Hamilton's Grill Room, Lambertville
- ambrose Mar 26, 2010 02:50 PM
Hamilton's Grill Room has been mentioned in numerous threads but I thought I'd start a new one because I need convincing that I should go back there.
It's been years since I went to this restaurant. The simple fact is that I didn't think it was that wonderful. I know it's extremely popular but I just felt there were better places to go, not only in Lambertville but also in other towns in Hunterdon and Mercer Counties. The food was fine but there certainly was no "wow" factor. The service was OK but nothing out of the ordinary. On one occasion, service was borderline rude.
So, I'm hoping that some of you who love (or even just like) Hamilton's might provide some specific recommendations about what's really good at this place. I'm more of a meat person that a seafood person if that helps.
I await your convincing!
I agree with ambrose. We would love to love Hamilton's Grill, but need some guidance from someone who's been there recently. What to order, where to sit, etc. to ensure a memorable experience.
It's got everything going for it including a canal side setting at the end of a cozy alley, a great historic building, a cool bar (the Boathouse) across it's courtyard, al fresco dining in season, it's BYOB and has a steady stream of locals plus tourists to fill it's tables year round.
Problem here is the food is average at best, and forgettable by the time you walk out of the alley and turn the corner. We've been there on at least five occasions over as many years, but for the life of me, I can't recall one thing that wowed me or that I even remember.
Well, you won't get any convincing from me, ambrose. We hadn't been there in ages, but two years ago, we were taking care of some matters in nearby Flemington and decided to give it a try again. Disappointing. Not that anything was bad. But nothing was better than just o.k. And service was quite perfunctory, i.e., staff just going through the motions. It's unfortunate because when it first opened years ago, the food was really good.
Interestingly, Gabrielle Hamilton (Jim's daughter) is a James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef NYC. She's the chef/owner of Prune, on the Lower East Side.
While Hamilton Grill competes against the rather pathetic offerings in Central Jersey, I don't think this is entirely a case of Hamilton Grill just being the restaurant in the area that sucks the least. Rather, I think it's a good restaurant. I've been there three times over the past 18 months. Here's what I like:
-In general, I prefer to eat there during the spring and summer -- they do a better job with those ingredients and I think it's an especially pleasant place to sit when the weather is nice.
-I like to start with a drink at the Boathouse bar and then wander over to dinner.
-I like to sit outside (and I never have the problem of the sinking cheap plastic chair that someone reported above). It's a quiet space, away from traffic, and alongside the canal.
-When I've gone for lunch, I've liked their flatbreads and their lobster roll (full of great claw/tail meat with just enough mayo to hold it together). I haven't had their hamburger yet, but it looked pretty good.
-For dinner, I've had excellent pieces of pan-roasted fish.
-I would agree that service is lacking, but I'd also argue that it's about as good as every other restaurant in New Jersey that I've tried. In other words, I'm convinced that good service and New Jersey cannot be put in the same sentence. Not sure why, but it seems like that.
Hamilton Grill is not the single greatest meal I've ever had and I would certainly say that the owner's daughter, Gabrielle Hamilton, serves better food at Prune in Manhattan. That said, I think it's a really nice setting and the food has been consistently good quality. I'd rather go here than some of the over-wrought creative places like Elements or Ferry House in Princeton, for example.
32 Witherspoon St, Princeton, NJ 08542
HGR has had a very long run and I have to report that we really enjoyed a great dinner here this past Sunday. Yep, I may have knocked it above, back in 2010, but Sunday's dinner was one to remember.
We were part of a large party of 10 and came well stocked with a selection of wines and port. We were ready to enjoy an evening of dining excellence! Hamilton's delivered in all regards. Comfortable setting in the back right dining room, nicely appointed table and professional service from a lone waitress to handle our party. We felt like we were at a friend's dinner party versus out at a restaurant that has seen decades of diners pass through it's doors.
Food for the evening was enjoyed by all. I had oysters to start and the rabbit cacciatore for my entree. The oysters were excellent, served on the half shell. Could have had a few dozen more! The rabbit was divine. It included a generous portion of rabbit, cooked perfectly and served with a thick tomato, roasted pepper & herb sauce, over wide egg noodles. Really a great early fall dish.
I'm not sure if we happened to catch them on an up night or if this is the new norm for HGR?
We'll more eagerly return to experience it all again.
