A show of hands: anyone out there remember Pennsauken Mart?
OK, you can put your hands down. If you do remember, then you’ll know of what I speak. Perpetually underlit and maze-like, Pennsauken Mart had an element of shadiness and intrigue. The businesses located in the Mart were more street fair stands than well-established stores, having walls notwithstanding. But treasures you could find! I remember digging through endless stacks of vinyl records to find out of print gems – like an original Chicago VII album with the textured album cover; cost: $1. You also had a number of food vendors there, serving up a myriad of items. And yet with all the bargains you could find if you rummaged through enough piles of stuff, you invariably left the place wanting to take a shower. The Mart was, como se dice, a bit unsavory.
But the Mart is no more. Eminent domain took it away some years ago, leaving all those business owners collectively out on the curb.
Some background: The Grand Marketplace was The Village Mall back in the ’70s when I was a kid (I think I remember a miniature golf course inside), but had hit hard times. After a number of attempts to revive itself, The Village Mall had finally succumbed and laid dormant. But the old place was going to get new life, and it would be in the form of all those displaced vendors from Pennsauken Mart. The Village Mall was renamed The Grand Marketplace, and a new indoor flea market was born.
So why the hecks am I telling all of this? Well, being that we have a bit of a penchant for food events, we had heard that the Grand Marketplace was holding a hot wing contest. We had also heard that there was a pretty good Amish market there, so that gave us enough reason to go.
Well, this is not your father’s Pennsauken Mart. In comparison to the mart, The Grand Marketplace is downright palatial. And reasonably well-lit. It’s still not like shopping at, say, Nordstrom (it is, after all, still a flea market), but a marked improvement nonetheless.
Now if you’ve been following along on our blog, you know that we sometimes get to events a little late. Well, our late arriving selves struck again! We completely missed the wing competition. Darn. BUT – we still had the Amish market to peruse. And we’re glad that we did.
We first had to settle down our hunger pangs, so we shared a hand wrapped pretzel from the market. Soft and chewy, with a little sweetness, it was a lovely pretzel – much better than anything from Auntie Anne’s.
While Julian and I finished the pretzel, Lisa did some shopping in the market. While the selection of vegetables was decent, it was the homemade food items that were the most intriguing. Lisa picked up a couple of jars of homemade jelly as well as a glass jug of homemade root beer, the likes I had not tasted since my late Grandma Howard’s so many years ago. One of these days, I’m going to find her recipe and make it myself.
The pretzel was not going to hold us, so we decided to get a more substantial meal. We grabbed some fried chicken at the market and dug right in to the goodness. Next to what you can get in the South, fried chicken from an Amish restaurant is about as good as you can find. Seriously. The best fried chicken I’ve ever had was Mrs Wilkes in Savannah; the next best was at an Amish restaurant in Pennsylvania. While not quite as good as those experiences, the chicken we had was excellent: nice and crispy on the outside, but still very juicy inside.
After devouring our plate of chicken, it was off to explore some more. Now I had been viewing The Grand Marketplace’s website and had been intrigued by their food court. There seemed to be a nice variety of choices, and they looked to be a little different than your typical mall fare. And they were. Instead of pseudo-ethnic places, many of the food vendors looked like real mom-and-pop establishments. Not sure which place to sample, we came across a Filipino BBQ counter (where the sign up top was located) that was advertising Meat On A Stick. Well…how could one turn down Meat On A Stick? We picked up the pork version of Meat On A Stick…and it was pretty tasty!
So, Willingboro may not be your first destination for food, but if you’re ever on Route 130, there’s enough interesting food experiences at The Grand Marketplace to make it worth a stop. And you won’t feel the need to shower afterwards.