50 Haddon Ave
Just outside the City of Camden, on the fleeting edge of the hip burb of Collingswood sits a weathered diner which for years has intrigued me but where I had never set foot…until today. Roney’s Restaurant is a relic of a bygone era, a former White Tower location with just enough of the original design left to hint at what once was and make you look twice as you speed by. The ancient channel letters beckon you with the word “Hamburgers” on one side and sadly just “Hamburge” on the other and the often less than full parking lot always left me thinking that by passing up the opportunity to stop by again and again I wasn’t really missing much.
The counter at Roney’s was close to filled when I stopped in today on my way back from the shore and I caught mention of the man next to me “just getting off shift” and others talking about manufacturing jobs, while an off-duty waitress sat next to me perusing the want ads in the daily paper. This is Camden County, NJ. Hard working people, living during uneasy times in one of the countries most downtrodden cities. Roney’s is pretty real and to be honest, that is probably one of the reasons I’ve never stopped in before (and maybe others haven’t either). I’ve even pulled into the parking lot before only to head out again. This place just never looked welcoming. In retrospect, not coming in sooner was my loss.
The best way to describe the burger would be to call it a super-sized White Castle (or maybe more appropriately – White Tower) slider. It had the same taste and consistency, thanks to the weathered griddle and the perfectly fried onions which topped the burger along with a swipe of mayo and ketchup. The burger was probably 1/3 lb size and came served on a white, squishy bun (the platter which I had also came with perfectly cooked thin french fries). Two women ran the entire operation, one cook working the small griddle and one waitress handling the entire restaurant. There is an odd walkway in the middle of the restaurant with the “back of house” cooking and prep stations. This zone divides two seating areas, one large area in the front and one smaller area in the back (they even had a patio out back which under better weather conditions would be a great place to eat a burger ordered to-go). I’d assume during busier times two waitresses would be on duty, each handling one side of the joint.
All in all they serve a decent fast food style burger accented with a heaping side of nostalgia. The burger stand I would open (in my dreams) would probably look similar to this place. The creaky bar stools, the closeness of the other patrons eating next to you, the friendly waitstaff, the frantic cook and the delicious smells wafting off the impossibly tiny grille all immediately take you out of your element, dropping you down into the middle of multiple conversations and affording you the opportunity to become part of a loose community for a short while as you devour your burger.
I think we all wish our lives were a bit hipper, but this is pretty much the reality of it all. A forgotten burger stand, on the side of a busy highway, on a dismal gray day – oh yeah, in New Jersey…I see a Kevin Smith movie in this somewhere.
Here is a link to an absolutely stunning pic on Flickr of Roney’s by someone named Harpo42.
Odd, potentially unreliable financial data.