Montclair isn’t wanting for restaurants, yet we’ve been watching, waiting and wanting to know more about Montclair’s Pig & Prince Restaurant and Gastro-Lounge located at 1 Lackawanna Plaza. A new restaurant in Montclair is always news, especially one with a coveted Montclair liquor license, but there’s so much more to the Pig & Prince story. Chef-owner Michael Carrino, in creating a sprawling restaurant, with a gastro-lounge, tap room and huge dining space, has also brought back a piece of Montclair history in his thoughtful renovation of the long neglected Lackawanna Terminal. I met with Carrino and got a chance to see the restaurant, which is readying to open on or about August 24, with a grand opening in September.
About that history: The restaurant repurposes the former Lackawanna Railroad Station, which opened in June 1913 as the end of the Lackawanna’s Montclair Branch. Designed by William B. Hull, service at the six-track, four platform terminal was once used by thousands of commuters. The station ended service February 27, 1981 when the Montclair Branch was rerouted to a one-track terminal at Bay Street along an alignment with the proposed Montclair connection. The Grecian-Doric style building is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Hull, a then 25-year-old architect, died in the wreck of the Titanic before construction began. The cost of the station in 1913: $500,000.
Stepping into Pig & Prince, there are historic details just waiting to be discovered at every turn.
Carrino was able to track down and obtain one of the original wooden benches from the terminal’s waiting room that had been taken to the New Jersey Transportation Heritage Center in Phillipsburg in 2010. The long gleaming bench, beautifully restored, is one of the first things you notice when walking into Pig & Prince. Inside, under layers of carpet and linoleum, Carrino and business partner Serge Hunkins, of Kadan Productions Inc, fashion producer and the design talent behind the restaurant space, discovered the intact stunning marble chip terrazzo floors with borders of inlaid tile in the main waiting room of the terminal, now the main dining room of Pig & Prince. Hunkins devised a warm, welcoming palette of rich wood, dark orange and metal that harmonize with the terminal’s historic elements.
At the bar, you can rest your feet on an actual rail from the station, stamped with the word Lackawanna. Surrounded by the buff-colored brick walls, softened by sections of upholstered wall and terra cotta colored leather banquettes, the dining room has a focal point – a mural featuring playful pigs frolicking around pots – that fills the space of an arched opening in the waiting room wall. Carrino says he plans to switch out the murals, allowing an ever-changing showcase for local artists. Outside, wooden and glass boxes that once held train schedules are now mounted on the exterior of the building, waiting to hold copies of Pig & Prince’s menu.
About that menu: It’s an eclectic and approachable Modern American showcasing local meats and produce. Dishes include everything from Duck Duck Goose (duck prosciutto, duck rillettes and foie gras crème brulee) Spanish chili empanadas with chorizo and smoked sausage, fish and chips, spicy Korean lamb, to a sweet pea risotto with country ham and cracklings and a lobster tagliatelle that will “change your life.”
Carrino, a past winner of Food Network’s Chopped who became a member of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs at age 28, conceived Pig & Prince as a place where everyone – families, couples and late-nighters can feel comfortable. “This is more my style,” says Carrino, of Pig & Prince, as opposed to his former, more formal Restaurant Passione.
A 1913 New York Times article described the opening of the Lackawanna terminal as ushering in an “era of better feeling” in Montclair. The same could be said for Carrino’s impact on Lackawanna Plaza and the area’s revitalization.
“People in the neighborhood are great, and they are so excited that someone is doing something with this space,” says Carrino, who had kept his eye on the historic terminal for some time, hoping to create a downtown destination. “I love this corner. I think it’s a great corner.”
Carrino ignored naysayers who told him the area wasn’t right for a fine dining establishment [other restaurants already in the area include Fascino, located less than a block away from Pig & Prince and Greek Taverna, across the street]. “I’m putting my flag down. There were areas in Brooklyn that people never used to go to that are now cool. I think this area is vibrant and is going to become even more so.”
The kitchen, which faces Bloomfield Ave, has a pizza oven that Carrino plans to keep busy baking bread for the restaurant, as well as a glass curing room visible to diners from the tap room, where aromatic meats already hang seductively. The restaurant’s transformation makes it hard to remember the Hollywood Video store that previously occupied the space, but Carrino let a piece of that history stand, too. There’s just one remnant of the long-gone video rental business, which previously had its walls plastered with cinematic images. High up in a corner of the kitchen hallway, where the wall meets the ceiling, a smiling Jack Nicholson leers, teeth bared, captured in a scene from the movie, “The Shining.”
Carrino has plans for a beer club, wine club, special tasting menus and experiences with pairings, a butcher’s table, where you can dine in the kitchen an experience a meal “unedited,” and by next spring/summer, dining outdoors in a bordered patio.
At the far end of Pig & Prince’s dining room, there is a large cast bronze clock on the wall, located above what used to be the ticket office, as well as an original drinking fountain with a grapevine tile design. Carrino says the clock still works, but cannot keep time. His plan is to set the hands of the clock to reflect the day Pig & Prince opens its doors. It’s fitting that the clock will serve as a reminder of both the past and the space’s new chapter in Montclair history.
Pig & Prince Restaurant and Gastro-Lounge, 1 Lackawanna Plaza, Montclair (973) 233-1006
Here’s an answer to what Carrino intended with the name Pig & Prince:
The funny answer- it represents the duality of man.
The real answer- it’s where the casual and elegant can co-exist.