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RIP, Burlington NJ’s Cafe Gallery Restaurant


While the Onion once goofed on the “Insidious Worm [that] Makes Unauthorized Purchases When Computer User Is Drunk,” (a parody that anticipated the 2011 Anthony Weiner sexting scandal by a year), one late night Internet vice for me is to occasionally hit Google maps and check out the photos of my haunts growing up in South Jersey. Unfortunately, from time to time, the warm glow of nostalgia can transform itself into bad news – the other night, I discovered that Burlington’s Café Gallery restaurant closed late last month after a three decade run.

The restaurant took its name, and its concept, from having fine art from local painters (which could be purchased, of course) alongside its tables. And via its huge expanses of plate glass, offered diners an expansive view of the Delaware River. When my parents owned their retail store from 1977 through the late 1980s, they typically put in 13 hour days from Monday through Saturday, and then went out to dinner on Sunday night, alternating between several upscale local restaurants. Some of the fondest memories I have of dining at Café Gallery on Sunday nights was during the period in the late 1980s, I attended NYU; afterwards, my parents would drive me to the Clinton Ave. railroad station in Trenton, and I’d take Amtrak to Penn Station in New York to begin another week at NYU.

After I moved to California, and flew back to New Jersey several times a year starting in the late 1990s to visit my parents, Café Gallery served two purposes: Since it was only a few minutes from my parents’ home, Nina and I would often drive my parents there for dinner, until my father died in 2006, and I would have a certain amount of fun ordering something like escargot, just to get a rise out of my mom. (Snails? Yuck!) And when we needed to play hooky from visiting my parents, Nina and I would go there solo for a more relaxing meal.

In retrospect, the restaurant’s slightly steep entry steps from the sidewalk to its front door served as a marker for my parents’ aging – each time we went, it was always a little tougher for them to climb. In late 2011, when we last went there with my mother, then age 87, she climbed those steps exceedingly slowly and ponderously; not surprisingly, it was a fall down a short flight of steps from her living room to the garage that led to her being placed into hospice care in February of last year. And during that grim period, Nina and I had a few dinners there to collect our thoughts and take a welcome break for the horrors each day brought.