Leaving from the Lehigh Valley area on a sleepy sunny Sunday afternoon, it’s easy to fall in love with just getting to Frenchtown, New Jersey, much less walking its quaint streets and visiting its fantastic restaurants and shops.
As we made our way to The National Hotel in Frenchtown for a recent brunch getaway, getting there was nearly half of the enjoyment.
Routes 611 and 32 meandered slowly south.
Old farmhouses and small business dotted the left and right of the road.
The Delaware River and D&L National Heritage Corridor flowed with us nearly the whole trip; bicyclists and walkers enjoying the weather and cool winds.
Before we know it, we reached roads with names like Steely Hill, Stouts Valley, and Red Bridge. We’ve finally weaved our way to the barely two-lane bridge that separates Pennsylvania from Frenchtown. It’s a slow, careful, drive over the open grates until we’re greeted by the hustle and bustle that is downtown Frenchtown.
The plan is to stop and see most of it, but, first, we’ve come to visit the National Hotel and sample their menu while watching the summer begin outside its front porch along Race Street.
The National Hotel doesn’t try to stand out from the rest of Frenchtown’s businesses and cafes, most of them nestled on Bridge Street just off the Delaware River. It fits in as it should, a welcoming stop for those shopping or who have just come off riding along the river. Or, as the chalk sign noted as we walked up the wooden porch steps, for live music after the sun goes down.
The hotel was originally built in 1833 and rebuilt in 1850 and has a pretty colorful history. According to the owners, the hotel was originally a stagecoach stop for none other than Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley herself. It’s remained a hotel, restaurant, and bar since that time, staying true to the history of the area while welcoming new guests and patrons alike.
While we didn’t stay overnight in the hotel itself, The National Hotel is a “luxury boutique hotel,” according to the owners. It offers modern amenities and truly is a beautiful spot to spend the weekend no matter where you need to get away from.
Just watch out for the inquisitive ghost, who, legend says, likes to visit Room 304 and ask questions such as “how does the telephone work?” If that’s not reason enough to want to stay over, I’m not sure what is.
Once we stepped inside The National Hotel, we were greeted immediately by the bartender who gave us the option of dining inside or out. We chose the patio based solely on the weather and the hustle and bustle of activity on Race Street. However, we wouldn’t have been remiss if we did decide to dine inside, where many others had already chosen to.
That The National Hotel is a historical icon is apparent the second you see the long wooden bar. Simply put, they don’t make them like that anymore. The dining room in front of the bar, and the other, more formal room, tucked toward the back of the first floor, were filled with what seemed to be antique wooden tables and chairs. You could feel the history in the air not only from the 19th century photos on the wall, but the way the wooden floors gently creaked beneath your feet every few steps.
My fiancée, Crystal, and I immediately made the decision that we’d be coming back for dinner one evening, no matter how our upcoming lunch turned out.
Back outside, the wait staff was quickly attentive and ran down the specials for the day with us as tourists and residents walked by on the nearby sidewalks.
We started with the crab and mango appetizer, $14, which was one of the specials. I’ll be honest, I’ve had crab and I’ve had mango, but never the two have met on a plate in front of me.
The dish was refreshing. The mix of crabmeat and fruit was a delightful way to start off our meal.
“I never would have thought to put these two together,” Crystal said.
“I didn’t know you could put them together,” I said back with a smile.
In the middle of our new discovery, we took the time to peruse and order from the National Hotel’s special “Champagne Cocktail” menu, featuring nine drinks with names like the Morning Glory, Cherry Blossom, Melon Royale, and Orange Ginger.
Crystal went with the Frenchtown 31, which is made with gin, sugar, lime juice, and sparkling wine.
I went for something exotic and ordered the Elderflower made with St. Germain, elderflower liqueur, and sparkling wine.
Both drinks rang in at a very reasonable $8 and, if we did decide to stay at the hotel, we would have been more than happy to sample a few more of those specialties.
Out crab and mango was literally and completely finished by the time Crystal received her Duck Confit BLT, $12. The dish features duck confit, bacon, lettuce, tomato, toasted shallot mayonnaise, seven-grain bread and is available as a wrap with paratha bread or a gluten-free rice flour based wrap.
Whether it was the long, slow, winding ride down to Frenchtown or the lazy afternoon atmosphere, I didn’t feel as adventurous when it came to choosing something to eat.
When we were ordering, I only really eyed up the burger portion of the menu. I know, I know, how boring, right?
I thought so, too, until I came upon The National Hotel’s Insanity Burger and realized that my relaxing weekend afternoon needed a bit of spice in its short life.
So, the Insanity Burger it was.
As the burger was being carried through the dining room, one of the hotel managers, I assume, noticed it and followed it out. He asked me, in so many words, if I was ready for it, with a smile.
“What have I gotten myself into?” I asked myself quickly. But, by looking at the burger, I figured I had a reasonable chance of finishing it. It wasn’t one of those burgers you see on “Man vs. Food.” It was big, but, the “insanity” portion of the burger was really describing the ingredients.
I told the manager that I would let him know once I started and got to it.
The National Hotel’s Insanity Burger, $12, is an 8 oz. Lancaster County black angus topped with bacon, red Leicester English cheese, red onions, a gnarly Worcestershire, ketchup, chipotle, and mayonnaise slaw all on a fresh bakery bun.
Was it insane? No. It wasn’t insane. But, it surely was delicious.
The combination of the Worcestershire, ketchup, and chipotle sauces is something I’m going to have to try at home. In fact, I was wondering if they could just combine all of those ingredients and put them in a bottle, because it would seem to me to be something that should be bottled.
The only insane things about the Insanity Burger were all the juices that I had to clean off my lips with my napkin. I’m not complaining, mind you.
After Crystal and I both finished, a few more tourists types were walking up the porch steps as well, speaking amongst themselves as to whether or not they should stop in and eat.
We both looked at them and let them know they wouldn’t regret it as the hotel manager gave us a knowing nod with a wink.
Hey, after the meal that just left us both thinking about wonderful slumbery weekend nap, it was the least we could do.
But, alas, we had plans to head into Frenchtown and check out some of the quaint shops, including the simply wonderful Book Garden bookshop and convenient Yellow Dog Pet Supply where we picked up some treats for our Italian Greyhound.
Before we departed The National Hotel, I walked back through the rustic dining room to wash my hands in the bathroom. I passed a couple who were also just finishing and overheard them talking
“What do we have at home like this?” the woman at the table asked the man sitting next to her.
“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing.”
31 Race Street
Frenchtown, NJ 08825
About the Contributors
George Wacker, owner of Lehigh Valley with Love Media, LLC, is an accomplished communications professional skilled in social, digital, print, and interactive media, as well as…
Anthony J. Marraccini
Anthony J. Marraccini is the publisher of the Elucidator and Curator/Manager of Connexions Gallery. He has been socially and politically active in the community of Easton…