Winter in Rivertown: Something Magical About Lambertville
There's something magical about Lambertville in winter. While other towns seem to roll up their streets and lock their windows to wait out winter's chill, Lambertville rolls out a silver carpet of seasonal invitations. The warm glow from its holiday lights beckons, calling you to join in its celebration of the year's coldest months.
True, your pace may quicken a bit against an icy blast of wind or snowflakes falling as you meander down its neatly laid-out streets. But you'll also find yourself propelled by an anticipation that something wonderful is about to happen. And it can come in a myriad of forms. For Lambertville is clearly a town for all tastes and palates. From foodies to art and antiques lovers to nature and history buffs, and from music and dance aficionados to the designer and vintage-fashion savvy to collectors of rare books and finely crafted home furnishings, it's a never-ending season of joy.
One thing I'm always hearing is "I love Lambertville." And this from long-time residents, newbies and visitors alike. Of course, they each have their own reasons. Mine is because Lambertville's a sweet mix of its historical and industrial past with the avant-garde spirit of its present-day artists, shops and restaurants. Simply put, this is a town that likes to have fun – and welcomes all to join in.
I still remember my first time dining in Lambertville nearly 10 years ago. My friends had reserved a table in the Garden Room at Hamilton's Grill. To begin, we ordered oysters; they were so plump and fresh we were tempted to look for their boat tied up in back on the canal. At the urging of my friends, I followed them with grilled whole branzino, another first for me. Simply prepared with slices of fresh lemon and herbs, it was grilled to perfection. The magic of the evening continued as we strolled across the Porkyard to The Boat House, where I was charmed by the tavern's yacht-club decor, friendly bar staff, warming fireplace – and a welcoming snifter of cognac.
The largest of Hunterdon County's Delaware River towns, Lambertville is technically a city and hugs both the river and the Delaware-Raritan Canal on its western shore. Records give 1703 as the date when its portion of land was purchased from the Lenape. In 1705 John Holcombe became the first resident. Today he's remembered for two historic sites: the Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead, a museum celebrating the area's rich agricultural roots, and the brick house he built on Main Street, which Washington used as headquarters while planning his Christmas Day attack on Trenton, a turning point of the Revolutionary War. Before the fateful crossing, Washington was taken to Goat Hill Overlook to assure him that his boats could not be seen. (In the early 1900s, Goat Hill was also the rendezvous of choice to steal a first kiss or pop the question. Some say it still is.)
Before the Revolutionary War, the town was called Coryell's Ferry in honor of its second citizen, Emanuel Coryell, who operated the ferry to New Hope across the river. But by 1849 the name was changed to Lambertville, in honor of its first postmaster, Captain John Lambert, who operated the post office in his inn on Bridge Street, now the enchantingly restored Lambertville House.
Perhaps the most famous of Lambertville's sons is James Wilson Marshall, who's credited with starting the California Gold Rush of '49. His family home on Bridge Street, now the James Wilson Marshall House museum and headquarters of the Lambertville Historical Society, is a good example of the town's Federal houses and is on both the National and the New Jersey Registers of Historic Places. Decorated with period furnishings, the museum presents a timeline portrait of Lambertville, from its earliest settler, ferry and canal days through the coming of the railroad and the industrial age.
By 1925 Lambertville's outdated factories had closed, and by 1960 passenger trains no longer stopped. Freight service halted 16 years later. Still, with its river, canal and fine architectural bones, Lambertville refused to stay shuttered long. By the late 1970s, with the return of native sons like designer and restaurateur Jim Hamilton and an influx of artists, shops and restaurants, many of the old buildings were restored and the town became a desirable destination again. The renaissance has never stopped. Today Lambertville houses some of New Jersey's best restaurants, art galleries, antiques stores, inns and one-of-a-kind shops.
