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Anthony Bourdain ate here: New Jersey honors its native son with food trail

Rob Lucas, owner of Donkey's Place in Camden, holds a plaque that recognizes his restaurant's inclusion in the Anthony Bourdain Food Trail, which identifies ten New Jersey restaurants visited by the celebrity chef. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Rob Lucas, owner of Donkey's Place in Camden, holds a plaque that recognizes his restaurant's inclusion in the Anthony Bourdain Food Trail, which identifies ten New Jersey restaurants visited by the celebrity chef. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

New Jersey has honored one of its native sons with the Anthony Bourdain Food Trail, a map of notable restaurants across the state.

Bourdain was an advocate of adventurous dining. The chef and TV personality made a name for himself with shows like “Parts Unknown,” seeking exotic foods in far-flung, potentially risky locations like Libya and Iran.

He moved easily between the high and low: from the haute cuisine of Paris and New York to the hot dog stands of New Jersey.

In 2007, Bourdain came through the Philadelphia Free Library on a book tour, taking questions from a packed crowd.

He was asked: “What are your thoughts on Philly Cheese Steak?”

“Philly cheesesteaks? Love ’em!” he said. “You know that’s in my comfort zone.”

Last summer Bourdain took his own life while on location in France.

He grew up mostly in Leonia, New Jersey, fondly remembering the fried hot dogs at Hiram’s Roadstand in nearby Fort Lee.

That was one of the 10 eateries he featured in an episode of “Parts Unknown” spotlighting New Jersey. Now, through an act of the General Assembly, those foodie spots are officially the Anthony Bourdain Food Trail, which include delis, seafood restaurants, the hot dogs at Hiram’s, and, of course, cheesesteaks — like the ones served at Donkey’s Place, a Camden landmark for 76 years.

“Full bar, cheesesteaks, and French fries,” said Rob Lucas, the third generation owner. “That’s it.”

“I’ve had people as far as South Africa come in to see where Anthony Bourdain was,” he said, adding,  “Japan. Australia.”

Inside the cramped, shotgun bar on Haddon Avenue is a picture of Bourdain next to the table he sat at for the television shoot. In the back, buried behind photographs of patrons, is a 2018 proclamation from the City of Camden honoring Donkey’s on its 75th anniversary.

As a part of the state’s food trail, Lucas was presented a silver plaque etched with Bourdain’s portrait.

Shortly after Bourdain died a year ago, Assemblyman Paul Moriarty pushed for the creation of the food trail. He wanted to both honor the Jersey native and promote state tourism.

“The documentary that he did on New Jersey was really a love poem to New Jersey,” said Moriarty. “If you go back and look at it. He left us a map. A trail to all these places and said why he went there.”

At the dedication of the food trail, Chris Bourdain said he was most proud of the work his brother did to foster international peace.

“He went to places like Iran, and talked to people and ate there,” said Chris Bourdain.  “He showed us that Iranians are kind of like us. They want to raise their kids and have nice meals with people they like and feel safe with.”

He also said his brother particularly liked traveling through Mexico. The TV host was an advocate for immigrant labor in the restaurant industry.

“He regularly reminded us that people there are not conspiring to come into our country and harm us. Far too many of them are doing the backbreaking work nobody else here would ever want,” said Chris Bourdain at the dedication ceremony. “Sorry to go political, but Tony showed a light in those corners and I think there’s a lot of darkness descending about the reality of those places.”

The Anthony Bourdain Food Trail is the first of more planned initiatives around New Jersey Tourism. The New Jersey Department of Travel and Tourism plans to highlight craft beer and local wineries.

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