Winging It

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We’d just taken the kids out for an afternoon at Johnson’s Corner Farm in Medford on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon (and grab a bit of the season’s first local asparagus), but we were starving. We also didn’t realize that our first and second choices of places to eat in the area closed by 2PM. We also needed to be back home by 6 that night, and the kids were getting cranky. Then, John got an idea. John got a wonderful, awful idea (actually, it wasn’t in the least awful-just checking to see if you know your Dr. Seuss): while we make our way back to the shore via Route 70, why don’t we take a detour right into the midst of the pines and check out Pic-a-lilli’s ?

Located in Shamong (a Piney town if ever there was one), Pic-a-lilli’s is one of those quirky, roadside legends. According to the website: “It all began back in the early 1920’s, when Thomas Snyder, a chemist at The Evans Soap Co. in Camden, lived outside in a tent while erecting this building. He was a man of character, also known back then as the Justice of the Peace. What we now know as Route 206, was a dirt road formerly State Highway 39,which is where “Snyder’s Luncheonette” opened in 1927. Snyder moved out of the tent and into one of the six rooms upstairs, while he rented out the other five. He not only used the upstairs as a hotel, but as a place to hold court meetings. Once the luncheonette business picked up, Snyder needed help operating the business. He sent word to Arkansas that he would need his only daughter Lillian, her husband Pickett Russell, Sr., and their two sons, Tom & Pickett, Jr. to join him here in New Jersey. The family joined together to sell ice cream, sandwiches, and soda pop. This took place in what is now our main dining room. In 1933, after Prohibition, Pickett Russell, Sr. decided to add our barroom and acquired the first liquor license in Shamong Township. The luncheonette was renamed, “Snyder’s Tavern”. ” Over the years, this institution has, while still technically a tavern, served the locals as a “a hotel, courtroom, hospital room, wedding hall, and a  funeral parlor.” On this particular afternoon, over 90 years since it’s beginning and 74 years since the name was changed to Pic-a-lilli (inspired by a jar of the classic relish), we were there for one big reason: the buffalo wings.

The “almost famous” wings, listed under the appetizers, come in increments of 6, 13, 25, 50, and 100. We only wanted a taste, but only 6 itty bitty wings? We went for 13; we should’ve went for 6. When they say “wing”, they mean the whole wing, not the typically cut-up pieces you typically see. They were HUGE. I was glad we opted for “spicy” out of the mild-spicy-hot-smokin’ categories, though I think John could’ve gone for “hot’. Based on what we had, I’m willing to bet even “mild” has a big kick to it. So- how were these “almost famous” wings? Worth the whole dang trip. There was a sweetness and juiciness to the meat that leads me to believe they were well-marinated first, then fried to a perfect, satisfying crisp. The sauce was in the perfect “buffalo” style-savory, spicy, and rich (with butter, I’m guessing). Next time we’re going to order a few brews from the bar to go with them, as they offer a few interesting choices on tap (such as Magic Hat, Long Trail and Yeungling). Sadly, we have no pictures to show you, as our usually trusty camera”s batteries ran out before we could shoot anything…

We also decided to get their “soup sampler”, since they were also “almost famous” for their creamy crab soup, and I wanted to get a general taste of what the kitchen was about. A respectable french onion (yes, I’ve had better); but the winners were the crab soup and the baked potato soup. The crab was creamy but not gloppy, with a rich, full crab broth base; a few juicy chunks of fresh crabmeat added a perfect finish. The potato soup was also cream-based, but had a wonderful bacon/onion flavor, with a touch of fresh grated cheddar mixed in-very satisfying. I could have done without the out-of-the-box croutons, though: the soup is good enough to stand on its own.The kids wanted chicken fingers, but we weren’t impressed here; what arrived was the typical,  frozen food-service fingers-not bad, but nothing special. The burgers, however, were. Not the largest patties, mind you, but they were juicy and flavorful. I like that I was asked by our server if I wanted it “well-done or pink”-it shows that the meat is worth serving on the rare side. I had a simple cheeseburger, but John went for the Pic Burger: 2 patties, pork roll, American cheese, lettuce and tomato. I’m glad to report he took half of it home or I’d be a widow by now.

They also talk up their crab cakes, so we’ll have to go back to report on those. I’d also like to make a meal out of just the appetizers (garlic clams, steamers, wings, buffalo onion rings, “crab bread”), as the rest of the menu isn’t as intriguing (chicken parm, shrimp scampi, prime rib). But  be on the lookout- apparently Pic-a-lilli’s holds an annual venison dinner. Hmmm, I wonder if they do “venison wings”?…

Pic-a-lilli’s is the kind of place where you sit down, and take it all in: the old photographs, the dark wood paneling, the bikers, the locals, and those just passing through. Make sure you enjoy a good brew and the things they do well, and leave it at that. If you do, you’ll be glad you went.



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