Globe-trotting chef Bourdain discovers Camden's Donkey's Place

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Anthony Bourdain. (Larry French / Getty Images for DC Central Kitchen)

Celebrity chef and television host Anthony Bourdain has traveled the globe in pursuit of culinary adventures for his travel and food shows, sampling delicacies such as cobra in Vietnam, iguana in Nicaragua, and warthog in Africa.

This week, he dined on cheesesteaks from Donkey's Place in Camden, one of the city's most beloved lunch spots since it opened more than 70 years ago.

On Monday, Bourdain and his camera crew crowded into the Haddon Avenue tavern and Bourdain savored a "Donkey steak," the restaurant's famous thinly sliced steak sandwich, served on a round, poppy-seeded kaiser roll instead of the traditional long roll. Bourdain ate his with onions and hot peppers, owner Robert Lucas said Thursday, and was effusive with his praise.

"He ate two of them, so he must have liked it," said Lucas, who was told the footage would be telecast this spring or summer. "I think I'm going to get a good review from him."

And those rolls are special, too, Lucas said, crafted just for Donkey's for more than 60 years by Del Buono's in Haddon Heights. "We're their oldest customer," Lucas said.

According to CNN's website, Bourdain is filming the fifth season of the network's Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, in which he visits places not generally thought of as tourist attractions.

Karen Reynolds, a representative for CNN, said the network does not confirm locations where Bourdain shoots while the show is in production. But it appears a New Jersey episode is in the works. The Asbury Park Press reported this week that Bourdain stopped at Frank's Deli in Asbury Park with a film crew from CNN, and the Atlantic City Press has reported sightings at several Shore locations.

This isn't the first time Bourdain has touched down in the area.

He hit Philadelphia in July 2012 while filming The Layover, his Travel Channel show exploring how to spend 48 hours in various cities. In his whirlwind visit, Bourdain ate at Paesano's in the Italian Market, Marc Vetri's Amis, Pho 75, Han Dynasty, Chef Ken's Cafe in Germantown, and Zahav, and knocked back drinks at Dirty Frank's and the Pen and Pencil Club.

A neighborhood fixture since the 1940s, Donkey's was opened by Lucas' father, a former Olympic boxer of whom it was said that he could throw a punch like the kick of a mule. The fighting style earned him a nickname he passed on to his bar, which has remained in the family ever since.

The spot has been a longtime favorite of locals and area politicians, including Ed Rendell, who, after his first Donkey's steak in 1998, asked Lucas to consider moving across the river.

Lucas said he and his staff had just a couple of days' notice before Bourdain showed up. When he did, he was accompanied by about eight people, Lucas said.

"He was very pleasant," Lucas said. "And very hungry. He said he hadn't eaten all day."


asteele@phillynews.com

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