Food, friendly service and history come together at the Cranbury Inn
MIDDLE HISTORY: Shown is the historic Colonial Era Cranbury Inn. As owners and innkeepers Tom and Gay Ingegneri point out, “The hostel is truly its own entity, with a story and stories to tell. We are only his stewards. It is a joy to own such a historic and beloved entity. We believe this is a home away from home for our customers and we are proud to be stewards of it. We especially like to see young people and students visit and take an interest in its history.
By Jean Stratton
A Colonial-era inn that still serves its purpose: serving high-quality dinners to guests, celebrating weddings, hosting banquets – and more. It is a rarity today, and one more reason for it to be recognized and commemorated.
With changing tastes and customs, and altered community styles and landscapes, changes are happening quickly, almost before we know it. The Cranbury Inn, located at 21 Main Street in Cranbury, has stood the test of time and continues to provide guests with the highest standards of service and cuisine.
Its story is a story in itself.
In the mid-18th century, taverns were built in the Cranbury area to meet the needs of travelers passing through the area, often en route from New York to Philadelphia, or the other way around. What is now The Cranbury Inn has been operating as a place to eat and drink since at least 1750.
“Five per bed”
At the beginning of its history, the hostel served as an overnight stopover for travelers, although with the stipulation “no more than five per bed,” said Gay Ingegneri, who, along with her husband Tom, owns the hostel. since 1992.
In fact, its history permeates the Inn, from its physical structure to the display of colonial-era ‘long guns’ on the walls, to the vintage spinning wheels and an 1890s cash register in the lobby. large murals of colonial stagecoaches, rendered by painters during WPA work projects program during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Four original wagon wheels were fashioned into ceiling lights in the original 1750s section of the inn, and on a winter evening, a closed fireplace in the living room evokes memories of colonial travelers sitting in one spot. over 270 years ago. It has also been said of the inn that from time to time it is haunted by friendly spirits.
The hostel has undergone renovations and additions over the years, reports Tom Ingegneri. “Our oldest original tavern was built in the 1750s and our other original tavern was built in 1765. The innkeeper’s house was built opposite these two original taverns in 1800. The Main dining room was built around 1932 and various modifications to the kitchen area took place in the 1900s.
In 1903, a fire destroyed the inn’s “big barn” and, during their tenure, the Ingegneri decided to build a new spacious barn, known as “The Legacy”, which was completed. in 2006.
“Our new barn is an 18th-century Dutch timber frame barn with seven bays,” says Gay. “This is a 3,200 square foot dining room with over 200 seating areas, used for à la carte meals and special occasions, such as weddings and banquets.”
Now that this project is complete, The Cranbury Inn can accommodate 400 people, with several dining areas, including a small private enclave, just for two, suitable for celebrating a special moment, such as an engagement or an anniversary.
As an important site during the War of Independence, the Inn continued to serve food, drink and accommodation to guests, possibly including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and the Marquess of Lafayette, all in Cranbury , then known as the Cranberry Towne, with their troops.
The inn’s historic role continued before and during the Civil War when it was said to be a stop on the Underground Railroad. “A converted fireplace space in the older part of the inn would be a hiding place for runaway slaves,” Gay explains.
The hostel has hosted many famous people over the years, including international visitors such as Madame Chiang Kai-shek and her entourage, the Prince and Princess of the Netherlands and the entire Moscow City Council.
And, adds Gay, his famous neighbor from Princeton, Albert Einstein, often went to the inn to drink beer and speak German with his friend and then innkeeper, Adrian van Ravesteyn.
In 1994, Paramount Pictures featured scenes from both the interior and exterior of the Inn in the film IQ, and actors, including Walter Matthau and Meg Ryan, and the film crew were at the inn for several days.
Justice of the peace
Unique in many ways, the inn is also unusual in that it has its own liquor store, observes Gay. “The location of the liquor store once served as a telegraph office and also as the office of the justice of the peace. Since Prohibition it has been the liquor store and wine cellar of the Cranbury Inn.
“In 1919, Judge Joseph Thomas Wincklhofer purchased the inn, and he was the last justice of the peace and the last innkeeper to live at the inn. As a justice of the peace, he held court every Tuesday evening in what is now the Lafayette Tavern Hall (the Taproom), and he performed many weddings in front of the fireplace while his wife played the piano. The Wincklhofer’s lounge is now the main historic hall of the inn.
