Mount Laurel

Lecture Review – “Paulsdale Metal Detecting Finds” by Michael F. Burns, PLS

This February 9th I received an introduction to a new method of historical detection. Michael F. Burns, Professional Land Surveyor described the nuances of using a metal detector to unearth clues about the past. The event took place at Paulsdale in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.

Mr. Burns possesses a unique expertise on both the subject of metal detecting and local history. A surveyor by trade, he is also a member of the South Jersey Metal Detecting Club, the Mount Laurel Historical Society, the Federation of Metal Detectors and Archaeology Club. His metal detecting finds include items such as coins, relics, heirlooms and artifacts. Mr. Burns reported on his findings at the Paulsdale property.

After watching the British television show detectorists, he felt inspired to take up the hobby himself. It seemed a natural extension of land surveying.

The speaker opened his remarks by providing a technical synopsis of the field of metal detecting. Fortunately for your correspondent he did so in language lay people could understand.

He began by introducing the audience to his preferred tool, White’s Spectra V3i. Their machine contains both an audio and a visual component. A polar plot displays vectors that plot the different frequencies the device detects. He, however, prefers to interpret the sounds that represent the different signal strengths. Mr. Burns explained that a good detectorist understands how to read them.

Detecting consists of the following steps: sweeping, pin pointing with the detector, digging, pin pointing with a pin pointer, recovering the target, re-checking the hole with the detector and then filling in the hole.

The latter step is crucial. Mr. Burns along with most detectorists practices “responsible metal detecting.” The trade even has a Metal Detecting Code of Ethics. One component entails getting permission from the property owner before detecting. Practitioners perform their craft with the dual goals of both “saving history and protecting the hobby.”

Paulsdale is a six acre property located on Hooton Road in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. In 1991 the Department of the Interior designated it a National Historic Landmark. It’s most famous as the home of legendary suffragist and co-author of the Equal Rights Amendment, Alice Paul. From 1800 until the late 1950s the property operated as a functioning farm.

Mr. Burns displayed both photos and samples of some items he located on the Paulsdale grounds. He presented an interesting array of objects. The property contained some unusual finds. The speaker located part of a toy gun and a lead toy cowboy from the 1950s. He also found a brass brooch of unknown date, an ignition coil from a Model T Ford dating from the 1920s and a silver plated spoon manufactured in Fairfield, England in 1915.

The most common items he located were old coins. He unearthed a 1922 Order of Railway Conductors convention coin, one from 1938 commemorating the 50th anniversary of Collingswood, New Jersey among some regular currency.

There’s an adage among detectorists that: “It’s not what you find, it’s what you find out.” Mr. Burns emphasized that research is the most important part of metal detecting: both in determining where to search and in identifying the items discovered. With his passion for his work, local history buffs will be hearing about Mr. Burns’ discoveries for years to come.

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Restaurant Review – Jade Bistro in Mount Laurel, NJ

To give an example of just how slow the service, one of my dining companions ate General Tso’s Chicken. When she ordered, it was Sgt. Tso’s Chicken. It moved up the entire military hierarchy in the time it took to prepare it. I attended with a party of twenty. The time it took for them to deliver everyone’s meal was about twice as long as all Liz Taylor’s marriages combined. I would’ve thought with my group having reservations on a Saturday night, the establishment would’ve been much more prepared.

In addition, they didn’t have enough brown rice available for our group. Did I mention this is a Chinese restaurant? They did cook some more but it took a while to prepare. A number of people had to wait quite some time. I think some of the men in our group needed to shave at least once before they brought it out. One of the lucky people in my group received his meal early. He ended up sending it back for reheating so he could have it with his brown rice.

I started off my dining adventure with a pint of the Mixed Vegetable Soup. They served me a quart of it. The dish reminded me of Pho Thai only substituting vegetables for the meats and noodles. I explained to the server that I ordered the pint. She responded that particular appetizer didn’t come in that size. When I made it to the bowl’s half-way point, it became light enough for me to move. I checked the menu and, sure enough, it did specifically state that the Mixed Vegetable Soup came in a pint. While I liked the soup and certainly thought it a value for $4.00, the restaurant didn’t give me what I ordered.

After invidiously watching all of my dining companions receive their meals ahead of me, I finally got mine. The enormous size of the appetizer turned out to be rather serendipitous. It was a good thing I filled up on soup first.

Whenever I go to places that serve ethnic foods, I like to try something different. I’m not a vegetarian, but I do enjoy vegetables, especially spinach. I read something on the menu called Garlic Water Spinach. I had to try it. As it turned out I’ll be telling the great-grandkids about this dinner.

The server brought over a plate containing a lump of spinach interspersed with garlic. That was it. That was dinner: a $10.95 plate of spinach. I eat spinach on a regular basis, this was, well, different. I had to twirl it on my fork like spaghetti and eat it like cotton candy. I looked for a knife to cut the coarse texture, but I didn’t have one. None of the servers came around to ask if I needed anything.

