You probably won't see a tomato on the menu at Agricola Eatery in the dead of winter.
That's because the menu at the restaurant opening at the former Lahiere's on Witherspoon Street will focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Executive Chef Josh Thomsen is partnering with owner Jim Nawn and the farmers at Great Road Farm in Skillman to provide authentic farm-to-table cuisine.
“There’s not going to be a section on the menu that says Great Road Farms, it’s going to be all over the place,” Thomsen said. “There’s going to be this morning’s poached eggs, beet salads, etc. and it’s going to be ever-changing. Are there going to be dishes that are going to be staples? Well, as much as humanly possible until the vegetable production runs out and you have to change it.
“We have a wood-fired oven so there will be roasted carrots right out of the oven, there will be flatbread,” Thomsen said. “I basically challenge people to come to the restaurant and not find something to eat. From the vegan to my father, who’s the biggest carnivore out there.”
An accomplished chef who was named a “Rising Star Chef” by StarChefs, Thomsen has worked at the famed French Laundry in Napa Valley, Nobhill at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, Tao restaurant, and Patina in Southern California.
He said the food on Agricola’s menu that doesn’t come from Great Road Farm will come from the best local and regional producers he and Nawn can find.
“This is stuff that my grandmother did,” Thomsen said. “I mean, she went to the butcher shop, she went to the fish market, she knew the small purveyors who had things. ‘Oh that market, that guy has the best tomatoes’ and she would bring it home. And to me, that’s what farm to table is. It’s small purveyors who spend the time to do it right and not these mass-market things.
“It’s weird, I go back and forth thinking how can I be celebrated for doing what I’m supposed to do and that’s to give the guests who sit in our restaurant great food.”
Thomsen, a New Jersey native (Exit 172 off the Garden State Parkway), said he was working at the Claremont Resort and Spa in Berkeley when a headhunter contacted him about the Agricola opportunity.
“Oddly enough, I wasn’t looking for a job,” Thomsen said. “It’s like looking for love. You don’t look for it and it finds you- and it did.”
Thomsen said he’s been nothing but impressed with Nawn, who is modest but has done a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes to create a successful venture in Princeton. Nawn’s passion, along with that of farmers Steve Tomlinson and Sam Joseph, has been infectious.
“It’s like the planets aligned, it’s hard to put into words,” Thomsen said. “What I do, what these guys do, there’s a feeling. You don’t just wake up and want to open up a restaurant. There’s something inside of you that wants to wake up and do it every day.”
When you’re working with passionate people, how can you say no? It doesn’t happen a lot.”