When Pig and Prince opened six years ago in Montclair, the restaurant, taking over the space of an old Hollywood Video store in the long neglected Lackawanna Station terminal building, brought the building’s historic identity back and represented 100% occupancy for Lackawanna Plaza. Pathmark Supermarket along with more than a dozen other stores and businesses were inside the plaza, including Payless Shoes, Radio Shack, Source of NY, Dots, Dunkin’ Donuts and H&R Block.
Since November 2015, Lackawanna Plaza without a supermarket has been a ghost town, except for signs of life at Popeyes (the only store to remain open of those in the Plaza) and at Pig & Prince, where not only does the bar and restaurant continue to thrive, but a glorious garden grows triumphantly, almost as if to say, “we’re here and we’re not leaving.”
Pig and Prince’s chef/owner Michael Carrino started the garden last summer in a plot of roughly 350 square feet. This year, he planted again, but this time, everything you see in the garden started from seed.
In addition to the giant sunflowers (the tallest swaying at 14.5 feet), the garden features heirloom Indian black corn, three kinds of peppers (shishito, ghost and Hungarian hot peppers), cucumbers, King Tut purple peas, eggplants, purple broccoli, arugula, herbs (chives, sage, oregano, three different types of basil and anise) and of course, tomatoes.
About those tomatoes. Carrino had so many — he believes he harvested in the thousands this summer, a gallon to two gallons a day — that he didn’t need to buy tomatoes all summer long. The surplus of tomatoes and peppers he pickles in jars to use during the rest of the year. Carrino even uses the tomato leaves for pesto which he then freezes. The bumper crop is helped by composting year round resulting in nutrient-rich soil.
“We use everything. The corn is popping corn, so we are drying it now and will pop it to use at the bar,” says Carrino, adding that in the fall, he’ll cut and dry the corn stalks to use as seasonal decorations at the restaurant.
Besides a bounty of fresh produce, the garden gives Carrino and his staff of 30 a way to channel some of their frustration at being next to some 90,000 square feet of empty, dormant, neglected space for the last three years and to create something beautiful for the restaurant and the Montclair community to enjoy.
Carrino hopes the garden helps dispel the perception of a “black cloud of negativity” he believes surrounds Lackawanna Plaza that has been exacerbated by the long delay in opening a new supermarket.
He also understands the interest in the building’s history, although he wonders how the most important part of the complex, the terminal itself, has in some way been forgotten. Ironically, for years, the town’s significant historic landmark was hidden with a drop ceiling, linoleum and carpet, before Carrino took steps to sensitively bring back the terminal building to all its historic glory, restoring and revitalizing what had been a lost treasure for more than 30 years.
“We brought back original lights, benches, rails, the gorgeous marble floor,” says Carrino of his restoration of the terminal before opening Pig & Prince. “We brought it back closer to what it was, than it ever has been since being decommissioned in 1981.”
Carrino attends all the Planning Board meetings and gets exasperated by the same issues, such as the train sheds, being discussed over and over.
“Peel back the layers and make a decision. If a piece of steel is 106 years old and the structural integrity is fine and it can be utilized, then utilize it. If it could crumble and hurt someone, then take it down. Focus on what’s really important, it would waste less time,” Carrino says, adding that he just wants progress.
A 1913 New York Times article described the opening of the original Lackawanna terminal as ushering in an “era of better feeling” in Montclair. When Carrino opened Pig & Prince, he believed in the area’s revitalization. He just didn’t know he would have to wait so long.