Hopewell Valley Bistro & Inn

Old World welcome and an extensive menu with Eastern European specialties combine for an evening of comfort in Hopewell Borough.

By: Kate O’Neill

Hopewell Valley Bistro & Inn

15 E. Broad St.


(609) 466-9889


Food: Generally very good

Service: Not good on the night we visited

Prices: Moderate

Cuisine: American with Eastern European specialties

Ambience: European bistro

Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday brunch 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

Essentials: Major credit cards accepted; full bar; wheelchair accessible from the restaurant’s back parking lot; smoking in bar; reservations appreciated.

Music: Live jazz and dancing Sat. 7-10 p.m., Reservations recommended, typically no cover charge.


   The Hopewell Valley Bistro & Inn draws on the owners’ Eastern European heritage to provide an unusual dining opportunity in the heart of Hopewell Borough. The menu includes Austro-Hungarian specialties along with American favorites. The bar is a social hub and the wide porch offers dining with a fine perspective on the town’s Victorian main street.
   Three years ago, when they retired, Susie Molnar’s parents turned over ownership to Susie and her husband, Paul. The new owners extensively refurbished the two main dining areas, adding a dance floor to the banquet-sized Starlight Room. The original dining room is especially handsome, with olive-toned wainscoting topped by half-timbered walls that frame groupings of Hungarian ceramics. The chandeliers’ glow glints off the cutlery and the glass-topped white tablecloths.
   On a recent visit, this pleasant environment was darkened by our server, who was inexplicably inconsiderate. Still, her performance could neither ruin the chef’s accomplishments nor undermine the Inn’s good range of wines and on-tap beers. Our disappointment in the service will surprise those familiar with the high standards and warm hospitality of Susie Molnar, who earned a reputation for friendliness during her days as owner of the Pennington Bistro.
   With Tom under the weather, my son Tim and I arrived just after 8 p.m. and found one occupied table on the porch and an empty dining room. Our server-to-be suggested we sit indoors, where we were the only diners until a family of three stopped by a half hour later for hamburgers. With so few guests and a dining room that is open until 10, we remained puzzled by her brusque manner and inattentive performance.
   She presented my gazpacho sloshed over the rim into the saucer and spoon; she clattered plates as she cleared adjacent tables, and was visibly exasperated when I asked for my steak "rare to medium rare." She never refilled our water glasses, though this was Tim’s only beverage, and neglected to ask if we would like dessert. When we inquired, she wordlessly brought a blackboard with a list of at least two dozen desserts and leaned it against the next table. Finally, she offered no coffee or tea; she just dropped off the check and vanished. Although the bill included a $1 overcharge on one glass of wine, we signed and departed rather than experience more of her dark mood.
   The gazpacho ($2.50) was the only culinary disappointment of the evening. Although it contained an abundance of solid cucumber chunks and green peppers, the liquid seemed to be spicy, canned tomato juice. But Tim enjoyed a pear, blue cheese and walnut salad ($7.25) that included generous amounts of all three ingredients attractively arrayed on a bed of lettuce, with subtle vinaigrette served on the side. He prefers the more sweetness and sophistication that caramelized walnuts often lend this dish, but even unadorned, the walnuts blended well with their companions’ crisp, rustic flavors.
   Each entrée entitles the diner to a trip to the salad bar, where we found the basics supplemented by fresh leaf lettuce (not iceberg), pasta salad with sliced olives, tasty corn and black bean salsa and pickled beets. The Inn provides three dressing options: vinaigrette, Russian and creamy poppy seed. Back at the table, foil-wrapped butter and soft, dense baguette slices awaited us.
   With my black pepper steak ($19.95), I ordered spaetzle, tiny, rich German dumplings that are a Molnar family speciality. Tim chose roasted red potatoes to accompany his grilled salmon ($16.95), but when served, the starches were reversed. Perhaps our waitress flip-flopped the orders, or maybe the chef knew which combinations matched best. In any case, we stuck with their decision and the switch worked well for us. The buttery, paprika-flecked potatoes tamed the nip of the peppercorns that coated the steak, but the portion was so generous that I had to abandon much of it. The rib-eye was succulent and tender, cooked rare, as ordered, and my glass of robust Hopewell Valley Vineyards Rossa della Valle ($6) — with its plum and raspberry finish — seemed made-to-order for the steak’s peppery overcoat. Tim delighted in the salmon, garnished with lemon slices and creamy yogurt-dill sauce. The fish was served as two small steaks, seared till dark outside, leaving the inside juicy. The somewhat dry and sticky spaetzle seemed to have waited too long for us, but it retained a rich egg flavor that complemented the salmon. Both dishes came with well-steamed green beans, which I prefer al dente, but Tim thought ideal.
   From Susie Molnar’s extensive list of homemade desserts, I chose a sour cherry tart ($5) that was neither sour nor a tart. Instead, it was a fine, all-American cherry pie, with a dense crust. From the Eastern European specialties, Tim selected and adored a giant slice of Black Forest cake ($5), topped by cloud of whipped cream and filled with juicy, whole cherries, perfectly balanced with the light, dry cake.
   We hope our readers will take one server’s performance as an anomaly and visit the Hopewell Bistro. The extensive menu is worth a try and so is the Old World welcome of Susie Molnar.