Tag Archives: food
The Best Soft Pretzels: The Mart Pretzel Bakery, Cinnaminson NJ
I have tried many soft pretzels, and none compare to the Mart Pretzel Bakery in Cinnaminson NJ, a former staple of the long-departed Pennsauken Mart. I interviewed the founder’s son for a JerseyMan blog post, but it’s now published here…
Soft Pretzel Excellence
If you’re as old as I am and you grew up within a 20-mile radius of Pennsauken, you remember the Pennsauken Mart. And the soft pretzels.
It wasn’t a bad place to get inexpensive clothes, stereo equipment, gifts that you’d never want for yourself, etc. The prices could be pretty nice and I did a lot of Christmas shopping there. Oh, and there was that head shop, too…but I don’t remember much about that…
It wasn’t exactly a pleasant or unique place. It was dingy, overly crowded, and you had to root through a lot of stuff to find anything decent. It was kind of like what an eBay store might look like, if such a thing exists.
The place had one monster thing going for it, though. Soft pretzels.
Whenever I visited the Mart, I had two things in mind…finding something cheap and having a soft pretzel. And definitely not in that order. The pretzels were always worth the trip, the crowds and the depressing atmosphere.
There was always a line for them. While you waited you’d look at the pricing board or the newspaper stories proclaiming their greatness, decided how many you were going to get, and whether you’d deal with the salt or not.
Or you could just watch the pretzels being made…dough rolling out of the machine, experienced fingers flipping the dough into pretzel shape in mere nanoseconds, lightly browned pretzels coming out of the oven.
Once you bought your pretzels (no one ever just got one), there were two choices of mustard, one so super-hot it could sear the back of your brain. (That one was always my choice.) For some reason they never had napkins. Many times I wiped mustard off my face with the wax paper the pretzel came in.
One day, inexplicably, the soft pretzel shop closed. It seemed temporary…there was writing on the glass window that said “Closed due to illness”. But when the pretzel shop didn’t return for several months (I don’t remember the exact length of time, but I know I made many disappointing trips), soon there weren’t enough compelling reasons to visit the Mart anymore.
And not much later, the Pennsauken Mart, that staple of my youth, would be gone.
In the years since I have always believed that it was the closing of the pretzel bakery that caused the Mart’s demise. It was a brutally easy connection to make for anyone who was familiar with the place. It turns out I wasn’t quite right about that.
In a visit to the Mart Pretzel Bakery, I learned the whole story from Shaughn, the son of the owner. The Mart’s fate was already sealed before his father’s illness…it had been bought out through eminent domain. The illness was actually Shaughn’s father having a heart attack; a malady Shaughn believed resulted at least partly from the possibility of his longtime, popular business being shut down.
Indeed, it was a bummer for everyone—until the Mart Pretzel Bakery re-opened in a strip mall in Cinnaminson, and longtime patrons breathed a sigh of relief. No one misses the Mart too much now. (Well, I don’t, anyway. I can’t speak for fans of the head shop.)
Not much has changed…except for a better selection of pretzels, including pretzel dogs, those “everything” pretzels that seem healthy, and the truly off the hook cinnamon sugar pretzels. You can still get a spicy or a very hot mustard. The hot mustard isn’t as blazing as the old one was, but that’s probably not a bad thing. And okay, they’re a tad more expensive. It’s not 1990 anymore after all.
The old sign with the pricing is still there, as is the sign that hung up outside the store in the Mart, which is a nostalgic thing for former Mart patrons. But the lines aren’t long anymore…the Mart Pretzel Bakery is built to handle the demand.
Mart pretzels are still always worth the trip, even if I’m no longer looking for a pair of pants that I can afford. And if you think I’m just waxing nostalgic, check out the Yelp reviews.
The Indomitable Boardwalk Fry – Curley’s of Wildwood
In the midst of the pandemic, I took a trip to Wildwood to check on the health of Curley’s Fries for the Summer 2020 issue of JerseyMan Magazine. You can read this article on their website, or click here to see the PDF of the magazine itself.
The Indomitable Boardwalk Fry
As the nation and the state wake up again, Curley’s Fries continues to serve its iconic, crinkle cut fries, from its two locations on the Wildwood boardwalk. It’s a sorely needed sign of Jersey Shore life beginning again.
