As is probably common among couples, my wife and I have always gone out to eat for each other’s birthdays, with the birthday girl or boy choosing the dining location. When we lived in Center City, we were within walking distance of many of Philadelphia’s top restaurants, and we usually went to one of those on such occasions.
But since moving to the suburbs and buying a car a decade ago, I’ve instead viewed my birthday food outing as an opportunity to get to some of the roadfood-type places within the Philly metro region – or near to it – that I’ve been looking at online – sometimes for many years. For those of you who don’t already know this, either from reading my posts or otherwise, ‘roadfood’ encompasses many types of cuisine, so I have a wide array of options each year.
This time around, I was committed to finally visiting a classic New Castle, Delaware, soft-serve ice cream stand my brother-in-law, Mike, who lives in New Castle, told me about in the months before Covid hit. I would have gotten to this place much sooner if not for the pandemic, and I was determined to knock it off my list this year as part of the annual birthday outing.
While I was very excited about this prospect, a stop at an ice cream stand isn’t enough to qualify for a special roadfood jaunt on its own. I needed to pick a place where we’d eat lunch before having dessert.
I spent some time online researching the dining options in New Castle in recent weeks and worked my way down to two possibilities; a highly regarded Italian sandwich shop called Ioannoni’s that has cheesesteaks on their menu and Jessop’s, a colonial-era tavern. The former had some promise, but based on the photos I saw, not quite enough to entice me to go there for something I eat every week on what should be a special occasion. The latter’s menu just didn’t excite me quite enough for a birthday meal.
Yet I still had no other plan and was prepared to pick one of those two places until a few nights ago, when I decided to expand my online search into the section of southern New Jersey that is right across the Delaware River from New Castle, DE. Within minutes of doing so, I spotted The Orient Chinese Restaurant in Pennsville Township, NJ, which appeared to be in my wheelhouse in terms of both having an old-school look and featuring my Cantonese favorites on their menu. A potentially good Chinese meal felt more appropriate to the day than anything I was able to find in New Castle. So we picked up Mike early this afternoon and headed to the Delaware Memorial Bridge and New Jersey for the day’s first leg.
I was a little disappointed upon entering the restaurant and seeing that they had completely remodeled at some point since the online photos I viewed were taken and no longer have what was a very picturesque entrance-way from their lobby into the dining room. Change isn’t always for the better.
With just a few exceptions, the Orient’s menu is blissfully straight old-school Americanized Chinese food. It is almost straight out of the last quarter of the 20th century. There was not a sushi roll or soup dumpling in sight.
As soon as we finished ordering and before any of our dishes were brought out, our server dropped off the traditional crispy noodles, duck sauce and spicy mustard.
The first of our dishes to arrive was Mike’s soup, which came with his combination platter. He opted for egg-drop.
His entree, which came with an egg roll and fried rice, the traditional combination-platter accompaniments, was roast pork with broccoli.
My wife went with the house special lo mein. I heard no complaints from either of my companions, although neither is as passionate about this style of food as I am.
Given my need to save some appetite for our next destination, I resisted the temptation to order spare ribs or dumplings – they didn’t offer a PuPu Platter – and limited myself to an egg roll for a first course. As you may know from past posts, my entree decision at this type of restaurant almost always comes down to either Shrimp with Lobster Sauce or Sweet & Sour Shrimp. But The Orient offers a dish they call Sweet & Sour Triple Delight that includes shrimp, pork and chicken. It didn’t take much agonizing for me to settle on ordering it.
My entire meal arrived together.
The egg roll’s crust was a little flakier than I’m accustomed to, but that’s not a complaint. It was a very good egg roll.
In my last Chinese food-themed post, I discussed the modern practice of serving Sweet & Sour dishes with the sauce on the side. That’s how my entree arrived at The Orient. I wasted no time in pouring all of the sauce onto the breaded shrimp, pork and chicken.
Given that I still had some heavy duty eating ahead of me, I didn’t attempt to finish my entire meal. The leftovers will be enough for one or two dinners this week.
Another change at Chinese restaurants – this one probably for the better from a hygiene standpoint – is that fortune cookies now arrive individually wrapped. That wasn’t the case when I was coming of age.
After finishing our meal, we hopped back in the car and headed straight for the bridge and New Castle, Delaware, where a classic-looking soft-serve ice cream stand called the Dairy Palace was our next stop.
There aren’t many things that say summer to me more so than an old-school frozen custard or soft-serve ice cream stand, and I had been eager to try this one for a fairly long time.
They have a huge array of toppings and sundae possibilities, and I wasn’t sure what to get initially. But when my wife said she didn’t want anything separate and asked if she could share whatever I ordered, that opened up extra possibilities. They offered several kinds of what appeared to be – based on the online photos – extremely large parfaits. I doubt I’d have ordered one to eat on my own. But with a little help from a second eater, they were now in play.
Turtle sundaes were one of the roadfood items that got to be somewhat romanticized on the old roadfood website message boards. With that in mind, I couldn’t resist the temptation to order a turtle parfait.
Mike went with a drink that had several different things in it. I forget what they were, but I think mochaccino was part of the concoction’s name.
You can see how dense the ice cream is. The way it stands tall while the toppings cascade down its sides is what stood out to me in the Dairy Palace’s online photos.
The parfait was not exactly the same as a traditional turtle sundae. While it did have the usual caramel syrup, they used walnuts instead of pecans and quick-hardening chocolate shell instead of hot fudge.
But I had no complaints. This was a spectacularly good treat that was plenty for both my wife and I to be fully satisfied by the time we finished it.
What stood out to me more so than the toppings was the quality of the soft-serve vanilla ice cream that was the parfait’s base. It may have been the most flavorful vanilla soft-serve I’ve ever tried. It’s rare for vanilla ice cream to not get overshadowed by the toppings when eating this type of treat, but it didn’t happen in this case. I need to go back some time to try the ice cream without so many toppings anyway. It’s got to be up there with the vanilla soft-serve at Ridgefield Ice Cream in southern Connecticut as the best I’ve had.
That was a very satisfying day from a food standpoint. I’ve got another year to plan where to go for next July’s outing. I also want to return to New Castle – hopefully before next summer – to try the other two places I considered for lunch before settling on The Orient. And there is a frozen custard stand in Pennsville Township that I had seen online and which we drove past today that may be another future destination.
As always, you’ll read about it here.
I may actually make it through this week without eating a cheesesteak, as I’ve got something else planned for lunch with a friend later in the week. I wasn’t planning a mini-hiatus, but it may work out that way. If it does, rest assured I’ll be back on the steak sandwich treadmill next week. I’m still hoping to close that project out by the end of summer.