Lecture Review – “New Jersey’s Multiple Municipal Madness” by Michael DiCamillo

The preeminent of all American ideological conflicts found a fertile battle ground in the Garden State. The debate over a Hamiltonian approach to big government versus the Jeffersonian preference for more localized administration ended in favor of the latter. It resulted in New Jersey spawning 566 municipalities: even more than California. Just what caused this northern state to adopt the political philosophy of the gentleman planter from Virginia?

Historian Michael DiCamillo set out to elucidate this phenomenon as part of the History Speaks series on January 18, 2017. The Elizabeth Tuttle Fund, the Historical Society of Moorestown and the Moorestown Library sponsored the event which the latter hosted. Professor DiCamillo teaches American History at LaSalle. He’s also on the Historical Society of Moorestown’s board of trustees where currently serves as Vice President.

Mr. DiCamillo utilized the work of former Garden State politician Alan Karcher’s 1989 work New Jersey’s Municipal Madness illustrate this phenomena. The former Assembly Speaker explored the reasons why myriad towns and boroughs incorporated in the state. He discovered five key reasons: street fights, railroad towns, school district boroughs, dry versus wet towns, and exclusive enclaves. Mr. DiCamillo took the audience through each one.

The portion on “street fights” intrigued me the most. With the advent of the automobile road maintenance became a major political issue. Residents of a community elected “road superintendents” to represent their interests at the municipal level. They argued to secure the most funding for their streets. When these officials couldn’t acquire the municipal money they wanted, they’d return to their constituents with an interesting proposition. They’d encourage the “street” to form its own town. Of course, these road superintendents would play prominent roles in the new polis; even serving as their mayors.

I found this outcome rather interesting. A road superintendent would fail in his duties to his constituency. The populace would proceed to elect them to govern the new town; a much more complex challenge than fundraising. In essence, these officials would receive a promotion from the same people they disappointed. As historian Richard Hofstadter observed, “Politics has a logic of its own.”

I also enjoyed Mr. DiCamillo’s discussion of the conflicts leading to dry and wet towns. He described how the “camp meeting movement” inspired people to exit the cities in favor of country life. These new communities would serve as places of worship where residents could avoid the excesses of modern life. A number of these municipalities such as Ocean Grove, Bradley Beach and Avon-by-the-Sea developed along the coast. More locally, the towns of Bellmawr and Delanco began as part of this phenomenon.

The disparity between pro and anti-prohibition forces masked more nefarious motives, as well. One of the rationales for the “camp meeting movement” germinated from a desire to control rowdy youths and immigrants. Latent and, at times, overt racism even led to the development of some municipalities.

While the pursuit of a moral life free of vice caused many communities to form, the rejection of these principles inspired others. Centre Township prohibited playing golf on Sundays. It also rigorously enforced prohibition. Some individuals rejected these mores to such a degree they decided to form their own town. Thus, Tavistock incorporated in 1921.

In a fitting move, Mr. DiCamillo made his discussion of local history hyperlocal. Founded in 1688, Chester Township experienced numerous splits before the name disappeared from South Jersey in 1945. Cinnaminson left in 1860. Delran broke off from the latter in 1885. Riverside separated from Delran in the same year. Riverton left Cinnaminson in 1893 then Palmyra did the same a year later. In 1922 Moorestown parted from Chester Township. The remaining community changed its name to Maple Shade in 1945. Interestingly, with the exceptions of Moorestown and Riverside (which incorporated over street fights) all the others were “railroad towns.”

Mr. DiCamillo focused his talk on the political aspects of the subject; which he delivered exceptionally well. Throughout the lecture he presented balanced analyses of the Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian visions. With respect to the latter he explained as one positive: the smaller the community, the easier for citizens to become part of government. While correct, not everyone has an interest in being an active member of the political process. In addition many individuals who live in the same area share the same political views. I’d encourage another historian to follow-up on this lecture with a discussion of the social implications of so many municipalities.

Mr. Camillo presented a solid case that the Jeffersonian vision of government entrenched itself in the Garden State. While no new municipalities have incorporated in New Jersey since 1957, to his knowledge, only Princeton Township and Princeton Boro chose to consolidate over the last two decades.

The monument on Mr. Jefferson’s grave describes him as the author of the Declaration of American Independence, author of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and Father of the University of Virginia. Had the third President lived long enough, he just may have added: “instrumental inspiration for the municipal system of government in New Jersey” to his legacy.