Lambertville kicks off its winter celebration the Saturday after Thanksgiving with the annual lighting of the Christmas tree, holiday parade and arrival of Santa. It's also the weekend of the annual Covered Bridge Artisans Holiday Studio Tour (coveredbridgeartisans. com), where you can visit local artists' studios to start your holiday shopping. This is an art lover's town as well as a foodie's. Walk down just about any street and you're sure to find an art gallery or studio, with most featuring solo or group shows, like Artists' Gallery on Bridge Street, River Queen Artisans Gallery on Church and Myles Cavanaugh Fine Art Gallery on Coryell. One of my holiday musts is buying a new tree ornament at Blue Raccoon on Coryell. This tiny street is also home to the studio where Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer write their award-winning cookbook series, Canal House Cooking.
Be sure to stop in the popular artisan shop A Mano Galleries and The People's Store, three floors of chockablock antiques and collectibles, both on North Union. Then cross the street for a great selection of handmade chocolates at The Chocolate Box.
Come the first Saturday in December, Santa roars in again – this time on a classic 1907 Case Threshing steam-engine tractor at Howell Living History Farm, just outside town at 70 Wooden's Lane. Dressed in a red robe and with lustrous white hair and beard, he looks every bit the part of Clement C. Moore's St. Nick. As he descends from his "sleigh," children line up behind to follow him into the main building so they can sit on his lap and tell him their heart's desires. Before setting the little ones down, he asks in a soft and avuncular voice, "And what are you doing to make the world better?"
Santa, though, isn't the only attraction this day. There are wagon rides; corn popped in cast iron pans over a wood-burning grill; hot apple cider; craft making; and tree ornaments, gifts and lunch for sale. If you're a music lover, Lambertville is the place to be, particularly in winter. Ushering in the season is Riverside Symphonia's annual holiday concert at the Church of St. John the Evangelist on Bridge Street. Then for some a cappella caroling head to the Locktown Stone Church to hear the Lambertville Traditional Carol Society. (Be sure to dress warmly. The postcard-sweet church dates to 1819 and has no indoor heat.) If you missed them at the church, no problem. You can catch the society at Mitchell's Cafe on Church Street and join them in a carol sing-along. A favorite watering hole of the locals, Mitchell's celebrates the season with its annual week-long holiday music marathon, featuring local musicians, including the Lambertville Jazz Trio. Another longtime favorite is the Roxey Ballet Company's performance of The Nutcracker.
A foodie's dream town, Lambertville opens for breakfast and closes with a nightcap. When asked their favorite restaurant, locals and regular visitors are hard-pressed. They never have just one – and then they'll rattle off those they want to try. Lambertville restaurants are known for serving up a hefty helping of hospitality – often on a first-name basis – along with their tantalizing dishes. The irresistible combo keeps you coming back for more. Recent additions like Brian's and El Tule fit right in with old-time favorites like Hamilton's Grill Room, Rick's, Bell's Tavern, Inn of the Hawke and Caffe Galleria. It's the same with bars: It's hard to pick a favorite, as each holds its own charm. The Left Bank Bistro in the Lambertville House, the Swan Bar, and the Wine Cellar at Lambertville Station are known for their libations and great food – and warming fires. For a pre-dinner drink or after, The Boat House is an insider's gem. (It doesn't serve food, but it sits across from Hamilton's Grill and is within an easy walk to other restaurants.) If a snowstorm threatens, head for the bar at the Inn of the Hawke like the locals. Lambertville allows a few weeks of recovery after the holidays before it cranks up more celebrations with the annual Lambertville–New Hope Winter Festival (winterfestival.net), held the last weekend in January. Festivities include a parade, live ice-sculpting stations, a beef-n-brew, music and theater performance, a pancake breakfast and a chili cook-off. Festivities really start the Saturday before with the Fire and Ice Ball and then, on Thursday, the Taste of Winter Fest, a sampling of some of the two towns' fine wines and restaurants.
And to think: If only John Marshall had lived today, he never would have left Lambertville – finding the real gold right here in town.
