BWW Reviews: Classic Italian Cuisine Meets Seasonal Inspiration at Teresa Caffé
This winter, Teresa Caffé is offering its visitors a menu replete with mellow pumpkin, crinkly kale, and soft butternut squash. All this will change with the summer months, when moist cucumbers and raw tomatoes will once again dominate this small yet estimable Princeton restaurant's offerings. For now, you couldn't find a better Italian eatery for the season. Nestled under a huge stone arch on Palmer Square, Teresa Caffé has a close, mellow atmosphere. The furnishings are few, though there is a large black-and-white portrait photograph of the restaurant's namesake, Teresa Momo (born Teresa Azario in Bergamo, Italy). It feels like an old-world café with significant perks-from fresh Garden State produce (courtesy of the Canal Farm) to polish and service befitting a much larger establishment.
In the words of Teresa Caffé stakeholder Anthony Momo, the Caffé is committed to offering "good, standard Italian cuisine," basics like hearty meatballs and thin-crust pizza, only executed at the highest possible quality. There's a risk that mixing in wintry brussel sprouts and chestnut puree would draw away from this commitment and take us well into "fusion food" purgatory-but this is Teresa Caffé, not a T.G.I Friday's. Here, the experiments with non-standard, non-classic-Italian ingredients don't feel like experiments; instead, Momo's staff has delivered dishes for the colder months that are filling yet carefully flavored, distinctive yet crowd-pleasing, balanced out in a way that alternative Italian food so seldom is.
Early in the holiday season, I stopped by for a virtually comprehensive meal, starting with a full array of appetizers and ending with the house Tiramisu and Nutella-covered dessert pizza. But you don't need to go all-out like this. The individual portions are generous already, and some of the current selections (the pumpkin gnocchi, the braised pork with broccoli rabe) are plenty filling even if you don't order much more.
It's easy to see why certain of these entrees have garnered partisans, fanatics, and enthusiasts of all sorts. The nearby Terra Momo Bread Company, which supplies Teresa Caffé with bread and pastries, puts out an almond-and-apricot loaf that is in terminally short supply (yup, just like the "marble rye" on Seinfeld) but that occasionally appears as table bread for lucky Teresa Caffé patrons. Another on-and-off Teresa Caffé favorite is the mezzi rigatoni with grilled chicken, sautéed mushrooms, and kale. Although the rigatoni dropped off the menu for a time, popular demand brought it back on. No wonder-the recipe uses an impossibly good balsamic cream sauce, the tart flavors toned down just the right amount.
I don't mean to distract from the supreme, surprising aptness of so many of the other dishes. Even though the braised meatball appetizer looks a bit fancified, with its parsley and reddish-gold tomato sauce, it is actually top-notch Italian comfort food; don't be surprised if you order a second helping, or a third for that matter. Yet this wasn't my own favorite surprise. A few courses into my visit, the Caffé served a white wine with unmistakable floral flavors. Florals in winter? The florals, though, added something luxuriant and velvety, something ultimately wintery. Yes, florals in winter-one of the many charms of Teresa Caffé.
Teresa Caffe, 23 Palmer Square East, Princeton, New Jersey 08542-3714 (609) 921-1974
Photo: Courtesy of Teresa Caffe.