Restaurant Review – Dooney’s Irish Pub in Delran, NJ

Readers of my restaurant reviews have asked me where I like to go for a good meal. After years of dining at various establishments throughout the Northeast, South and Midwest, I can write that I found an exceptional location where I’ve never been disappointed with a dish. That distinction goes to Dooney’s Irish Pub in Delran, New Jersey.

Dooney’s offers the best sandwiches and wraps I’ve had the pleasure of sampling. I’d challenge anyone to find a better Reuben on the market today; ($11) and it’s always my top choice for lunch. It takes a very special menu—at a pub, especially–to get me to order something other than a Reuben during the afternoon hours.

Somehow, Dooney’s inspired me to expand my culinary horizons. That’s an achievement in itself. After perusing the menu one day, I opted to try something a little more upscale that corned beef. I’m glad I did. The Prime Rib Sandwich tasted just like genuine prime rib. ($13.25) That well exceeded my expectations for a “sandwich.”

They recently added another called the Cuban ($12) to their repertoire. This one contains smoked ham, house roasted pork, swiss cheese, pickles and Dijon mustard on a grilled long roll. I first tried it when they offered it as a “special” one day. Many patrons must’ve agreed with me that it’s an outstanding dish. It’s now a part of the regular menu.

As an Irish-American, I really appreciate that Dooney’s understands Irish means more than beer. They started serving a sandwich called the Irish Grilled Ham Cheddar and Chutney. Smoked ham, Irish cheddar and mango cherry served on a toasted pretzel roll make up this one. It’s well worth the $10 price.

In keeping with the Irish theme they also feature the Blarney Burger. The menu describes it as a “house burger topped with corned beef, bacon, horseradish cheddar, cole slaw and spicy mustard on a pretzel roll.” It’s both delicious and filling which justifies the $13 cost.

For those who don’t care for meat, Dooney’s offers several vegetarian sandwiches. The Three Grain Veggie Burger has always been a favorite of mine. ($10) I really enjoy the new Grilled Veggie Sandwich. It delivers exactly what it promises and is well worth the $10 price tag. The dish includes yellow squash, zucchini, tomato red onion and basil with a roasted red pepper hummus spread on whole grain ciabatta. The spread gives this dish just the right tangy taste.

Dooney’s also features great salads, flatbread pizzas, and host of grilled chicken sandwiches. Regarding the latter, I’m partial to the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich ($11) and the Tuscan Chicken ($10.5)

Within the last few weeks, the establishment expanded the variety of entrees it serves. They offer phenomenal Fish and Chips. ($14) While I’ve always liked their Fish Tacos, when I’m in the mood for seafood, I have to splurge on this one.

No place earns the right to call itself “Irish” without properly preparing potatoes. Dooney’s makes its own potato chips. They’re the best I’ve ever tried and I know something about spuds. My stepmother’s a genius when it comes to making anything with potatoes. Even she loves Dooney’s potato chips. It’s quite an achievement when a potato aficionado likes what someone else does with potatoes.

In addition to the food, Dooney’s provides a great atmosphere. Whether sitting at the bar or in the main dining area, patrons are guaranteed a clear view of one of the large screen televisions throughout the building. For those who don’t care to suffer through Philadelphia sports woes while dining, Dooney’s offers an escape through patio seating during the warmer months.

Every weekend I get my Irish on. Diners in the South Jersey area should do the same. While St. Patrick’s Day only comes once a year, it’s always a celebration of good food at Dooney’s. Slainte!


Restaurant Review Dredge Harbor Café, Delran, NJ

Of the many adjectives that come to mind when describing fine dining, the word dredge doesn’t make the top hundred.  I found the seating even less appealing. The white plastic chairs and long rectangular tables reminded me of a high school cafeteria. The building resembled a trailer one would see at a construction site. To express this as politely as possible, upon entering, the tide in the harbor reached higher than my expectations for a good meal. For that matter, I wondered if some of the ducks floating in the water were part of the menu.

I’ve never been so surprised. The Dredge Harbor Café treated me to the best dinner I can recall in recent memory.

I ordered the flounder. (I don’t have a copy of the menu, so I don’t know the precise cost.) It came with a choice of soup or salad. While I normally select the salad, I read “Ham and Cabbage” soup on the list. What an unusual offering. I never do enough to commemorate my Irish ancestry, so I opted for that.