WHERE TO EAT
Anton's at the Swan | 43 S. Main St.; 609.397.1960; antons-at-the-swan.com An innovative, seasonal menu in an elegant setting. Braised duck and wild mushroom shepherd's pie is among the winter favorites. Menu items – as well as a complete bar menu – are also available at the Swan Bar next door.
Bell's Tavern | 183 N. Main Street; 609.397.2226; bellstavern.com A local favorite since 1938 and still going strong. Local picks include calamari, pasta carbonara, a Delmonico steak sandwich and the Bell's Burger. A wide selection of beers – including a Guinness-certified tap – wines and spirits.
Brian's | 9 Klines Court; 609.460.4148; brianslambertville.com Inspired by the food of Provence and northern Italy, each dish is artfully prepared to bring out every nuance of flavor. Signature dishes include wild mushroom soup with white truffle oil, sweetbreads Milanese and pappardelle Bolognaise. Spontaneous tasting menus and special themed dinners. BYOB.
Caffe Galleria | 23 N. Union Street, 609.397.2400; caffegalleria.com So popular, it had to move to a larger historic building. Though the menu of creative dishes changes seasonally, you can always find favorites: brick-oven pizzas, pastas and uncommonly yummy vegetarian dishes, including a vegetarian chili that would win over carnivores. BYOB. (Also operates the Left Bank Bistro in the Lambertville House and City Market.)
DeAnna's | 54 N. Franklin Street; 609.397.8957; deannasrestaurant.com The building may date to the Civil War, but there's nothing outdated in the menu or decor of this popular dining spot. For starters, try the eggplant marinade or fried cheese with fruit. Then move on to one of the handmade pastas to understand why there's a pasta museum in Italy.
d'floret | 18 S. Main Street; 609.397.7400; dfloretrestaurant.com One of the newest additions, it's fast gaining a loyal following. Signature dishes such as tian of crab, warm goat-cheese tart with tomato confit and thyme, and crème brûlée should not be missed. Menu features items from local farms. BYOB.
El Tule | 49 N. Main Street; 609.773.0007; eltulerestaurant.com Authentic Peruvian and Mexican dishes expertly prepared. The seafood sampler, pique del mar, is delicious and large enough to share. If crema voltreada de quinoa, a quinoa-and-egg caramel custard, is on the menu, don't pass it up. BYOB; bring a bottle of Pisco Portone and ask them to make you Pisco Sours.
Giuseppe's Ristorante & Pizza Bar | 40 Bridge Street; 609.397.1500; lambertvillepizza.com For several decades, this traditional Italian, family-run neighborhood restaurant has been a favorite, offering pizza, pasta and veal cutlet parmigiana along with calzones and subs. BYOB.
Hamilton's Grill Room | 8 Coryell Street; 609.397.4343; hamiltonsgrillroom.com A Mediterranean-inspired menu featuring in-season and local foods simply prepared. One visit and you understand why it is a timeless favorite. Specialities include oysters, grilled branzino and double-cut pork chops. BYOB.
Inn of the Hawke | 74 South Union; 609.397.9555; innofthehawke.com In the friendly bar you'll find classic pub fare, like fish and chips, wings, and burgers. For fine dining, head into the restaurant; specialities include wild salmon, lobster mac and cheese, baked crab-crusted tilapia, and roast pork tenderloin topped with Granny Smith apples and a brandy cream sauce.
Lambertville Station | 11 Bridge Street; 609.397.8300; lambertvillestation.com Offers three distinct dining venues: the station restaurant, pub and wine cellar. In the winter, a special menu featuring wild game such as antelope, alligator, wild boar and bison complements the station's regular menu.
Lilly's on the Canal | Two Canal Street; 609.397.6242; lillysgourmet.com Its two-story interior waterfall, central kitchen and creative menu have made Lilly's a perennial favorite for lunch and dinner. Picks include grilled vegetable risotto with vodka sauce, and the Canal Cobb Salad – and the eggplant fries are a must anytime. Menu features wines from Alba Vineyard.
