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New Jersey Restaurant Review

The Brothers Moon
7 West Broad Street
Hopewell, Mercer County, New Jersey
(609) 333-1330

By The Artful Diner
Special to nj.com
May 27, 2002

Good marriages, or so they say, are made in heaven. Perhaps this is also true of certain eateries and the communities that ultimately embrace them with such profound affection. They go together so well, you simply can't imagine one without the other. And The Brothers Moon and the tiny hamlet of Hopewell may, indeed, comprise just such a perfect union. Both are cozy, casual, and understated; and chef/proprietor Will Mooney's eclectic cuisine enriched with a plethora of organic and local ingredients is the perfect drawing card for the area's sophisticated and knowledgeable foodies.

Ensconced in what was once an old general store, the interior has a quirky, captivating Greenwich Village feel about it. To your left is a gourmet deli counter, featuring fresh bread and cheeses and a variety of interesting salads and sandwiches. Needless to say, the take-out business is brisk. To your right, separated from the deli by a hefty blue partition that reaches for the ceiling, is the 50-seat dining room arrayed in celestial blues and golds and sporting tables decked out in crisp white napery and butcher-block paper.

Once seated, the first thing you will notice -- other than the menu, of course -- is the sterling character of the vintages that have been ferried along to this classy BYOB. Algerian bilge is conspicuous by its absence... as is, thankfully, the standard assortment of white zins. No, some real treasures -- impressive and pricey, foreign and domestic -- find their way to table here. And these folks don't just guzzle it down... They sniff and swirl and savor and cajole and compare notes. These are serious oenophiles at work. So you're thinking: If patrons are this persnickety about the wine they tote along, the food they plan to match it up with must be something else again. And, for the most part, you'd be right on the money.

Oddly enough, the first indication that your palate is in for a most pleasant evening arrives with the one item that is not made in house: crusty French bread from the French Country Bakery in Burlington. But it is utterly beguiling and simply impossible to resist. As are the starters...

Suggest the possibility of a salad prelude, and you're likely to elicit a polite yawn from most diners. Be that as it may, there's nothing boring about the greenery you'll encounter at The Brothers Moon. In addition to the "Caesar My Way" ($7.00), a menu regular served without benefit of anchovies, there are also a number of interesting guest appearances. Like lamb and Bordeaux, pears and bleu cheese make for a most congenial combo. In this case, the cheese in question is Stilton, and it finds a perfect match in slices of red wine-marinated pear and mixed greens gently tossed with a raspberry vinaigrette ($9.00). Also highly recommended is the special arugula salad spruced up with a warm pepper & goat cheese roulade and aged sherry vinaigrette ($8.00).

Among the other appetizers, the Alsatian onion tart ($9.00) is marvelously rich and filling and is accompanied by a vertical funnel of Parma ham filled with alfalfa sprouts. The charcuterie featured on our most recent visit was chicken terrine ($9.00), a delicate but extremely flavorful slice incorporating tomatoes, mushrooms & spinach, and enhanced with a zippy basil purée and balsamic reduction.

Entrée-wise, the rack of lamb ($28.00) is not to be missed. Arriving precisely as ordered, medium rare, the individual ribs encircle a luscious epicenter of smashed potatoes. On one occasion, embellished with a provocative lentil apple chutney; on another, local honey and mint sauce.

The grilled shrimp ($24.00) is also an excellent choice. Fired to the peak of perfection, the crunchy crustaceans are arranged around a sweet pea ravioli that provides an exquisitely savory pillow for a counterpoint of pea shoots. A splash of balsamic reduction completes the delicious scenario.

Mr. Mooney's select menu also features at least two vegetarian dishes daily... and the prospects are extremely pleasant for those so inclined. As you might suspect, there are several felicitous marriages of pasta and vegetables. Of particular note is the fresh fettuccine combined with young onions, wild mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, and haricots verts ($16.00). The presentation might be considered merely mundane, were it not for the intervention of an intensely flavorful olive oil herb broth that successfully melds the tastes and textures together into an immensely satisfying gestalt.

The vegetarian trio ($18.00) -- carrot and quinoa (a South American grain) cakes, mushroom risotto, and sautéed greens & roasted peppers -- is also quite good and, individually, the presentations all have something to offer. Unlike the aforementioned fettuccine, however, there is no culinary catalyst to bring the divergent elements of the trio together into a unified whole. Like riled up strangers, they appear to stare at each other across a common plate without benefit of proper introduction.

Desserts, courtesy of LaTawnia Kershaw, are consistent winners. You may, for example, easily succumb to the temptation of an ethereal Bavarian-style mango mousse ($7.00). Downright decadent... And an armada of strawberry, grapefruit, and kiwi sections provides the perfect acidic counterpoint to the proceedings. A homey individual apple/pear crisp replete with a shortbread cookie is also quite good ($6.00).

If I had my druthers, however, I'd most certainly opt for the excellent homemade ice creams served up in elegant martini glasses surrounded by fresh berries ($6.00). The raspberry Chambord is a wonderfully creamy indulgence, the tart cherry appropriately tangy and refreshing. And be sure to top things off with a potent cup of espresso ($2.50).

The Brothers Moon is a delightful dining experience and the perfect complement to the quaint and enchanting hamlet of Hopewell. If you live in the surrounding area and are able to avail yourself of its significant culinary charms on a regular basis, you are most fortunate. On the other hand, should you be located at some distance, a little pilgrimage for your stomach's sake might be just what the doctor ordered.

Cuisine: Eclectic
Hours: Lunch: Tues - Sat, 11:00 - 3:00 p.m.; Dinner: Tues - Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.; Sunday Brunch: 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.; CLOSED MONDAY
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Reservations: Recommended on weekends
Parking: Ample street parking
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Yes, everything on one level

Web Site: www.brothersmoon.com

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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