The café served me the best soup I’ve ever had. It tasted very flavorful; that’s an accomplishment with cabbage. I could clearly discern both ingredients in the broth. They loaded an abundance of both them into the cup, as well. A bowl would’ve been adequate for a meal in itself.

Our server mistakenly brought over an extra salad for our group. Nonetheless, she placed it on the table and said we would keep it. Since no one else shared my passion for greens, I decided to treat myself. The quality of the lettuce and tomatoes impressed me. I eat a lot of salad, but it’s rare I have one as savory as this. I give the Dredge Harbor Café a lot of credit: the food they served in preparation for the main dish would’ve made for a quality dining experience in itself.

Then dinner came. I figured the main course would be a bit of a let-down after the soup and salad. Again, the Dredge Harbor Café astonished me. The flounder’s texture allowed me to cut it with a fork. It tasted delicious. The baked potato and broccoli I had with it were excellent as well. The skin on the potato had the same texture as the French fries. I sampled one of the latter from one of my dining companions. They tasted more like potatoes than any other French fry I’ve ever tried. I’ve eaten at several places that make their own. I give the kitchen staff credit for outstanding food preparation.

I also liked the deceptively large portions. When I received my plate I thought it smaller than those used by comparable eateries. Again, the café shocked me. I couldn’t complete the entire meal. Thanks to the people in my party, we had plenty of leftovers for my dog, Cinnamon. Now I need to put her on a diet.

I criticized the décor earlier. To be fair, the establishment treats patrons sitting outside to a view of the harbor. One gets to watch the boats leaving and returning with the waning light of the summer sun in the background; at least during the evening.

Everyone’s familiar with the business axiom, “location, location, location.” The Dredger Harbor Café is easy to miss for first time diners. One has to take a long, meandering road off of River Road in Delran to get to the building. As I wrote above, the facility’s appearance isn’t, well, eye catching.

Another unusual feature of the restaurant is its restrooms. One has to get a key from inside and then walk across the street to the facilities. Needing a “pass” for the washroom made me feel like I was still in high school. At my age, that might not be a bad thing, though.

I remember as a kid going to Dredge Harbor for ice cream. I’d eat it while watching the boats along the water. I’ve grown up and so has the Dredge Harbor Café. They treated me to a phenomenal fine dining experience. Even though duck didn’t appear on the menu, I’d strongly recommend to fellow gastronomes.

Restaurant Review – Throwbacks Bar and Grill – Delran, NJ

I haven’t had the best dining experiences lately. Between the screaming children, 55 gallon drums of vegetable soup and the $11 can of spinach that took an hour-and-a-half to prepare, I really felt the need to throw one back. While out one day I made the adventitious discovery of Throwbacks Bar and Grill in Delran, NJ. Feeling that this may be destiny calling, I stopped in.

It had nice décor for a sports bar. Big screen televisions flanked the room so all patrons could see them. The bar had an odd shape similar to a square route symbol. As service turned out to be excellent I suspected this design facilitated customer service.

Throwbacks used a theme menu with the appearance of an old time newspaper. The company logo appeared faintly in the background. I thought that a very nice touch.

As far as I’m concerned no “bar and grill” has the right to use that expression unless they can make a good Reuben. Throwbacks earned it. They prepared the most interesting one I’ve ever had. I can’t recall ever having one on whole grain bread. The preparer didn’t drown it in Russian Dressing, either. The sandwich had just enough to add the proper flavor. I never would’ve expected a bar to come up with a way to make a Reuben seem healthy.

It came with a side of cole slaw, pickle and French Fries. The later were thinner that the ones I’m used to eating in bars, but they tasted great. I thought the $9.99 price tag for this platter perfectly reasonable.

I liked the place so much I stopped by again for lunch. This time I ordered the Crab Cake Sandwich Lunch Combo. This was another great value at $10.00. I thought the crab tasted a bit plain, but the cocktail sauce spiced it up for me. It came with the same things I listed above plus an option of soup of the day, chili or salad. I opted for the soup of the day and it just happened to be (gulp!) Vegetable Soup. They did serve it in a cup as advertised. The chef prepared it with more pepper than other vegetable soups I’ve had. The broth had just the right pop.

