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Hidden Gems: Princeton, New Jersey, a photo essay

Brad Hill, Princetonite, was my guide on a tour through his favorite Princeton, New Jersey haunts on a grey Friday in March. But first, I gazed in awe at the ivy-covered Ivy-ness of the University.

It's beautiful, of course, but we were looking for gems, and hidden ones, at that. Brad's favorite spot (and mine, as well): Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon St., where the lattes are poured fast and the Rice Krispie treats are served in gigantic cubes.

One of the best parts about Small World Coffee is their bean-erific logo, emblazoned on the most impressive array of schwag I've ever seen in a coffee shop (and boy do I know coffee shops, folks). Most of the items, which range from shot glasses to insulated mugs to girly-shaped tees, can only be purchased in the coffee shop itself.

The shop has a commitment to organic coffee and foods and a full complement of Princetonites in all their glory. A 15-month-old tried to share his cookie with me and the most happy barista I've ever met served me a mini cupcake in a plastic bubble. I loved every minute.

Zorba's Grill, 183-B Nassau St., is hidden in plain site between the campus and the main drag. According to Brad, it's where most of the professors get their lunch, and the gyros are great and cheap.

As most college towns, Princeton is infatuated with ice cream. Next door to Zorba's is the most popular creamery, Thomas Sweet, 179 Nassau St. With its bubbly graphics and primary-colored logo, the place looks like a chain. Oh, wait, it is a chain!

At Thomas Sweet, the "blend-ins" are famous and made my mouth water and stomach grumble for more chocolate. They sound like a copycat of (or precursor to) the Blizzard. And I know you're asking, Sarah, what is a popular chain on the main drag doing in your "Hidden Gems" feature? Well... a contrast to Halo Pub, 9 Hulfish St. (off Palmer Square), the ice cream store that had far, far more character. And, it appeared, far more customers on a cool not-quite-spring day.

Why are there more customers? Possibly because the possibilities are mind-boggling. I love an ice cream store that sells so many flavors I can never pick one.

Even better: the wall of cows. I don't know if that's what they call it. But that's what I'm calling it. Every ice cream store needs a wall of cows.

After all that ice cream I've worked up an appetite for something spicy... Indian food! Princeton seems to be a haven for Indian restaurants, and we ate at a popular Indian spot on Thursday night. We only ate there, it seems, because the "far better" Méhék, 164 Nassau St., never answered their phone to take our reservation. Their hours are murky and their phone isn't answered, but they're the best in town. Consider yourself informed.

It wouldn't be a photo essay without a stop at the local camera joint. The man behind the counter at New York Camera, 173 Nassau St., was studiously answering a difficult question from the owner of an old camera, but he took a break to ring me up for some interesting and very cheap Kodak film.

The shop, like many in Princeton, was located in a Colonial-era house connected by walkways to the houses behind -- in central Princeton, it seems, there are few yards.

I couldn't leave the town without visiting some of the spots made famous by Hollywood. This room, Brad tells me, was the one where the other members of the faculty gave John Nash their pens in A Beautiful Mind. Of course, no such real ceremony exists, and the books that filled the "library" were added just for the filming. It's no less stunning and - next time I'm in Princeton -- I'm totally hanging out here with my laptop. The room was empty but for two students last Friday afternoon.

[Photos of Princeton taken March 24, 2006, by Sarah Gilbert.]

Filed under: Photos, North America, United States, Hidden Gems

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