Over the past three years, I've had nothing but good meals here. Lunches, dinners, small parties, large parties, meat, fish, summer, winter -- always good food. The service can be a bit more variable -- they occasionally have an inexperienced server -- but that's frankly par for the course in this area. We're not in a big city where professional waiters can truly make a career of serving at nice restaurants. HGR is easily our favorite restaurant in the area, both for its food and the comfortable setting. We love the "have-a-drink-across-the-courtyard-then-have-nice-dinner-outside" routine in the summer.
I have been to Hamilton Grill Room several times this summer, and have yet to be disappointed. Call me biased perhaps, but for a group of wine friends, this is a great central location for all of us.
I prefer the outside seating, and I have never really thought about the chairs, and quite honestly, I cannot remember the chairs, so they left no impression. We have also sat in the room where the grill is 3 times this past summer, and it is always nice to watch the chef on the grill.
For me, what sets Hamilton Grill Room off is the flavors from the grill. An old (and very seasoned) charcoal grill that only uses lump coal.
Appetizer wise, I have had the crab cakes as well as the pork belly, and both have been delicious. They also had some great oysters over the summer.
On the entree side, I have a hard time passing up the cowboy steak as it truly gives the grill the justice it deserves. It's a great cut of meat, and a delicious steak. I also had a Wagyu strip that was on special, and was one of the best I have ever had. The branzino has also been delicious, and finally, the rack of lamb. Thoese are the only things I can think that I have had there this year, and had a each of them at least twice.
Hamilton Grill Room can also be very accomodating, and with enough notice, they can get you whatever you want. If you want grilled lobster, call a week or two ahead of time and they'll make it happen. Grilled lobster and Sauternes? Now that is a wine geeks dream!
In the years that we have been going to Hamilton Grill Room, I think that it is now better than ever! I am almost tempted to make the trip tonight as it sounds delicious! Any takers? I'll bring the vino! ;-) -mJ
mJ - thanks for the great report. Lends a great perspective to our recent experience. We'd take you up on dinner anytime, unfortunately tonight's out but we'll put away a couple bottles of our new fav - Paul Hobbs Crossbarn 2008 cab and 2009 pinot noir. Both drinking very well and a great complement to the grilled cuisine at Hamilton's! May have to have a local CH event?!
We've been going to Hamilton's Grill Room since it opened (and even before: does anyone remember when it was Gerard's?) and our most recent visit was this past weekend.
I understand, but don't agree with, some of the gripes you all have with HGR. Since the front room was added and remodeled, a few years back, the capacity of the restaurant has increased. And, on certain Friday and Saturday evenings (particularly during the summer or on fireworks nights), the place can be downright cramped, with guests waiting by the front door to be seated as others leave and waiters trying to negotiate the narrow spaces between tables.
Yet, the food remains quite good. Seasonal, fresh and, often, local. I know that Mark Miller sources his fish from the best purveyor in the area. We had an ahi tuna, done perfectly on the grill, over a creamed lentil puree, and were very satisfied. Our server was responsible for all of the front room tables, yet handled our table well. Other servers assisted him when he was busy.
The prices here have gone up through the years, but are fair for the quality and quantity of food served. BYO, of course, is a big plus.
My only complaint is that the dessert selections have not really changed in the 15 or more years we've been going there. But, by the time we hit dessert, we're usually not hungry and end up ordering what might be called their "signature" dessert: the grappa torte, served with fresh grapes.
Have to say, HGR is good but could be so much better. We eagerly returned in January for dinner after a GREAT October dinner noted above. Sorry to say, January's visit was not as good.
This recent January visit was marred from the start by the gentleman host not greeting us or even glancing at us to acknowledge our arrival. He was glued to the phone carrying on an inane conversation for entirely too long while we stood there before him and others piled into the vestibule behind us. Finally, his hostess partner made her way to the door and proceeded to check J and I in. He continued on his phone call.
Our waiter must have been new because he had no clue how to service a table, converse with a guest or structure the events of the evening. Luckily, we had the part time help of another waiter (a real pro and our favorite) working the room.
Our meal was just OK. J's delmonico was a very thin cut that probably required a minute or two per side to sear and plate. Really was a disappointing cut of beef. There was no flavor due to it being so thin. We joked that it reminded us of a cut you'd get at a Ponderosa way back when. I had the mixed grill of lamb. It was fine, though I longed for the rabbit I had back in October.
As we were leaving, I said "take care, have a good evening" to the gentleman host. He barely looked up from his stand and stared thru J and I like we weren't there. A strange but fitting end.
We'll return for sure, after this recent experience once again fades in our memory.