“The tradition of wedding ceremonies at the Cranbury Inn in front of the fireplace continues to this day. Generations of people in Cranbury have been married at the Inn, and in fact we have had four adult child marriages whose parents got married here as well.
During the inn’s more than 270 year history, there have been many owners of the establishment. When Tom and Gay Ignegneri bought the hostel, it was a new adventure for them. Each had had previous careers: Tom in business in New York and Gay as a nurse. And besides, they were parents of four children.
When they first arrived in Cranbury, Gay ran the Cranbury Market for several years. When the opportunity arose to become Innkeepers at the Auberge, they were ready to take on this new challenge.
“I said it would be the first time in my life that I would see my husband during the day,” Gay says. “I thought it was time for us to be together. It was really a surprise how I fell in love with this place. I didn’t expect to fall in love with it, but I did!
“I love everything about it,” she continues. “I love being with everyone – our staff and the customers. Many customers are regulars and have become friends. And we have a wonderful, knowledgeable staff including our excellent chef and kitchen staff, and one of our servers has been here for 47 years!
“It’s really about the people. We have customers from all over the region, including many from Princeton, of course, and others who travel long distances to be with us. We are always extremely busy during the holidays, and in addition to the regular meals we have many groups and private parties. We also organize many banquets, weddings, bar mitzvahs and other occasions for large groups to get together.
As with everyone and everything, COVID-19 presented a problem for the hostel’s business, but now signs of improvement are evident. “We follow all safety rules and precautions,” Gay notes, “and all of our staff wear masks. We are encouraged and hope for better times after all that people have been through. I am also looking forward to adding more staff, so that we can once again be open seven days for lunch and dinner.
Currently the hostel is open for dinner from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, and for Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday dinner from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The inn has always been renowned for its fine cuisine, with an emphasis on quality within a reasonable price range.
“Our food is cooked to order, with the freshest ingredients, special recipes including my mom’s cranberry relish, and it’s all locally sourced, where possible,” Gay points out. “We have the highest quality filet mignon, which is a signature dish. It is extremely popular, as is our top sirloin meatloaf. It’s a real comforting dish!
“Seafood is always popular with customers, and our burgers, also made with top sirloin, are also favorites. “
Other popular dishes at the inn include grilled chicken breast marinated in herbs, sautéed chicken with artichokes, roast turkey with all the garnishes, scallops, seared salmon and roast duck.
Starters include potato pancakes, jumbo shrimp cocktail, Cranbury Inn crab cakes, and soup of the day, including three cheese onion soup. The inn is known for its delicious hearty soups.
Desserts complement dinner, and whether it’s New York cheesecake, apple pie, carrot or chocolate cake, or ice cream, it’s guaranteed to please. at the Palace.
The hostel’s Sunday brunch has a huge fan base, drawing diners from across the region. Its buffet-style brunch table offers a mix of hot and cold options for breakfast and dinner, and champagne, orange juice, coffee, and tea (hot or iced) are all available.
Features include an omelet station, Egg Benedict, Belgian waffles, bacon and sausage, corned beef and Danish hash, scones, muffins and bagels including lox and cheese a la cream.
The cutting station offers prime rib, beef tenderloin, cooked ham and turkey. The friction dish choices include selections of hot chicken, fish and pasta. A dessert table includes pies, cakes, cookies, puddings and seasonal fruits.
The inn offers a comprehensive selection of wines, beers and spirits to accompany each meal.
Prices cover a range, with entrees starting at $ 3.50, salads starting at $ 7.50 and up, entrees starting at $ 19 (burgers cost $ 12 and up) and desserts starting at $ 4. , $ 50. The full Sunday brunch is $ 35.
Although the hostel is up to date and modern in all of its facilities and accommodations, including its disabled accessible bathrooms, at the same time its warm and welcoming ambiance, attractive decor, with each room capturing a sense of history, gone now but not forgotten, make this place special in every way.
Ttheir association with the Auberge continues to be a permanent pleasure for the Ingegneri. They reflect on their years at the Inn and comment: “In the more than 270 year history of the Cranbury Inn, there have been many owners of this establishment. As current owners, we realize that our stay here is just a small segment of Cranbury Inn life, past, present and future. We realize that we are the stewards of the Inn and that the Cranbury Inn truly belongs to ‘the people’.
Reservations are recommended. For more information, call (609) 655-5595. Website: thecranburyinn.com.