A full parking lot tells me one of two things: the restaurant has great food or the lot is too small. At P.J. Whelihan’s Pub & Restaurant, it might be both.
Located at the increasingly busy intersection of Cetronia Road and Broadway in a grand and golden stuccoed two-story, Whelihan’s is perched perilously close to the street on a lot perpetually full of cars, trucks and motorcycles.
And, judging from the tongue-tingling tastes during a recent lunch, its appreciative customers could probably easily fill a lot twice the size.
P.J's is known for its wings, boasting, “Nobody does buffalo like we do” and offering patrons seven “signature” sauces: hot-n-honey, chipolte lime BBQ, mild, hot, inferno and the new sesame garlic and sweet chili.
Our waitress also recommended PJ’s famous fries. They are crinkle-cut, seasoned with Old Bay and served with melted American cheese, she said.
Fries are a weakness of mine, wings are not, so I ordered one basket of the fries ($4.99) to share with my mother-in-law Ginny. We each also ordered the same one of two new salads on the menu: “PJs chop salad” ($9.49).
The salad featured mixed greens tossed with red wine Dijon vinaigrette dressing, celery, red onions, cucumbers, peppers, cherry tomatoes, seasoned croutons, grated parmesan, salami, turkey and Swiss cheese.
Because of the name, I expected the ingredients to come finely chopped. Instead I had to cut larger pieces several times with the steak knife provided. Not a problem for a salad that appealed to both the eyes and palate, its ingredients complimenting each other in color, texture and taste.
“The croutons are good too because they are crunchy but not hard,” Ginny said.
Neither of us could finish the salad, especially since we couldn’t stop “sampling” the famous fries. So delicate on the inside and crispy on the outside, with just a touch of a peppery kick from Old Bay.
Other menu items, listed on a paper placemat in print large enough for me to read without my readers, included pot sticker starters ($7.99), a crock of French onion soup ($4.99), cheese steak nachos ($9.99) Cobb salad ($9.49), a new fish taco ($8.49) and brisket sandwich ($9.99), and a roadhouse rack of ribs ($18.99 full, $12.99 half).
I was impressed by the variety of burgers, especially the new bison burger ($9.99), California turkey ($9.49), “Lumberjack” with Wisconsin Swiss, Vermont cheddar and bread and butter pickles ($9.49) and veggie burger on a fresh wheat Ciabatta roll ($8.49).
Only two desserts appear on the menu, but they are good ones at $4.99: chocolate peanut butter pie, described as “Reese’s peanut butter cups swimming in a sea of rich dark chocolate and peanut butter,” and chocolate brownie “baked with chunks of Ghiradelli chocolate and drizzled with hot fudge sauce.”
A testament to its success, P.J.’s was the second in a chain of what is soon to be 14 restaurants in Pennsylvania and New Jersey owned by Bob Platzer. The first, originally named Platz’s Inn, opened in Lehighton in 1983.
Whelihan was the name of Platzer’s grandfather, according to Mike Whelihan, a cousin and accountant for the restaurant group, based in Haddonfield, N.J. The new items on the menu replaced those not selling well over the past year, he said. “You want to stay fresh and keep interest.”
I confessed to Mike that I made a mistake by waiting so long to return to P.J. Whelihan’s after an initial visit there soon after it opened. Our food was good then too, but we had an unpleasant exchange with a busboy over a Styrofoam container of our leftover fries.
Whelihan apologized for that, even though it happened so long ago, promising it would never happen now. I thought that was super nice and totally unnecessary.
I now regret having missed out on all the great-sounding entrees, appetizers and desserts in that time. Gotta go back for chocolate peanut butter pie!
Nice finish: no more Styrofoam. Take-home containers are now made of recyclable cardboard.
P.J. Whelihan’s Pub & Restaurant
Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Sun. 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.