It takes considerable strength of will, even for hardened Jersey folks, to find positives in a harsh weather day at the shore.
May 22 of this year, the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, was one such day. The thick clouds effectively obscured any potential hint of sunshine. The rain, at times both spitting and heavy, became debilitating when mixed in with the stiff ocean breeze.
Despite the lack of seasonal cooperation, a hardy few were determined to get some steps on the Wildwood boards, most likely for the first time in 2020. It’s a need we natives have, especially this year, if only to have some normalcy again in what has been a monumentally difficult spring.
With an ongoing pandemic to go alongside miserable weather, there were precious few shops open on the boards, and little to help visitors feel like summer again.
Mercifully, there was one saving grace in it all…a ubiquitous French fry stand.
In this trying atmosphere, Curley’s Fries…on the otherwise uninhabited Morey’s Surfside Pier…opened its windows, as their employees showed up to serve their iconic fried potatoes to walk-up patrons for takeout. Or “takeaway”, as they called it, as if to suggest that things aren’t fully normal yet.
While the number of Wildwood visitors this day was very small, many of them…arguably most of them…still made their way to the long established fry counter.
Inside the window, save for the employees wearing masks, nothing was different. One person took orders. Another dropped baskets of chopped potatoes into a fryer and then dumped the finished ones into a tray. Another generously salted them and then scooped piles of fries into buckets for hungry patrons. Unremarkable and repetitive skills all, probably, but it’s an admirable bit of teamwork.
Most gratefully, even as Morey’s has temporarily laid off 80% of their staff, there has been zero decline in the quality of the fries.
They’re still piping hot when served, enough that some will tolerate the seared mouth flesh rather than spend an agonizing few minutes waiting to indulge. The fries have just enough of a crispy crunch on the outside and almost mashed potato level softness on the inside. They’re thick and crinkle-cut, with the skin still attached as required by unwritten boardwalk rules.
All with just enough sea salt for distinctive flavor, and available with multiple rotating dipping sauces, from Horseradish Cream to Old Bay Mayo among others. Along with the old constants of cheese sauce, hot sauce, vinegar, and ketchup.
And anytime some annoying health nut gives you grief about your love for deep fried potato perfection, you can inform them that Curley’s fries are vegan and gluten-free. That’ll shut ‘em up.
If you’re waiting with a friend at Curley’s for a bucket or the larger “barrel” of fries, you can have them hold your place in line and go read the story behind the most iconic fry stand on the Jersey Shore. It’s featured on a sign on the side of the building, but here’s a summed up version:
Yes, there was a Curley, so nicknamed for his curly hair. His full name was Joe “Curley” Marchiano, and he was both an army veteran and a linebacker at Miami University. Curley grew up spending his summers in Coney Island, where his father worked at the Surf Avenue Nathan’s. Indeed, Curley’s fries are similar to Nathan’s in size and structure.
After some years as a concessions manager in other resort towns, in 1978 Marchiano joined up with fried chicken vendor Dick Marchant at Morey’s Surfside Pier. Curley’s part of the deal was fried dough, lemonade shake-ups, and his own brand of French fries. (Incidentally, Curley’s lemonade is no slouch either.)
Almost immediately, it became clear that patrons came for the fries, and the stand was soon renamed for Curley, in a rare recognition of genius.
As the board telling the story notes, there isn’t any real secret to the greatness of Curley’s fries…it reveals right there that Curley used potato cutters from Germany, and cooked them in peanut oil. Maybe the potato cutters are really difficult to find or something, but there’s no more to it than that.
Marchiano passed in 2000; twenty years later, his recipe of fried potato greatness lives on…even on a windy and wet day on the Wildwood boards, in the midst of a pandemic and a crippled economy.
Sometimes success is simple. Get a German potato cutter, find a peanut oil supplier, and fry and sell sliced spuds at the beach.
How much of a foodie staple is Curley’s? All you need to know is the reaction to a gag the Morey’s folks pulled a year ago. Most people well know that on April 1, they should have their antenna up for pranks. But Curley’s fans were taking no chances.
On March 31, 2019, Morey’s released a press statement announcing the retirement of Curley’s two locations, to be replaced by vegan stands called “Greenery’s”. Greenery’s would be offering kale chips, roasted chickpeas, and other healthy greens that no one actually likes. In an age where every institution from baseball to politics seems to care only about targeting “millennials”, it was actually a well-crafted April Fool’s joke.
