When you walk into Caffe Galleria’s new digs in Lambertville the overwhelming impression is, well, comfy. And that’s just the way Dawn Raia likes it.
Raia, chef and owner of Caffe Galleria, opened this third incarnation of her restaurant in the former parish house of the First Presbyterian Church on 23 N. Union Street. It took 15 months to renovate the space but it was worth it. “It’s great seeing people’s experience and their reactions,” she says, “They feel so comfortable. They tell me ‘it feels like you’ve always been here.’”
Twenty five years ago Raia came to the area as an artist and wanted to create a unique space, a cross between a café and a gallery, with original local artwork. “I wanted to create a place that would be comfortable for locals,” she explains. She started cooking in 1995 and after starting a restaurant in Lahaska, settled in Lambertville in a small space on Lilly Street, off of South Main Street. The restaurant quickly became a fixture in Lambertville with its Mediterranean and Italian influenced menu. The locals loved it.
Fast forward to August 2011 and Hurricane Irene. A wall of water came rushing down the three hills that meet in Lambertville and the restaurant on Lilly Street was seriously flooded. Raia had been talking to the owners of the Lambertville House Hotel, consulting with them about their kitchen space and its suitability to serve the hotel. She called them up and said, new plan. We could open a restaurant in that space this afternoon. Deal made.
For over a year, Raia ran Caffe Galleria in the basement of the Lambertville House Hotel, serving her same menu and loyal customers, and providing food for the hotel’s patrons, all the while renovating the historic Victorian parish house.
Step into the new space and you’ll notice the main addition to the new restaurant – an espresso bar and gelato case. Marble counters and tables give an Italian flavor to the room and make you want to sit down for a cappuccino. In the main dining room, light from floor to ceiling windows fills the room and warm red walls create a cozy feel. Old church pews provide seating with soft pillows scattered about. The beautiful wood tables were all made for the restaurant, crafted from a local poplar tree. The walls are covered in colorful original artwork, part of a revolving exhibit that changes every 5-6 weeks. A cutaway window behind the front counter looks into the kitchen. “I wanted open space,” explains Raia, “I’ve always had an open kitchen. People are used to talking to me in the kitchen!”
The menu includes all the old favorites with a couple of new dishes. “We tried to change the menu when we moved into the new space, but the customers don’t want it,” Raia says. That’s okay, though, because there is lots of good stuff on it. Breakfast is served every day and includes eggs, omelettes and Galleria favorites like the stuffed French toast. Lunch offers interesting salads, Panini sandwiches, a lunch sized portion of the famous Galleria pasta or rice dishes. Dinner appetizers include vegetable or goat cheese crostini, a hummus platter, and a Southwest Flatbread. Pasta dishes are many and run the gamut from traditional Italian specialties like linguini with clams and vodka rigatoni, to chicken and scallop tangine, sesame chicken and shrimp, and the Chef’s ravioli of the day. Entrees like Chicken Aphrodite can also be served with tofu, or try pan roasted seitan. Many of the dishes like the wild salmon or the 10 oz NY Strip Steak are finished in the brick oven. The oven also turns out traditional NY-style pizza, stromboli, calzones and gourmet pizzas. Almost everything is made to order, so special requests are not a problem.
One thing you’ll notice about the menu. It offers many vegetarian and vegan choices, along with meat dishes. “We like to say that Caffe Galleria is where the unapologetic carnivore and dedicated vegan dine together happily,” jokes Raia, a vegetarian herself. The options are creative and delicious, and may even convince a carnivore to eat more vegetables.
Local sourcing is also very important to Raia. Over the last 17 years she has developed a network of local farms and purveyors to provide meat, eggs, and vegetables, all from within 50 – 100 miles of the restaurant. The bread comes from New York City. The ravioli from Queen Ann Ravioli & Macaroni in Brooklyn. The gelato is made to order from Capo Giro in Philadelphia using all natural milk from Lancaster and seasonal ingredients. “They let me create my own flavors,” says Raia, “It’s the best gelato I’ve had since Italy.”
The new, bigger space will also allow Raia to support local causes with fundraisers and events, something she does frequently. But above all, says Raia, it’s about creating a comfortable space where people feel welcome any time. Judging from the feedback, mission accomplished.
This article was originally published in the 2013 spring issue of Bucks Life magazine.
Dawn Raia keeps busy running three very different restaurants in Lambertville. Even after moving Caffe Galleria into its new home, she continues to run the kitchen in the Lambertville House Hotel, serving hotel guests and walk-in’s with small plates, great burgers and entrees, as well as breakfast and lunch.
Stop by the City Market on North Main Street and settle in for a chat with local neighbors and friends. “It reminds me of my grandparents’ place in Brooklyn,” says Raia, referring to the bakery and sweet shop she grew up in. You can get milk, eggs, a head of lettuce but also breakfast, lunch, gourmet take-out and sandwiches. The long farm house tables provide communal seating and a comfortable place to hang out – which people do all day.
“Each place is different,” says Raia. In fact, each has its own coffee roaster with different roasts and blends.
The Left Bank Bistro (at the Lambertville House Hotel)
32 Bridge Street
The City Market
74 North Main Street
23 N. Union Street