As I walked in, it reminded me of the hotel from the 1967 Richard Burton movie The Comedians. On the outside, some paint was peeling off the siding. Had it seen better days? I did not know what to expect. The front doors were open, while the antique ceiling fans circulated the air through the magnificent main bar room area. “It’s like New Orleans”, I heard a lady at the table next to us remark. It is fitting for a place in Frenchtown to draw such a comparison. The National Hotel seemingly belongs somewhere else. It is aged and dated, but not in a bad way. All of that adds to the charm. The original wooden floorboards, homey lobby that must have been an even better sight back in the day, and old-fashioned bar take you away from New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the country and put you in a strange but tranquil isolation. It was built in 1833 as a stagecoach stop before being converted into a hotel 17 years later.
Our waiter was Mike, a man of some notoriety for inventing the Canoli Martini at the National Hotel. Perhaps if there for dinner, that would have been a must-order for dessert. We were there right before brunch ended. I was on the fence between ordering off the brunch menu and getting a curried chicken salad sandwich I saw on the menu board outside. After getting a Bellini, which would have been included with brunch, I decided to go with the sandwich that caught my attention. However, the brunch menu had some really good offerings. All were priced at $14.95 and included a drink (Bloody Mary, Mimosa, Bellini, or coffee/tea) at that price. Cannot go wrong. I almost ordered the NY Special which was a bagel and lox, but instead wanted something more unique. I can get a bagel anywhere.
My friend had a Bloody Mary, which he thought was excellent (and strong). I sipped my Bellini as I glanced around and admired the bar, mirror, crafted ceiling, and old pictures on the walls. Jazz from the 1940’s and 50’s played softly over the speaker system. Yeah, New Orleans is just about right. Burton or Elizabeth Taylor may have walked in at any moment. Mike was friendly and attentive, calling us by our names (he knew them after checking our ID’s—nice to know I look like I might be under 21). The ladies next to us gushed over their food as we were waiting. I was getting excited.
My curried chicken salad arrived, impressively plated with a behemoth portion of fries. They tasted like something you would find on a boardwalk, only not greasy at all. There was no salt or pepper on the table, but none was needed. These were seasoned perfectly. As for the chicken salad, it was incredible. Just the right amount of curry as to not be overpowering. Chunks of walnuts and black currants added some crunch and chew to the tender pieces of pulled chicken. The bread was toasted and even more crunchy. The price of this was $12. Meanwhile, he had the Breakfast Burger off the brunch menu. He was in heaven. It was cooked medium-rare, suggested by Mike, and topped with a poached egg, Hollandaise sauce, and maple-bacon. It was everything you could possibly want. I stole a piece of his bacon and thought it was fantastic, almost candied. I could have eaten the strips by themselves as a snack.
I’m going to give the restaurant of the National Hotel a sparkling 4 out of 5 stars. They have an unbeatable atmosphere that would have elevated even a meager meal. But our food was light-years ahead of that. It makes me wish we lived closer. I would be a regular at that gorgeous bar. Prices were exceptional, especially for the area. The menu was surprisingly eclectic. There was really nothing to complain about whatsoever. I would definitely come back…and count me in for that Canoli Martini!
The National Hotel is located at 31 Race Street in Frenchtown, New Jersey.