Lambertville, N.J., is a charming little town in Bucks County to which I've been escaping for many years. Unlike its sister town, New Hope, Pa., just across the Delaware River, which has yielded to Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks, and biker bars, Lambertville is mostly about gorgeous historic houses, antique shops, and gourmet restaurants (most of which are BYOB as liquor licenses are few and far between in the town) although there are a couple of classy bars and the excellent River Horse Brewery. Lambertville was also the birthplace of NYC's own Gabrielle Hamilton, owner and chef extraordinaire of Prune and the author of the aptly named Blood, Bones and Butter which Anthony Bourdain quite rightly proclaimed, "Simply the best memoir by a chef ever."
What I didn't know was that Gabrielle's dad, Jim, had traded in his Ringling Bros. and Broadway set designs long before Prune was a glimmer in daughter Gabrielle's eye, to open Hamilton's Grill, one of the best restaurants in Lambertville which I had been to dozens of times. What I also didn't know was that his older daughter, Gabrielle's sister Melissa, a former food magazine editor, had returned home to Lambertville to self-publish a series of gorgeous cookbooks called the Canal House Cookbooks named after the manmade channels that run throughout the town which were used to tow supplies by mule drawn barges prior to the advent of trains. The Canal House Cookbooks have been lauded by no less an authority than The Daily Meal's own Colman Andrews, who has contributed to the series.
Before entering Hamilton's Grill, grab a martini at Flanigan's Boathouse across the alley, a bi-level nautical themed bar with copper tankards hanging from the ceiling that look like the kind that Hessian mercenaries would've been drinking from on Christmas Eve 1776 when they were taken by surprise by General Washington a few short miles down the River.
Jim Hamilton has not abandoned his flair for design, as he has planted a huge rust-colored metal sculpture of a roasted head of garlic outside of his restaurant which hints at the heavy metal seasoned grill in the open kitchen that guests pass by before being seated in a number of beautiful rooms. Start off which the fresh oysters, the clams posillipo, or the signature grilled shrimp served in anchovy butter, a dish also on the menu at Gabrielle's Prune. Chicken is roasted after receiving a black truffle skin patch which infuses the bird with earthy flavor. A mixed grill of lamb chops, leg of lamb, and bacon exemplifies the chef's prowess with the grill which adds to the atmosphere by letting off bright orange cinders which rapidly wink out like fireflies.
Jim Hamilton should be very proud of his daughters' culinary accomplishments, but his influence on them, just like the beautiful, quirky, historical town they grew up in, is plain to see.