario is my cousin. I was 14 when he gave me my first job, so I’ve come full circle," says the 34-year-old native of Lawrenceville, who bicycles to work each day.
   Sous chef James Matticoli isn’t literally family, but he may as well be. "Mario’s mom and my grandmother are longtime friends," he says, by way of explaining how he came to Chambers Walk almost four years ago. Like Mario and Laura Mangone, he is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. He has worked in Turin, Italy, Colorado, and at the Forsgate Country Club in Jamesburg.
   Among the well-wishers were Mario Mangone’s beaming parents, Cesina and Joseph Mangone of Princeton, and Joe McLaughlin and Caron Wendell, proprietors of Lucy’s Ravioli Kitchen. "Caron and I shared a kitchen with Mario way back when he moved to Trenton," said Mr. McLaughlin. Caron Wendell added, "People thought it would never work to have two businesses sharing one kitchen, but it did, in part because we made our products on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and Mario’s catering business needed the kitchen mostly Thursdays through Sundays."
   Bill Nester has been a Lawrenceville resident for 36 of his nearly 80 years, and remembers when the space that now houses Chambers Walk, which dates back to 1927, was the town hardware store. "I think it’s wonderful, this whole Main Street idea. It’s done wonders; everyone can take pride in this. Old places can be nice, but they can get behind the times, so it’s great when something is done with them."
   Instrumental in "doing something" with this space are Joseph Saphire, the architect, and Tom Pinneo, general contractor. Both their eponymous firms are based in Princeton, both have worked on this space previously, and both were on hand to celebrate. "We first hooked up with this building when Marrazzo’s took it over," says Mr. Saphire, referring to the gourmet produce and specialty shop that last occupied 2667 Main Street.
   Under Mr. Mangone’s guidance, Mr. Saphire and Mr. Pinneo created a space that is modern but warm, striking but welcoming. The room’s coffered ceiling is painted navy blue, with walls a deep terra-cotta color accented by cypress wood and brick. At the front of the room is a raised platform with a big picture window and a banquette that wraps around two walls.
   But the half-circle, black-topped bar is the room’s focal point. Mr. Saphire pointed out its unusual foot rail, which is actually elevator cable from the World Trade Center. For safety reasons, the cables were replaced every two months, he said, at which time artists and artisans would scavenge the old cables to incorporate into their work. (The cables used for Chambers Walk’s footrail were acquired two years ago.)
   In her speech, Mayor Doris Weisberg declared, "Businesses are the backbone of Lawrenceville’s prosperity. They make the village livable and attractive." She later called this stretch of Main Street the village’s "restaurant row." Options range from casual TJ’s to fine-dining Acacia, with Chambers Walk, Fedora Café, and Vidalia in the mix. Plans are in the works for the opening of the Lawrenceville Inn, as well.
   Patty Moran of Lawrenceville paid a heartfelt tribute to the folks at Chambers Walk. "Last June," she said, "I lost a dear friend, and that day I told her family I would bring dinner. I called Chambers Walk and asked if they could cater a meal for 8 to 10 people that night. They gasped — it was 11 a.m., after all." After a little negotiation, they agreed. Although the family had at first demurred at her suggestion of bringing dinner, saying that they really didn’t feel like eating, "the presentation was so beautiful and the food smelled so good, they sat down and ate, and ate well. I wasn’t a regular customer then, but I am now," she concluded.
Pat Tanner discusses food and dining on the radio each Saturday on "Dining Today" from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. over MoneyTalk 1350 AM.