Full Circle: Southern Exposure
How does your Garden State grow?

Wally Kinnan the weatherman said it was going to be a warm and sunny day in Philadelphia. That’s all my father had to hear. That’s when he turned to me and said those three little words every kid wanted to hear: “You, go pee.”

It meant we were taking a trip, a long trip, an odyssey with no bathrooms. And so it began. We piled into the old Dodge and headed to South Jersey. It was a slow trip, a deliberate trip. There were no super highways back then. By the time we got to Olga’s Diner, we could smell the ocean.

Having travelled 13 miles, my father thought this would be a good time to make a rest stop to have a late breakfast, given that the word “brunch” hadn’t been invented yet.

My father would start with a large glass of orange juice without any pulp. I would wait until later in life to tell him that orange juice without pulp was really orange Kool-Aid.

Then, and only then, he would order two soft boiled eggs with two slices of white bread.

He would take the white bread, tear it, and dip it into the soft-boiled eggs, thereby creating the tar-tar version of French toast.

My mother then looked at the waitress and quietly said, “I’ll have a BLT.” But she wasn’t quite quiet enough. My father just stared her down.

“Don’t you know that a BLT has bacon in it? The ‘B’ doesn’t stand for baloney.”

“So,” my mother said.

“So? We keep a kosher house. We don’t eat bacon!”

“No,” she said, “YOU don’t eat bacon. When I’m not at home, I eat bacon if I want to.”

My father made an angry face. “Pig,” he said.

“Who are you calling a pig?”

“The bacon. But if you and Porky are happy together, knock yourself out.”

I ordered blueberry pancakes and prepared for a long, silent ride.

Did I mention the blueberries were grown right down the road from the restaurant?

That’s what Route 73 was in those days. Mostly farms and fruit stands. There were a few exceptions.

There was Kresson Lake, always packed, always looking like fun for the folks who couldn’t afford the gas to get to Atlantic City. Next to it was Lion’s Lake. Lion’s Lake even had bungalows that stretched down Dutchtown Road. Perfect for the people who wanted to rest before the long trip back to Tacony.

There was even a ranch in that area. Ole’s Ranch had two of the biggest log cabin structures around. In the mid-1960s though, it was bought by TV’s own Sally Starr, who turned it into a restaurant and dance hall complex called The Ponderosa.

Our gal Sal’s dream failed in the ’70s and was later destroyed by fire. It’s now part of the Virtua property.

The big boom in South Jersey came in the ’60s. That’s when the first housing developments appeared in the fields that once grew crops and fed livestock.

Shortly after I was married, my wife and I moved our family here. My father had some sage advice about that.

“You’re out of your mind,” he said. “You’re going to be living with cows and horses. There aren’t any people there.”

But the people came. And following those pioneers were stores and restaurants and banks and medical facilities, and more Dunkin’ Donuts than you could shake a cronut at.

When I moved to South Jersey, I was working for Philadelphia Magazine. I had started “Best of Philly,” and I felt I had to convince people that the towns in South Jersey were viable suburbs. So I named The Bagel Place on Route 70 in Marlton as “Best Bagels.”

And, remembering my roots, we often went to Olga’s. My wife loved the Boston cream pie. Once, I brought a friend from Boston over to taste the local fare. He looked at the menu and asked, “What’s good here?”

“The BLT,” I said. “Definitely the BLT.”

January 2020
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