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A Restaurant Renaissance
Foodies discover a new place to love – Camden
By Lisa Fields

Cheesesteak at Donkey’s Place

As more and more people work in Camden and visit its top-tier entertainment venues, they’re discovering yet another appealing aspect of the city. Within its 10-square miles, Camden is host to a diverse restaurant scene that features new trendy spaces run by foodie chefs with big ideas as well as generations-old establishments that stand the test of time. And there’s so much in between.

“The story of Camden has been changing in the past few years,” says Bryan Morton, a North Camden resident and president of the North Camden Little League.

“Millions of people come to the waterfront for concerts or the aquarium or the Battleship or to see the fireworks on the 4th of July,” says Kris Kolluri, president and CEO of Cooper’s Ferry Partnership. “But something that doesn’t get a lot of attention is the food scene. There’s so much great food in the city. Once people try it, they’re going to love it.”

The foodie renaissance in Camden is widespread.

“Camden is fortunate to be home to some of the best eateries in South Jersey and the region,” says Camden Mayor Frank Moran. “There is quite a variety, ranging from incredible soul food restaurants to traditional Latin or Caribbean cuisine and world- renowned steak sandwich places.  Each corridor and neighborhood of the City has its own unique flavor, and that’s what makes Camden so special.”

Moran adds: “As a lifelong resident of East Camden, I eat at places like San Lucas Mexican Restaurant and Old San Juan Restaurant  along Federal Street. Then there are times I like to catch a bite in the City’s Parkside neighborhood for some soul food at Corinne’s Place or a famous Donkey’s steak right across the street.”

“As a result of Camden’s extraordinary growth, places are popping up throughout the City like our newest eatery, the Camden Arts Yard along Market Street in the Downtown. Camden has so much to offer especially as it relates to great tasting food. I encourage everyone to sample the food on their next visit to our great City,”  he adds.

The foodie renaissance has hit East Camden in a big way.

“East Camden has arguably some of the best food and positive energy of any neighborhood in the city,” says Freeholder Jeff Nash. “There’s plenty of food options and parking. Ask anyone who lives or works in the city and they will tell you about the excitement taking place on the revitalized Federal Street corridor.”

One of the city’s newer restaurants, the Burger Bar (3334 Federal Street), in East Camden, is gaining traction. Its menu features traditional burgers, chicken wings and a seafood burger that’s collecting rave reviews on foodie social-media sites.

A foodie feast at Corrine’s

Many of the gems are in Parkside, including Corrine’s and Donkey’s Place.

Corrine’s Place (1254 Haddon Avenue) is known for its Southern dishes, including fried chicken, ribs, candied yams and collard greens. Owner Corinne Bradley-Powers opened the restaurant 30 years ago to showcase her home-cooked soul food.

For the best cheesesteak around, don’t bother crossing the Delaware River – just head to Donkey’s Place (1223 Haddon Avenue), a Camden staple since 1943. When Anthony Bourdain visited Donkey’s Place in his TV series, “Parts Unknown,” it brought national attention to this local family-owned business.

Bourdain said Donkey’s cheesesteak – packed with fried onions, American cheese and optional crushed red cherry peppers on a seeded Kaiser roll – “should be a national landmark.”

You don’t have to look far to find other impressive restaurants. There’s also Cramer Hill, one of the northernmost neighborhoods in Camden, where Santana’s Bakery & Cafe (3205 River Road) offers inspired treats with a Puerto Rican flare. The restaurant’s motto is simply “Fresh Daily.”

The Cooper Grant neighborhood, between the Ben Franklin Bridge and Downtown, is home to Friends Café (319 Friends Street), which is within walking distance of the Rutgers-Camden campus. The café offers sandwiches, wraps, burgers and salads. It’s also known for the colorful mural on the side of the building by artist Cesar Viveros, which features the likeness of Andy Warhol and his pop-art Campbells soup cans as well as the RCA logo of a dog and a Victrola.

Just south of Downtown, you’ll find a new eatery in the Lanning Square neighborhood called i418 Café (418 South Broadway), within a block of Cooper University Health Care. The menu features sandwiches like turkey, bacon, Swiss cheese and pesto sauce on a baguette, as well as salads, pastries and coffee.

This fall, celebrity chef Michael Schulson is expected to open two new restaurants on the Waterfront. The themes have not yet been revealed.

“We look forward to introducing exciting and unique dining experiences to the community in Camden,” says Schulson, whose company owns and manages restaurants in Philadelphia, including Harp & Crown, Double Knot, Independence Beer Garden and the newly-opened Giuseppe & Sons, as well as dining establishments in Atlantic City and Hollywood, Florida. “We are inspired to have teamed up with a group of terrific individuals who share our belief in the transformational power of economic investment.”

Don’t know where to begin? Since 2013, the Camden-based Latin American Economic Development Association (LAEDA) has hosted a Dine Around program in the city, highlighting different restaurants.

“Each month between September and May, we explore a different part of the city and dine at one of its culturally rich restaurants,” says Raymond Lamboy, LAEDA’s president and CEO. “Since its beginnings, we’ve had over 300 individuals attend our events and become ambassadors to the wider region for the opportunities to experience the rich cultures of the city.”

As Mayor Moran sees it, the foodie renaissance is only getting started. But the scene is definitely worth checking out already.

“Camden has so much to offer, especially as it relates to great-tasting food,” he says. “I encourage everyone to sample the food on their next visit to our great City.”


Camden Arts Yard opened this spring

A beer garden grows in Camden

The latest addition to the city’s foodie scene is a pop-up outdoor beer garden featuring inventive food and drinks and an artsy vibe created by Aaron McCargo Jr, a celebrity chef who happens to be a Camden native.

Camden Arts Yard (391 Market Street) opened in the spring to much fanfare.

“We’re trying to expose South Jersey – not just Camden – to something different,” says Damon Pennington,

CEO of the Camden-based ATS Group who is partnering with McCargo. “When people see it, they are amazed. People are comparing it to Brooklyn and Manhattan, not just Philadelphia.”

Pennington and McCargo repurposed a 4,000 square foot empty lot near the post office for their beer garden. The inviting outdoor seating area features brightly colored shipping containers used as a kitchen, seating area, performance stage and office. Strings of lights hang above the tables, with hip hop, jazz and blues piping through the restaurant. Last month, the space began hosting live music and poetry events.

“It’s a place for people to hang out in Camden,” Pennington says, “not just a place to eat and have drinks.”

The menu features an eclectic mix of light and heavy items, from salads to brats, plus signature cocktails which are named after Camden landmarks and craft beers from South Jersey and Philadelphia.

“For those looking for that traditional street food, we offer those things with a twist,” says McCargo, winner of Season 4 of “The Next Food Network Star” and host of “Big Daddy’s House,” which aired for six seasons on Food Network.

“The whole thing was to tie in the food with the entire place, different textures and colors and flavors, representing Camden with ethnicity. There’s Korean chicken salad. Another item is salchipapas, a fried street food that’s common in Peru.”

“It’s a way to dine out, chill out, before you hit the road,” McCargo adds. “Sit down, have a cocktail, chill with friends and coworkers at the end of the day.”

It is open seasonally on weekdays and weekends, for lunch and into the evenings.

July 2019
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