Spinach gives a person strength which worked out well for me here. I needed as much energy as possible to eat dinner. Imagine eating garlic flavored Big League Chew. I thought I’d need to see a trainer about muscle strains in my jaw. I’ve never eaten anything this tough: and this was a vegetable!

When I got home I spoke to my Step-Mom, Pat, about my experience. She’s an excellent cook. She informed me that microwaving spinach makes it very tough. I’ve microwaved spinach many times, but never encountered this issue in the past. Prior to writing this review, I nuked some. It tasted very soft and went down smooth. I’m not sure what the Jade Bistro did to prepare it.

Needless to say I had plenty of room for jello when I finished dining. To accompany my “dinner”, they gave me a small cup of white rice. I didn’t like that I didn’t have a choice of white or brown. With that noted, if I did order the brown rice I’d probably still be there waiting for it.

And there’s more. They didn’t give my party checks. We went up to the register and told the person what we ordered. (I should add that a malfunction with the register delayed the payment process.) While doing this, I wondered what it would be like if companies like IBM and Microsoft billed customers this way. I liked that the Jade Bistro felt they could trust me. I still don’t think the honor system is the best way to run a business.

To be fair to our servers: they did the best they could. I don’t fault them for the slow service. I only saw two of them in the entire establishment, though. As I mentioned prior: I would’ve thought a restaurant would’ve been better prepared for a large party that had a prior reservation.

My mother, rest her soul, would’ve been proud of me for eating my greens. That’s my only positive take on the dining experience. I expected to come away from this meal feeling jaded, instead I left disappointed. I guess I should’ve gone out for steak instead.

Restaurant Review – Chipotle Mexican Grill

My cousin’s husband shared an interesting story about Mexican dining with me. While working in Juarez, Mexico, a taco stand set-up shop across from the building he worked. Every day for lunch, he and his co-workers would walk over there for a quick meal. One day right before noon, a car pulled up in front of the booth. Several men jumped out and machine gunned the place. The following day, after cleaning up the blood and debris, the taco stand opened for business once again. I wish my experience at the Chipotle Mexican Grill in Mount Laurel, New Jersey could’ve been that pleasant and as quiet.

I haven’t had Mexican food in a while, so Chipotle seemed a good place to rectify that. I should’ve known from the décor that I’d made a mistake. This establishment sported the worst ambiance I’ve even seen in a restaurant. All the tables in the building were plain metal; I’m thinking some kind of steel. No tablecloths, no Mexican accoutrements, just metal. The lights reminded me of the kinds of devices used to keep food warm in a kitchen. Most of the chairs were made of wood and made sitting very uncomfortable. Some tables had stools, however.

Compared to the condition of the floor, everything else seemed high-class. I don’t know if they ran out of money before the contractor finished the job, but the section of flooring under me wasn’t smooth. (Maybe that explained reason for the poor quality lighting.) The other parts of the floor looked like plain concrete. I felt like I was eating lunch over someone’s driveway.

Granted, I don’t go out dining expecting the establishment spent big money on an interior designer. Still, a restaurant needs to provide some sense of sophistication. Even fast food establishments like McDonalds or Subway have nice dining areas. The inside of this building made my old high school cafeteria comparable to Seasons 52 in Cherry Hill. I went to a Catholic School. I assure readers: the school didn’t invest what little money it had in making the cafeteria look good.

As I’m writing this review, I’m realizing that I must’ve really been hungry today. I decided to get some lunch. The ordering format at Chipotle is similar to that of a Subway restaurant. You place your order, select the items you’d like on it and the server makes your meal while you watch. The person behind the counter asks what you want and then puts it on your taco, burrito or salad.

I didn’t understand why they used this process. At a place like Subway, they offer numerous breads to choose from along with myriad meats and condiments. Chipotle doesn’t offer that many choices that justify this arrangement. Granted, diners have options in terms of meat, the mildness of the sauce, brown or white rice, etc. I’m sure the assembly line process speeds up their throughput. Because of the lack of items on the menu and the limited variety of condiments, it struck me as a little “showy” as opposed to functional.

I ordered a Chicken Burrito with Guacamole. I had mine with brown rice, mild sauce and sour cream. A better way of describing lunch would be: I had globs of guacamole and sour cream with traces of rice, sauce and pieces of chicken packed together. They loaded my burrito with so much of the stuff that it tasted cold. You read that right: my Mexican food tasted cold.

I think I met my lifetime quota of guacamole today. I’ve read it contains avocado which is good for the heart. I was real happy to hear that because there was yet another aspect of my visit that could’ve sent my blood pressure soaring. I don’t know why, but numerous young children were in the building: to the point where I thought I entered a day care center as opposed to a restaurant. They weren’t the best behaved, either. I had to slalom around a number of kids running around the room. A few even broke the din of incessant crying by screaming.

