I was able to close out the New Jersey portion of my cheesesteaks list today with the help of my friend Pete. There were two destinations remaining on it this morning, and we split a steak at each.
Both places were a fairly short ride from two of the bridges that link Philly and South Jersey; the Walt Whitman and Ben Franklin. After crossing over the former, our first stop was Brynn Bradley in Woodbury, New Jersey.
It’s a small deli which serves cheesesteaks that have garnered a fair amount of praise from the Cheesesteak Gurus on Facebook. While I had expected there to be no seating based on the photos I saw online, they do, in fact, have four chairs at a counter by the front window.
Like a number of the steak shops I’ve visited in recent months, Brynn Bradley has a good selection of sodas, including Kutztown and Dr. Brown. Pete grabbed a birch beer, while I went for black cherry.
I was initially excited to see they had indoor seating, but the sun was shining through that window strongly enough to lead us to take our sandwich outside to eat. I had parked in a shaded spot on a side street next to Brynn Bradley.
The seeded roll was a little softer than I prefer, but was fresh and had a very nice chew. While I still prefer a sturdier crust, this was one of the better soft rolls I’ve had.
There was plenty of chopped ribeye on there for me. Although as I’ve been pointing out in my recent posts, those who have a strong preference for a huge amount of meat might want a little more. They don’t offer Cooper Sharp, so I went with American cheese. While there was probably just a touch more of it than I’d have liked, I don’t see that being a problem for most people.
Overall, the sandwich had a nice flavor, but was perhaps a little shy of my top tier.
It didn’t take us long to polish off our halves before making the ten-minute ride over to stop number two; Donkey’s Place in Camden, New Jersey.
It’s one of the few bars I’ve visited during this oddesey. It’s also among the most legendary of all the places I’ve stopped at for a steak. They’ve been on various national best sandwich lists many times, were featured on a Goldbergs episode, and were one of the late Anthony Bourdain’s stops on his New Jersey food tour. Bourdain went so far as to say that Donkey’s Place should be designated a “national landmark.”
And it certainly looks the part.
They are also known for the funny lines on their beer glasses, which we discovered when Pete ordered one. I went with birch beer.
But their primary claim to fame is, of course, their cheesesteaks, which are unlike any other I’ve ever seen or tasted. In fact, I had to throw out everything I’ve learned about what makes a cheesesteak superior over the past year for this visit, because they don’t do anything the standard way.
The meat isn’t chopped for starters, and it’s topped with a layer of cheese rather than the two ingredients being blended together. The fried onions are a third layer, added on top of the meat and cheese – again, instead of being mixed in with them. And to top all of that off, it’s served on a soft, round poppy-seed roll.
This sandwich was hard to pick up and eat without large pieces of meat falling out onto the plate. But the first thing to hit me when I did manage to take a bite was how flavorful the meat was. It was very well seasoned, as well as being extremely tender.
There wasn’t as much cheese as I was expecting, and it could have possibly done with a little more. But that’s not a major complaint. Order extra if you’re a big cheese person.
The onions were absolutely sensational. I don’t usually devote a lot of space to them, but they were unquestionably a highlight of this steak. They were sliced larger than usual and bordered on caramelization, so that they really gave a nice boost to the sandwich’s overall flavor profile.
Irrespective of the roll’s shape and the presence of poppy seeds, a crustier or at least firmer roll would have worked better, and not only in terms of making the sandwich easier to eat.
I’m extremely glad to have gotten to Donkey’s Place. I actually considered skipping them because their sandwich is so atypical that some people claim it’s more like a roast beef sandwich than a cheesesteak. But in a debate on Facebook on the subject that I witnessed recently, a couple people pointed out that aside from the roll’s shape, all of the ingredients of a normal cheesesteak are in this sandwich; including ribeye. That swayed me.
Having said that, as much as I enjoyed the flavor of the meat, I can’t say I’d put this sandwich up there with the better standard steaks I’ve eaten in the past year.
I’ve got one week of cheesesteak eating – probably two outings that will feature three or four steaks in total – before releasing a series of posts to conclude what’s been a year-long and very enjoyable project for me. They will include my back-story on how I got started with this obsession, as well as my rankings of the best cheesesteaks, rolls and pizza I’ve had out on the cheesesteak trail.
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