The reaction was swift and severe. NJ.com, which had listed Curley’s fries among their “64 Most Iconic Jersey Foods” just two weeks earlier, reported that the accompanying Facebook post had 4,000 comments the next day:
“I go to the boardwalk just to eat Kale chips!! Said no one ever….”
“Kale chips? Who the F$&k wants kale chips? The one thing U looked forward to is now gone! New Jersey becoming the East Coast California!”
“I legit cried. Stupidest decision ever. This place is a Wildwood trademark…. Huge mistake.”
Even Curley’s subsequent “April Fools!” reveal on Facebook provoked an agitated response:
“Glad to hear that it was all a joke BUT…that was not nice to do, especially the day before April Fool’s day!”
“Threatening to take away my Curley’s Fries is no laughing matter!!”
“Not funny at all.”
You can still find the original “Greenery’s” press release on Morey’s website, (www.moreyspiers.com). Its politically correct tone is priceless. Here’s this writer’s favorite pull quote: “For the last fifty years Morey’s Piers has been growing and re-inventing itself to keep up with an ever-changing marketplace.”
Most businesses take themselves too seriously. Thankfully Morey’s isn’t one of them. But yes, that was a tense moment. Forsaking Curley’s Fries for kale chips probably would have caused a justifiable outrage.
Much has been said and written about heroes on the front lines in recent months. First responders, doctors and nurses in hospitals, nursing home attendants…even supermarket employees, who had suddenly found themselves in a high risk occupation.
All of the accolades and appreciation, and accompanying hazard pay, is well-deserved. Yet when a flu virus not only causes double the death count as a typical flu season, but also devastates an economy, sometimes what we need more than anything else is to see something normal again.
As ruffled as South Jersey became at a mere joke suggesting Curley’s fries would be replaced in 2019, in 2020 we’re grateful for anything we love sticking around. When there isn’t even any baseball, things can seem especially bleak. Suddenly, the availability of world class French fries at the beach is appreciably more meaningful.
The celebrated Jersey Shore fixture that is Curley’s is still alive. The two-story fry-shaped signs still standing on the boardwalk, an iconic food stand remaining open on the most miserable of May days, is one anchor of hope that on the other side of all of this, our favorite institutions will still be here.
Curley’s 1, Covid 0.
Camden Yards Food: Boog’s BBQ, Dempsey’s + Bring Your Own
So I had this big mess of Camden Yards food posts that went everywhere, and Google didn’t seem to like any of them. So I figured I’d combine them all, and just make them one nice big post about Camden Yards food. Enjoy!
Boog’s BBQ + Eutaw Street Food at Camden Yards
When first-timers visit Oriole Park at Camden Yards, they’re almost universally told to “try Boog’s BBQ.” The smoke wafting from the tent on Eutaw Street has been a feature of Camden Yards since its opening in 1992.
Long lines form at Boog’s BBQ stand, especially on high attendance nights. Fans get their picture taken with the large first baseman from the Orioles’ salad days, order a sandwich or platter of pit beef or turkey, enhance it at a banging condiments stand, and either sit at a Eutaw Street picnic table to eat or watch batting practice.
(Please note friends…I published this in 2018, and food in ballparks changes a lot, so I apologize for any inaccuracies. I am currently working on a retool and hope to have this content updated.)
The pit beef is recommended most by online reviewers, but the turkey sandwich is pretty good too, and the platters with slaw and beans offer decent value; you likely won’t be hungry afterward. One Orioles employee suggested to me to bring your own bread and get your sandwich “naked” to get more meat on your plate. Worth the effort.
Try to get to Boog’s BBQ early, if you don’t want to miss any of the game.
Dempsey’s, named for 1983 World Series MVP Rick Dempsey, is a restaurant built into the warehouse. It features brick walls, O’s memorabilia, and beer taps with craft brews like Rain Delay IPA (click here to see why Dempsey is associated with rain delays).
The menu is pub-style and includes appetizers like crab cakes and rock fish tacos, and the main menu is mostly burgers and sandwiches, like the Dempsey Club. There’s also the “Walk-Off”: a Roma sausage in a pretzel roll with Old Bay crab dip. Save money and appetite for that one.