Foody4life: I can't tell you how many times I too have been in there and waited because the gentleman was on the phone. His name is Reed, and he is always dressed to the nine's in a suit with a bow tie. I know exactly where you are coming from though, and I too have been annoyed by this. Sometimes he seems a bit overwhelmed.
I've never had the delmonico there, but have always heard is explained as being a thin cut steak. Definitely not my thing, and I always hope they have some Kobe or Wagyu on the menu. If not, the cowboy steak is my go to, unless I am in the mood for something else.
Sorry to hear you had a bad experience though. There is no excuse for crap service in my opinion... -mJ
Hmmm...our recent visit was our first encounter with Reed. Yes, he was well-dressed. Yes, he was on the phone. And, he seemed rather unconcerned about the growing line of guests waiting to be seated. Must be a friend of Jim's or have a longstanding relationship with HGR, or else is just very laid back.
I've been to HGR a half-dozen times per year and never had indifferent service from Reed or the rest of the staff. I'll grant you that the waiters are not the most experienced or professional servers, but I chalk that up to this being Central Jersey -- they only get to practice two nights a week, so how good are they every going to get? But they always care, they always work hard, and they don't dampen the evening. And Reed has always been great to us -- attentive, stops by for a chat (not that he knows us), and generally brightens the dining room. I'm not disputing the experience of others, certainly, but I am very surprised.
Decided to revive this old thread, one of many on the subject of Hamilton's Grill Room.
I'll be brief: we dined at HGR this past Saturday, a beautiful early-Summer evening. The place was fully booked and hopping. We were seated in less than five minutes and Reed, who was again dressed impeccably and on the phone, acknowledged us and directed a waiter to seat us.
Our dinner was in every way excellent and the wait staff is to be commended for handling a full restaurant (three dining rooms and the outdoor space) without missing a beat. In fact, our server ably handled our cellared wine with a soft cork like a wine professional, while reciting the evening's specials.
After 20 years, I remain a fan. Mark was handling the grill with grace, even as dozens of orders came in. Hamilton's Grill Room is a little pricey, but it is worth every penny. Highly recommended.
We were back to HGR this past Friday and enjoyed another great evening.
Our evening started with a round of well mixed cocktails at the Boathouse - a hidden gem and so convenient for meeting friends before dinner at HGR. Reed welcomed our arrival to HGR with an undistracted smile and a warm greeting. Our request for a table with our favorite waiter was graciously accommodated by Reed and the evening that followed was flawless.
This time we all ordered fish including the wild salmon, special halibut and the whole bronzino. They were all excellent and we would not hesitate to order again. The lentil fan in our party really enjoyed the accompaniment to the wild salmon, saying they were the best she's had. The whole bronzino was as great as my favorite as Blue Point Grill in Princeton. Simply grilled, served whole with a salsa verde. It can also be ordered filleted for those that prefer.
As our entree plates were being cleared, Reed unexpectedly delivered a nice intermezzo to our table that included a small dollop of coconut sorbet/ice cream and prosecco. Desserts that followed were very good with a pistachio cheesecake being excellent. Creamy and very flavorful with a light crust.
A reminder to all that every Friday evening thru September - Lambertville/New Hope puts on a really great fireworks show above the Delaware river. We look forward to future Friday dinners at HGR this summer.
HGR - how we love hate thee.
Arrived to a nearly empty restaurant at 6:15 for our 6:30 opentable reservation for 2. Asked Reed for a table on the nearly empty outdoor patio. "Sorry, they're all committed." How bout a table in the empty open indoor covered patio by the entrance? "Sorry they're also all reserved" (and empty at 6:15). "I have a very nice table for you." and Reed proceeds to seat us in the empty farm animal mural / barn room in the back left - aka Siberia. Sucky room. Sucky table.
I was not in the mood to negotiate seating with Mr. Reed so we ordered, ate and left by 7:30.
In the mean time, *no one else* was seated in our dining room so we literally had a private dinner. Three other parties that were brought to this room after us refused their table and begged to be seated elsewhere.
Oh well, an isolated dining experience for us to kick off the first weekend of Summer.
At least there was ample opportunity to view the dusty black cob webs hanging off the ceiling and every wall sconce as well as the huge spider web in the large picture window next to us.
This place is long overdue for a top to bottom deep cleaning. Maybe they can start at the front door.
Lesson to others: don't use Open Table to book at Hamilton's Grill Room. Call 1+ week in advance for Friday/Saturday seatings. Request that you be seated in your desired area (patio, grill counter, front room, etc.). Make sure your seating preference is recorded in reservation book. Such a process shouldn't be necessary, but it is. Do an end run around Reed. In the end, the food is worth it.