Manon | 19 N. Union Street, 609.397.2596 Be prepared to be transported to Provence in this charming and romantic restaurant. Local favorites include duck, rack of lamb, warm goat-cheese salad and patés. BYOB.
Marhaba | 77 S. Union Street; 609.397.7777; marhabalambertville.com Excellent Middle Eastern cuisine. Specialities include lebne, a homemade yogurt spread served with olive oil and zatter bread; falafel; and chicken ouzi, a blend of chicken, vegetables, almonds, raisins and basmati rice baked in phyllo. BYOB.
Rick's | 19 S. Main Street; 609.397.0051; ricksitalian.com Casual dining featuring homemade Italian specialties. Sure bets include the parm sampler (eggplant, chicken and portobello mushroom) and the pan-seared sea scallops served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes. BYOB.
Siam Thai | 61 N. Main Street; 609.397.8128 Casual dining in a friendly setting. Start with appetizers merck tod, well-seasoned squid deep-fried and served with Thai chili sauce or tod mon pia, ground white fish mixed with kaffir lime leaves and Thai chili paste, for a sample of authentic Thai cuisine. BYOB.
Tacos Cancun | 20 N. Main Street; 609.397.3182; tacoscancunnj.com A Mexican deli offering homemade dishes for take-out inspired by the foods of Acapulco and Oaxaca. The menu demands multiple returns, but for starters, try the soft-corn tortillas with spicy spit-grilled pork or sliced brisket and topped with fresh cilantro and onions.
BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND COFFEE SHOPS
Ennis Market | 5 N. Union Street; 609.397.0009 Popular for its made-to-order breakfast and lunch sandwiches, such as the grilled roast pork, goat cheese, roasted red peppers and bacon dressing on a Portuguese roll.
Sneddon's Luncheonette | 47 Bridge Street; 609.397.3053 Has the charm of old-time Lambertville where town folk met over a cup of coffee and a plate of bacon and eggs before starting their day. They still do. And newcomers are always welcome. Now serving dinner on Fridays, 5–8pm, BYOB.
Full Moon | 23 Bridge Street; 609.397.1096 For a more gourmet-type breakfast and lunch spot, look no further. Omelettes such as the Prairie, with bacon, Granny Smith apples, onion and brie, and the grilled spinach, artichoke hearts and goat cheese should give you the idea. Dinners served every full moon.
Lambertville Trading Company | 43 Bridge Street; 609.397.2232; lambertvilletrading.com Serving estate-brewed coffee and specialty drinks like the L.T.C. Bomb (double French roast coffee with espresso and steamed milk), double hazelnut au lait, and raspberry hot cocoa. Also serves pastries and ice cream.
Rojo's Roastery | 243 N. Union Street; 609.397.0040; rojosroastery.com A small-batch artisan coffee roaster offering organic and sustainably grown coffees. Think of it as your guide to everything you wanted to know about coffee, enjoyment included. Also has a well-stocked array of coffee, espresso and tea equipment.
FARMS AND FOOD MARKETS
Big Bear Natural Foods | 239 N. Union Street; 609.397.4499; bigbearnaturalfoods.com A wide selection of fresh and packaged natural, organic and raw foods and products, including beauty and baby care products, vitamins, and herbal supplements. Fresh-fruit bar and prepared foods available for take-out.
City Market | 74 N. Main Street; 609.397.2929; citymarketlambertville.com A great combination of a gourmet deli, prepared-foods vendor, bakery, food market and neighborhood gathering spot where open music nights are not unusual.
Fulper Farms | 281 Rocktown Lambertville Road; 609.651.5991; fulperfarms.com Family dairy farm for more than a century. The family now offers yogurts, including Greek, and mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. for on-farm pick up. Farm tours and birthday parties are also available.
