Donkey’s Place in Camden, NJ: The hype is real, get there ASAP (Opinion)
Sometimes when a food establishment receives near-unanimous praise for such a long period of time, it can be easy to be let down.
It's not the business's fault. If all you read and hear are patrons and publications raving about the food, you can fall into the trap of building up the experience so much in your mind, that no matter how great it winds up being, you feel like it didn't live up to what you thought it would be.
This is NOT the case with Donkey's Place in Camden.
Donkey's Place is renowned for its cheesesteaks, commonly referred to as the best New Jersey has to offer.
My mom and I decided to stop in earlier this week on our way home from Philadelphia. From the moment you walk in, you know you are about to experience something special.
Donkey's sports a local dive-bar atmosphere that many people search for far and wide. The grill where these mythical cheesesteaks are made is just to the left of the bar. You can see and smell the magic being made.
The photos, many of the advertisements on the wall, and the overall decor look like they haven't been updated in decades, and we are thankful for that. You can feel every bit of the influence Donkey's has had on the local community since 1947.
Now for the cheesesteak.
Donkey's does it differently than pretty much every other cheesesteak joint I've been to. The meat is not chopped up and it's served on a soft poppy seed Kaiser roll.
My mom and I ordered ours with wiz and onions, but you can also add peppers, and even ketchup if having your meal overpowered by a condiment is your thing. They also have other cheese options if you aren't a wiz person.
It can be messy, and they know that. So the cheesesteaks are served with a plastic fork so you can pick up the shrapnel and devour it when you put the sandwich down.
Anthony Bourdain suggested Donkey's Place may have Philly cheesesteaks beat in terms of quality.
I've tried Geno's, Pat's, Tony Luke's, and Dalessandro's in the city of Brotherly Love over the years, and so far I can confidently say Bourdain was correct.
I've never been disappointed with a Philadelphia cheesesteak, and all the places I just mentioned do it slightly differently. I'd recommend Tony Luke's and Dallasandro's to anyone. But after my Donkey's Place experience, I will be telling people to cross the river to the Jersey side if they really want to be enlightened.
Between the cheesesteak and the atmosphere, Donkey's is a true New Jersey treasure.
If you go ...
Located at 1223 Haddon Ave. in Camden, NJ, Donkey's is open Monday - Thursday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. and Friday 7 a.m. - 6 p.m. They are also open the first Saturday of every month from 7 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Donkey's now has three locations in New Jersey. One is in Medford, and they recently opened up another location in Mount Holly. If you are a first-timer, I urge you to go to the original Camden location first.
The atmosphere is unmatched, and I am a firm believer that a grill that's been used for the same thing for so long adds to the overall taste. How could it not?
Enjoy it, and maybe consider getting a second cheesesteak to go since you're going to be thinking about this sandwich for a very long time.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 producer, writer, and host Joe Votruba. Any opinions expressed are his own.