Gut Reactions: The Pop Shop

Living in such close proximity to Philadelphia, it’s easy to forget some of the culinary gems hidden right under our noses in South Jersey, especially given our propensity to put up strip malls and chain restaurants with regularity here in the suburbs. Likewise, with gourmet establishments over the bridge or right in our backyard, it’s also quite natural to forget about the original comforts that get us from one fancy dinner to the next such as hamburgers, pizza and even grilled cheese sandwiches.

The Pop Shop in Collingswood is on a neat downtown stretch and is an exercise in brevity and complexity. You walk into what seems like a time warp, to a place adorned with 1950s-style checkerboard floors, leather booths and a soda fountain reminiscent of the sort of place your grandparents used to hang out at after school and on the weekends with a vintage jukebox and retro décor. But what’s even more impressive is the throwback selection of sodas, milkshakes and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Having been featured on The Food Network’s “Throwdown with Bobby Flay,” awarded “Best Ice Cream 2009,” “Best Pancakes 2007” and “Best Grilled Cheese 2008” by SJ Magazine, “Best Grilled Cheese” by City Paper, and “Best of Philly 2006 – Breakfast” by Philadelphia Magazine, The Pop Shop’s genius is in its ability to take simplicity and build intricacy from it. Before I went there for the first time, I was unaware there were 30 different ways to do grilled cheese, much less that there is one type filled with macaroni and cheese (it’s called The Arlington and I could not recommend it more). The restaurant serves breakfast all day and has build-your-own burgers, hand-cut French fries, hand-dipped ice cream, a robust selection of vegetarian options and an eight-page soda fountain and dessert menu featuring all manner of options. You can mix and match and create your own or pick from several appetizing choices presented there.

The Pop Shop is just two blocks from the PATCO train station, making it relatively accessible even from the city, and right down Haddon Avenue in Collingswood in the heart of the local community. Both a family restaurant and a cool place to take your friends or dates, it boasts an old-school vibe at old-school prices and a light, worthwhile amount of ambiance for a place specializing in something our moms made us for lunch about a thousand times growing up. The Pop Shop’s scenery alone evokes a tangible sense of sentimentality from the moment you walk in that makes it worth at least one try, but it’s the modern-day product that’s kept me coming back time and time again. With 1950s style and twenty-first century sensibility, one thing is crystal clear: The Pop Shop is a place for all time.

Gut Reaction: 5 out of 5

Where: 729 Haddon Avenue, Collingswood, NJ 08108

Contact: (856) 869-0111, www.thepopshopusa.com

Hours: Monday – Thursday 8 a.m.-9 p.m.;  Friday 8 a.m.-10 p.m.;  Saturday 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday 7:30 a.m.-8 p.m.

Type of Food: All-American comfort food.

Price: $5-15 per person. Another one of those places where it depends on what you order, but generally one won’t spend a king’s ransom. It’s not fast-food, but you certainly pay no premiums for all of the cache or quality.

Attire: Casual. They strive to be known as a family-friendly operation and that absolutely is achieved in this fun, freewheeling stop. Short of walking in barefoot and sans a shirt, you can come as you are.

Final Thought: Some restaurants seek to produce exquisite cuisine. Others look to project a certain type of atmosphere. It’s rare when one can achieve both, but that is the needle The Pop Shop has managed to thread. It is a place which is very intentionally fun for patrons of all ages and serves food sure to please, even the two fussiest groups in any family: your kids and your grandparents.

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