Homestead Farm Market | 262 N. Main Street; 609.397.8285; homesteadfarmmkt.com Large selection of Jersey produce and products, including Villa Milagro Vineyards wines, homemade food for takeout and award-winning pies. A seasonal Christmas shop offers beautiful, one-of-a-kind, fresh holiday wreaths created by staff members.
WINES & SPIRITS
Tomasello Winery Tasting Room | 1 N. Union Street; 609.397.5577; tomasellowinery.com Sample wines from this popular Hammonton vineyard in its Lambertville tasting room. Be sure to try Winter Chill, a semisweet white table wine that has become so popular it's now offered year-round.
Walker's Wine & Spirits, Inc. | 86 Bridge Street; 609.397.0625 Since 1946 Walker's has been offering a great selection of wines and spirits. Its knowledgeable and friendly staff will steer you to the right selection for any occasion.
Wonderful World of Wines | 8 S. Union Street; 609.397.0273; wonderfulworldofwines.net Once a speakeasy, today this shop offers a wide selection of wines from around the world and a growing number of small-batch beers, both domestic and imported – with a knowledgeable staff to match.
WHERE TO STAY
Chimney Hill Estate Inn | 207 Goat Hill Road; 609.397.1516; chimneyhillinn.com A private luxury inn on a historic estate offers the perfect setting for a country getaway, yet is within easy access to the town's restaurants and attractions.
The Inn of the Hawke | 74 South Union Street; 609.397.9555; innofthehawke.com Its history dates to the turn of the 19th century, when the private mansion was converted into a tavern and inn. The six well-appointed guest rooms sit above the tavern bar and restaurant.
Inn at Lambertville Station | 32 Bridge Street; 609.397.4400; lambertvillestation.com Features 45 beautifully appointed, antique-filled rooms, each with a different decor inspired by one of the world's great cities.
Lambertville House | 32 Bridge Street; 609.397.0200; lambertvillehouse.com A National Historic Inn, its 26 rooms are fashioned with the 21st century in mind, with jetted tubs, wireless Internet and suites with cozy fireplaces. Left Bank Bistro on premise.
Editor's Note: Additional lodging options within a short drive of Lambertville include: Main Street Manor, Flemington (mainstreetmanor.com), The National Hotel, Frenchtown (thenationalhotelnj.com) or the Golden Pheasant Inn across the river in Erwinna, PA (goldenpheasant.com).
HISTORIC FARMS AND MUSEUMS
Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead Museum 1605 Daniel Bray Highway (Rte. 29); 609.397.2752; holcombe-jimison.org
Howell Living History Farm 101 Hunter Road, Titusville; 609.737.3299; howellfarm.org
Lambertville Historical Society and the James Wilson Marshall House 60 Bridge Street; 609.397.0770; lambertvillehistoricalsociety.org
OTHER LOCAL ATTRACTIONS
Acme Screening Room | 25 S. Union Street; acmescreeningroom.org A nonprofit weekly independent and documentary film series that regularly features guest speakers and programs in conjunction with the film being shown.
Fisherman's Mark | 89 N. Main Street; 609.397.0194; fishermansmark.org A food-focused community support and outreach program that works with local farms and food stores to offer a food pantry and other initiatives, including educational programs promoting healthy eating habits.
Golden Nugget Antique and Flea Market | 1850 River Road (Rt 29); 609.397.0811; gnflea.com One of the largest flea markets on the East Coast, offering antiques, art and collectibles, with both indoor and outdoor vendors.
Rago Arts and Auction Center | 333 N. Main Street; 609.397.9374; ragoarts.com A premier auction house of fine art, decorative arts and furnishings, with a special emphasis on the 20th-century and Modern periods. Appraisals also available.
Roxey Ballet | 43 N. Union Street; 609.397.7616; roxeyballet.com A nonprofit professional ballet company with performances throughout the year.
Riverside Symphonia | 4 S. Union Street; 609.397.7300; riversidesymphonia.org A professional and community symphony with performances year-round.