For the last two months, Raritan residents have been missing their heaping plates of vodka rigatoni, pork chop murphy and steak parmesan from Espo’s, a nearly half-century-old Italian landmark.
But at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 27, the kitchen will be back in action as the restaurant opens for dinner service for the first time following a late July fire.
“It feels just as special to reopen as it did in 2019 when we had our grand reopening,” said owner Nick Zamora, who purchased and renovated Espo’s three years ago. “Everyone that was here before the fire is coming back, and that’s a testament to how loyal our staff is. They’re looking forward to it just as much as the customers and I am.”
Starting Sunday, Oct. 2, Espo’s will begin offering Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Expect to see Friday lunch favorites, like cheesesteak and hotsy totsy shrimp, as well as breakfast renditions of popular dinner items.
“I had been looking to add some kind of daytime shift, and the fire gave me some time to put some extra thought into things that are left behind in the day-to-day grind,” he said. “Friday lunch has become such a great thing filled with regulars that people look forward to. We are hoping to get the same traction with Sunday brunch.”
The brunch menu will include options such as a murphy omelet with sausage, mushrooms, onions, cherry peppers and fried potatoes; a sausage, broccoli rabe and provolone omelet; Taylor ham, egg and cheese sandwiches; and “eggs in purgatory,” which is a dish Zamora’s grandmother made for him when he was young. The gravy-and-egg dish includes sauteed onions, peppers, marinara sauce, garlic and poached eggs over toasted Italian bread.
Zamora launched Friday lunch at Espo’s in fall of 2020 after the return of indoor dining following COVID-19. Since then, it’s become a popular staple at the cozy spot with offerings like cheesesteaks, Italian hot dogs, and Italian tuna on sandwiches or over Caesar salad.
“We are looking to get back to where we were,” said Zamora. “It’s been so great and we want to concentrate on giving the best food, drink and service. We’re ready — we’ve all had enough time.”
Earlier:Espo’s looks to ‘move forward’ after Tuesday fire; restaurant closed until further notice
The Raritan Fire Department was contacted by Espo’s staff around 3:20 p.m. July 26. The fire started in between the interior and exterior wall near the grill, and damaged some areas of the ceiling.
Firefighters from Raritan, Somerville, Bradley Gardens, Country Hills, Finderne and Manville all helped to extinguish the fire within about 20 to 25 minutes. No customers were present at the time of the fire, as staff was readying to open the restaurant for dinner service at 4:30 p.m.
Now, Zamora said the restaurant looks exactly the same as it did before the fire as the walls, ceiling and grill area were repaired.
Outreach from customers has been “outrageous,” Zamora said.
“There’s not a day that’s gone by in the last two months without someone asking when we are going to open, stopping in, or calling, texting or Facebook messaging us,” he said. “A lot of the people that come here, come one to three times a week and they miss it.”
Go: 10 2nd St., Raritan; 908-685-9552, esposraritannj.com.
Jenna Intersimone has been a staff member at the USA Today Network New Jersey since 2014, after becoming a blogger-turned-reporter following the creation of her award-winning travel blog. To get unlimited access to her stories about food, drink and fun, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
Contact: JIntersimone@Gannett.com or @JIntersimone.