If you want to try Dempsey’s and not miss any of the game, you have to get to a Eutaw Street entrance as soon as the gates open. Long lines form very quickly, especially on high attendance nights.
Don’t miss Rick’s poetic dedication to Memorial Stadium inside.
Elsewhere on Eutaw are a few of the unique food stands at Camden Yards. There’s the Bud & Burgers and Stuggy’s Gourmet Hot Dogs at the north end, where you can order unusual burgers and dogs (the crab mac and cheese dog is very popular) in case a simple dog doesn’t wow you.
There’s also a Eutaw Street Market in the warehouse where you can find grab and go items, and at the south end is a Eutaw Street Gyro Grill. You may lament the disappearance of the “other” BBQ stand, but the gyros and spinach pies are pretty good. Besides, Boog’s BBQ is plenty BBQ enough.
More Oriole Park Food Options – Crab Stuff!
Oriole Park is still in Maryland last time I looked, so crab stuff is pretty popular. Here are three more favorite Camden Yards food options of mine, just because I love Old Bay…
1) Crab Dip Waffle Fries. This is a pretty big go-to item for Orioles fans. If you’re familiar with the Chick-Fil-A waffle fries (and who isn’t?), they’re like them, but topped with Maryland crab dip sauce, and you can shake on some Old Bay seasoning at a condiment stand.
Get them at Old Bay Seafood, Freestate Fries or the Flying Dog stands, and get a fork and napkins…you’ll thank me.
2) The Crab Chipper. The Chipper stand has become one of the more popular Camden Yards food options – and this Crab Chipper features kettle chips (or pork rinds!) topped with crab meat, white cheddar, green onions and Old Bay…so they’re, you know, kind of like fancy nachos.
It’s a decent quantity of food too, especially if you get them in a souvenir helmet. Way salty though, so grab a drink with it…
3) The Old Bay Seafood Crab Cake. I remember in the early days of Oriole Park watching a friend of mine shell out $4 for a crab cake the size of a golf ball. This was before ballparks were known for food options. Hope he enjoyed it.
Today the crab cakes may be more expensive, but they’re now appropriately baseball-sized and much tastier – the Orioles had a chef sample 50 local crab cakes (!) to come up with a recipe for this delicacy. (Hopefully not at once.) The Old Bay stands are in the lower and upper concourses.
There you go…three crab-tasty Camden Yards food options. But you can go cheap here as well.
Can You Bring Food Into Camden Yards?
The short answer is yes, you can…the Orioles allow a 16*16*8 soft-sided bag or cooler, so long as it doesn’t contain alcohol or potential projectiles.
But the best part of this money-saving tip is the possibilities you have with the numerous outside vendors…so here are three tips on where you can find cheap outside grub to bring into the Yard.
1) Pickles Pub/Slider’s/The Bullpen. I’m not sure which of these three corner pubs sets up all of the tents and outdoor grills and full bars, but I expect it’s all of them. The three establishments are across the street from the ballpark on Washington Street, and the entire area gets packed with pre- and post-game partiers.
You can get a hefty dog, sausage, burger, or crab cake sandwich here for much less than you’d pay inside the ballpark, of course, and there are tables with people selling peanuts, pistachios and bottled water too.
Best part? Have a cheap Natty Boh while you’re filling your goody bag…since you can’t get cheap beer OR Natty Boh inside the ballpark.
2) Vendors On Howard And Conway Streets. There are a plethora of vendors with grills selling dogs, sausages and chicken sandwiches, and they’ll offer you a nice deal if you’re willing to haggle and offer to buy more at a discount.
As with the vendors near Pickles Pub, on Conway Street, you can also buy much cheaper gear and souvenirs. This is ideal for people arriving by Light Rail…the vendors are right there across the street.
3) The Peanut Church. The Old Otterbein United Methodist Church is nicknamed the “Peanut Church”…they’ve been selling fresh bags of roasted peanuts cheaply since Camden Yards opened in 1992, and they’ve used the profits to maintain the church with a new roof and painting and such. If you’re a person of faith you’ll probably think it’s a cool thing. It’s on Conway Street, and if you’re coming from the Inner Harbor you can’t miss it.
Finally, there’s a Jimmy John’s and a Chipotle just steps away, if you want bring food into Camden Yards from someone familiar. But that’s kinda boring.
So there you go…some food options at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Enjoy, and let me know when you’ll be there.