The staff conducted themselves in an exceptional manner. I received my crab cake sandwich with cocktail sauce. My server offered to get me some tartar sauce without my having to ask her for it.

I know I’ve raised an issue about dining around screaming children in an earlier review I wrote. Ironically, on one of my trips to Throwbacks a child started wailing. In this case, the woman behind the bar asked if she could provide ice or assist in some way. Another server went over to see if she could do anything to help. This showed some outstanding customer service that entailed going beyond my normal expectations. I give the staff a lot of credit for it.

Since Throwbacks is a bar, I should point out that they serve the usual array of beer on tap. I drank iced tea as it contains about the same amount of alcohol as domestic beers. (For people outside the United States who are reading this: that’s not far from the truth.)

Throwbacks served up a great dining experience. I anticipate returning to this sports bar once Football season gets underway. Depending on how the Eagles season goes, I may be drinking something a little stronger than iced tea. I might also be screaming louder than the children, as well.

Ireland Comes to Delran – A Review of Dooney’s Pub and Restaurant

In the spirit of the season I know many readers will be looking for a great way to commemorate St. Patrick’s Day. I thought it very topical to review a local Irish Pub. If you happen to be spending this March 17th in the South Jersey area and are interested in a fun dining experience, I’d recommend Dooney’s Pub and Restaurant located in Delran, NJ.

With the understanding that there’s only so much one can do with the usual Irish triumvirate of ham, cabbage, and potatoes Dooney’s varies up the menu. I’ve mentioned in this column before how much I enjoy seafood. This eatery offers some of the more interesting ones I’ve tried. The Blackened Mahi Mahi Sandwich is one of my favorites. (Before readers criticize me for eating this, allow me to remind everyone: one of the perks of being human is sitting at the top of the food chain. Live with it.) I’ve also savored the Fish Tacos they serve. Both feature a spicy Thai mayo that gives these meals just the right pop without being so hot they ruin the dining experience.  I applaud Dooney’s for managing this difficult balance.

Dooney’s features a number of chicken dishes as well. I’m a big fan of the Tuscan Chicken Sandwich. People I know who don’t like chicken have added the following corollary to an old adage, “everything tastes like chicken especially chicken.” I’d point out to them that this is one of the more savory versions of it that I’ve had. It comes with roasted red peppers, spinach, and provolone cheese on a bun. I like the addition of the spinach in lieu of lettuce. It gives the fowl a slightly different flavor while still allowing the sandwich to “taste like chicken.” I happen to like this species of fowl.

Of course, no Irish establishment would be complete without corn beef on the menu. I rarely pass on an opportunity to have a Reuben for lunch. Dooney’s has a good one. They also offer a similar sandwich called an Irish Paddy Melt. I’d classify this as an upscale version of the Reuben. The latter comes with swiss cheese, caramelized onions and Russian Dressing on Grilled Rye. I like the sandwich and it’s very good. As a traditionalist, however, the Reuben appeals more to my tastes.

If you don’t like chicken and beef, Dooney’s recently added a Three Grain Veggie Burger to their menu. This is another unusual dish, but one that’s well worth trying. Typically anything with vegetables tastes a little bland. When I noticed it advertised I figured I’d have to drown it in ketchup to get it to taste good, but I was mistaken. This burger does have a pretty tasty flavor to it on its own. That alone makes it worth ordering. I’m a huge Reuben fan, but I’ve found myself switching over to the Veggie Burger whenever I stop at Dooney’s for lunch.               

No true Irish establishment would be worthy of the name unless they sold good potatoes. Dooney’s offers the best potato chips and French Fries around. To my palate they taste like they came from real, fresh potatoes. The ones I’ve had at other places have a processed or plain flavor. I don’t have that complaint about the ones they offer at Dooney’s. They’re crisp and would make Ireland proud.

To the relief of friend and foe alike, I quit drinking quite some time ago. I’ll have to leave the review of beer and spirits Dooney’s serves to people more qualified. Well, I don’t know that anybody would be, but let me say I should leave it to people who’ve sampled them in the recent past.

Dooney’s is a great place for a good meal. The friendly and professional demeanor of the staff makes the dining experience there all the more enjoyable. If you’re disappointed that St. Patrick’s Day only comes once a year here’s an opportunity to celebrate it every day. For a little bit of Ireland in the South Jersey area, you can’t go wrong with Dooney’s Pub and Restaurant in Delran, NJ.