I know readers will object to the above comments citing the fact I’m not a parent, myself. Let me respond by saying I live up to the standards I expect from others. Yesterday, my father took me out to lunch at a different establishment. Dad will back me up on this: not once did I run around the building, start screaming or crying. I know if I did so in front of my old man, it would be the last time I did it in front of him. (Parents take the hint.)

With my meal I decided to splurge and get the chips with mild salsa sauce. I thought the later very spicy, but I like that flavor. It wasn’t so hot that it burned my mouth, but it had more of a kick than what I expected from “mild” sauce. Based on the quality of the chips, I could understand why they’d make the sauce extra spicy. The pronounced corn flavor really came through. (I met my lifetime corn quota today, as well.) Normally, corn chips have a very crunchy or brittle texture. I couldn’t quite bend the ones I had, but I thought them soft.

I compliment the outstanding quality of the customer service. The gentleman making my burrito noticed a break in the shell. He gave me the option of either putting the contents into a new one, or wrapping everything in another one. I liked the fact the server took the time to discern what the customer wanted. I don’t receive that treatment as often as I would like.

I’m going to give my cousin’s husband a call the next time I’m in the mood for Mexican food. I’ll see if he can give me the address of that taco stand in Juarez. After my experience at the Chipotle Mexican Grill, I’m sure I’ll have a much more enjoyable dining experience there.

Restaurant Review – Miller’s Ale House

            I never thought I’d write this about a bar/restaurant, but the Miller’s Ale House in Mount Laurel, NJ reminded me of the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. The bare, plain exterior appeared rather pedestrian. When I walked in a lavish interior that I’ll be telling the grand kids about greeted me.

            Miller’s Ale House had the most exquisite dining room I’ve ever seen at a bar/restaurant. A gilded tint settled over the entire area. I’m not sure what material comprised the countertop on the bar. It was very smooth and decorated with what I would describe as gold bubbles.

            I think the ratio of big screen televisions to beers on tap close to 1:1. I applaud the management for figuring out this formula. Due to the size of the room this guaranteed all patrons an unobstructed view of at least one screen. With the state of modern Philadelphia sports franchises, they also guaranteed an appropriate amount of alcohol on hand for fans.

            A lot of places get a little tacky or go into overdrive when it comes to things they hang on the walls. The décor at Miller’s Ale House avoided this trap. They displayed numerous photos of famous sports figures. While ubiquitous, they arranged them in such a way that didn’t seem cluttered. Uniforms of Philadelphia sports legends Tug McGraw and Bobby Clarke hung on display, as well. As Miller’s Ale House has establishments located throughout the country, I liked the way they made this one fit in with the local community.

            The other decorations that caught my attention were the petrified fish located throughout the building. I noticed a swordfish, a shark, and a barracuda among others. They may have been engaging in some subliminal advertising here. It put me in the mood for some seafood.

            I ordered an iced tea and the Seafood Medley. The menu described it as, “Shrimp, Scallops, Clams, Mussels, Calamari, Scallions and Tomatoes Sautéed in Garlic Sherry Butter Sauce over Linguini.” The superb quality of this meal surprised me. I’ve eaten in New Orleans, Myrtle Beach, and Atlantic City among other shore areas. This Miller’s Ale House had the freshest tasting seafood I can ever remember having. I can’t believe I’m writing this about a bar/restaurant in suburban South Jersey!

            At first I thought the pasta tasted a little plain. Then I realized that’s the way linguini is supposed to taste. While the meal contained a good dose of garlic, the preparer didn’t drown it in sauce. This allowed me to savor the true flavor of the seafood and pasta. Due to the quality of the seafood, the chef made a wise decision here.  

            Based on the portion and quality I thought the meal reasonably priced at $13.99. The iced tea came in a glass with the diameter close to that of a telephone pole. For these reasons I felt like I got great value for what I spent.

            I found the customer focus at Miller’s Ale House exceptional. The staff conducted themselves very professionally. My server was friendly, prompt and courteous. At one point the manager came over to ask me if I needed anything. It showed me that this establishment values good customer service as much as I do.  

            As always when I visit a new place to eat, I evaluated the men’s room prior to dining. (As I’ve written before: “If the bathrooms are filthy, just what does the kitchen look like?”) Not only were the facilities clean I found them state-of-the-art. From the hands free faucets to the Dyson Air Dryer, this place applied cutting edge modern sanitation methods.

            The only criticism I can offer involved the Miller’s Ale House web site. It displayed the calorie counts for everything on the menu. I knew pasta was rich in calories, but I didn’t realize just how many it contained. Now I don’t have an excuse not to go jogging today. Granted, I can’t blame the restaurant for that one.

