WHAT IT IS - Long before superhighways like the Atlantic City Expressway and the Garden State Parkway, when drivers heading to the Jersey Shore had to take slower, less-direct roads that wound through farm fields and small towns, Delsea Drive (Route 47) was a favorite route. So named because it runs between the vicinity of the DELaware River in Brooklawn, Camden County, to the edge of the SEA in Wildwood, Cape May County, Delsea Drive also afforded those Shore-bound drivers a few places to stop for refueling and stocking up on food to take to the beach. One such place was Joe's Poultry in Vineland - a Cumberland County town that is kind of a midway stop to Shore points. Then - and now - drivers could pull into the parking lot of the rotisserie chicken stand and within seconds head out with fall-off-the-bone barbecued chickens, wrapped tightly in foil and tucked into paper bags. On the side they would have potato salad - a secret recipe so beloved by customers that Joe's has shipped it as far away as California to satisfy cravings for the cool, creamy potato deliciousness.
WHEN IT GOT HERE - When poultry farmer Joe Friedman and his wife, Rita, opened their tiny rotisserie chicken stand near the corner of Delsea Drive and Chestnut Avenue in 1953, the concept of fast food was still in its infancy. But chicken was king. Vineland was known then as the "Poultry Capital of the World." So much so that when the town built its "new" high school a few years later, it constructed it on the grounds of a former poultry farm, and its sports mascot was a chicken. It wasn't until the mid-'60s that Vineland's first McDonald's would open further up on Delsea, a mile or so from Joe's - so takeout places were a still rarity then. And that meant picking up a chicken or two and some potato salad for a couple of bucks to tuck into your picnic hamper with your thermos was a special treat on the way to the beach. These days, the chickens sell for $7 to $8 (depending on size), and the potato salad is $4.50 a pound. "People do have a lot more choices these days for food to take to the beach, but we do get them stopping here on their way to the Shore. I think it's still a tradition for some people," said Anthony Conto, 27, whose parents purchased Joe's Poultry from Rita Friedman about 20 years ago.
WHY IT'S SO TASTY - The Contos retained all of the Friedmans' original recipes and methods for marinating and roasting the chickens, which come out of the rotisserie as skin-on, tender birds. "People tell us they really love how they still taste like they did when they were kids," Conto said. "We really do love to hear that, because we pride ourselves on maintaining the same quality year after year." Precisely what spices the chickens are marinated in and how long the process takes is "a little secret." But Conto said he is usually on the job by 7:30 a.m. to make sure the first batches are ready for customer pickup when the store opens by late morning. "I lose sleep over making sure everything here is as it should be," Conto said. Longtime customer Mary Jane Benson, 58, of Washington Township, said she remembers stopping at Joe's with her parents as a little girl on their way to Ocean City and still takes a detour through Vineland (instead of taking a quicker route) on the way to the Shore to pick up chicken. "I can't live without it in the summertime," Benson said.
WHERE YOU CAN GET SOME - Joe's Poultry is at 440 S. Delsea Dr., Vineland. 856-692-8860. Open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.