            I enjoyed my trip to Miller’s Ale House. The restaurant served good food, had great service, and at reasonable prices. The décor made the place more inviting as well. The Philadelphia sports memorabilia made the environment more “homey.” All these elements combined to make my time there fun and enjoyable.

         

Restaurant Review – Pho, Yeah!

If you like vegetables and sugar, have I got the place for you. I recently dined at my favorite Vietnamese food establishment. Pho Xinh is conveniently located at the Centerton Square complex in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. They offer a range of fine Vietnamese cuisine including one of my all-time favorite dishes: pho.

 

For those readers who don’t share my adventurous approach to dining out, pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup. I know that many Americans perceive food from the Orient as well, “different.” However, the ingredients in this meal should be very familiar to anyone. It consists of rice noodles, onion, scallions and cilantro. A dish containing basil, bean sprouts, jalapeno and limes is provided separately. Diners can add as much of or as little of them to the soup as they like. Patrons also have the option of a variety of meats. They include shrimp, fish, steak, chicken, and brisket among others. On my latest visit to Pho Xinh I sampled the fish pho. Regular readers of my column are aware of both my love of seafood and my need for brain food. I relished the opportunity to indulge the two in one sitting.

 

Please be forewarned: jalapenos are very hot. Hot soup is also very hot. If you choose to add the peppers: be very careful before putting them into scalding hot soup. I like my pho to have just the right kick. I use the Thai Peppers from the condiment rack on the table. Be extra forewarned: Thai Peppers are even hotter. In addition, they tend to settle at the bottom of the bowl. If you place them in the soup, do so sparingly. Do not chug the soup when you get to the end. You will be sorry…quite possibly for days to come.

 

If you do enjoy hot dishes, and like me, are looking for something to help clear your sinuses as allergy season is upon us, Pho Xinh also serves Hue’s Style Spicy Beef Noodle Soup. I haven’t tried this in a while, but it is excellent and extremely spicy. I enjoy it, but it may be too hot for some diners. Just as a friendly bit of advice: you probably will want to take a sip prior to adding jalapenos or Thai peppers. My guess is that diners will be spicy enough without them.  

 

I know it’s hard to believe that a bowl of soup could be filling enough for one meal. Pho isn’t like an appetizer one gets with a main course: it is a main course. I’ve never finished it and not felt completely satisfied with the meal. The ingredients may seem pretty simple, but the refreshing taste makes it very distinct. The fish pho—or Pho Ca Vien—had a bit of a sour taste as a lot of Oriental dishes do. I more than offset this by washing it down with a Thai Iced Tea. This beverage tasted sweet and creamy almost like an iced cappuccino. The flavor pleasantly surprised me. I’ve had Vietnamese Coffee before, so it shouldn’t have amazed me that other drinks from that part of the world have the same sugary taste.

 

As I wrote I’ve never eaten pho and still felt hungry. On this occasion I didn’t want to take a chance, though. I began my meal with the Spring Rolls, in honor of the new season. I don’t typically order appetizers, but was glad I did on this occasion. It contained vegetables, Asian herbs and spices, held together in an egg roll coating. A syrupy carrot sauce accompanied it for dipping. I still remember my mother admonishing me to eat my greens. With vegetable dishes like the ones at Pho Xinh, I’m sure glad I kept up the habit.

 

At dinner’s conclusion I had to wrap up my dining experience with something really unusual. I saw it on the menu earlier and just had to try it: I ordered the Avocado Shake. There are those who say avocado has no flavor. They’ve obviously never had this. I’d encourage them to sample this drink. I could really taste the milk shake while at the same time the avocado flavor steadily replaced it. For diners looking to try something like they’ve never had before, I’d encourage them to give this beverage a shot. I understand it’s not something everyone would care for, but it’s certainly worth at least one try.

 

I thought the staff very polite, friendly and courteous. Between all the sugar and caffeine I consumed I may not have been the easiest customer for them to handle. If that was the case they certainly didn’t show it.  I found them extremely professional and customer focused.

 

My only criticism involved the music. When I’ve dined at establishments featuring non-American food they’ve typically played music from that country. At Pho Xinh they played soft jazz over the loud speaker. Personally, I would’ve preferred to hear music from the Orient. I thought it would’ve added to the ambiance better.

 

Pho Xinh doesn’t just limit their menu to pho. They offer a variety of Vietnamese cuisine. Many other tasty looking choices are available that I haven’t had the opportunity to try yet.  My review focused on the pho just because it’s one of my favorite meals, especially on cool days. In the event you’re in the South Jersey area and would like to sample some fine food from the Orient I’d strongly recommend Pho Xinh. Would I encourage readers to try the noodle soup? “Pho, yeah!”