There are two types of chicken pot pie: 1) the Stouffer’s Frozen Dinner double-crusrted kind and 2) Amish-style. I prefer the Amish version, a kind of thick and creamy stew with a biscuit floating on top. It’s less carbs for one, and also what I’m used to. It may surprise many North Jersey readers to learn that Cherry Hill (where I live) is only 69 miles from Lancaster County PA as the crow flies. Pennsylvania Dutch culture is visible in South Jersey, with an especially noticeable influence on our cuisine.
When I saw chicken pot pie on the menu at Mates Inn in Trenton, I was pretty sure that’s what I wanted so long as it was Amish style. The only problem, I didn’t have my reading glasses so I couldn’t read the menu’s tiny fonts. Thankfully my dining companion, Trenton’s new mayor Reed Gusciora, didn’t miss a beat.
“Savory chicken poached in cream sauce with carrots, peas, celery and a biscuit topping,” he read aloud, ostensibly for my benefit.
Amish-style. I was sold. So was Mayor Gusciora, who ordered the pot pie as well.
Reed Gusciora is regular here at Mates Inn, a full-service luncheonette located within NJ’s Department of Corrections HQ near Trenton’s Cadwalader Park. (Maybe you noticed, the name Mates Inn cleverly inverts the word “Inmates.”) The staff are all serving time at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility. They’re here to learn a viable trade in these, the waning months of their sentences.
“It’s a great place to have lunch, I bring my staff here periodically.” Mayor Gusciora told InsiderNJ. “It also is great for the capital city because many people who are incarcerated, they come back to urban areas looking for jobs. This is a good way to talk with inmates who are about to enter back into society. So I think it’s a great place to support.”
Whatever your views on criminal justice reform, everyone benefits when those incarcerated here become productive members of society. When these people languish in a bad situation because of their criminal background, all taxpayers carry that burden, regardless of your politics. And for the record, it was the most exquisitely flavored chicken pot pie I’ve ever tried. Anyone with that much culinary talent and skill has the tools to succeed outside these walls.
Before becoming Trenton’s first gay mayor, Gusciora spent 22 years in the NJ legislature advocating for, among other things, changes to our state’s cannabis policy. Our pot laws disproportionately harm poor people and minorities. Gusciora has walked that walk since since way before cannabis became cool. He’s hoping to leverage that long, distinguished track record on marijuana reform to ensure Trenton capitalizes on the inevitable green-rush from cannabis legalization.
“Trenton has a lot of abandoned properties, particularly there are four Roebling buildings, football field-sized! We have industrial areas that have vacant properties, warehousing that’s ready to use,” Gusciora excitedly told InsiderNJ.
“So I asked someone in the cannabis industry if the municipalities in California or Colorado ever market themselves as an ideal place for cannabis. And all they could think of was the isle of Malta, that they’re marketing themselves to the rest of Europe. And we’re trying to do it, whether warehouses or grow facilities. And you juxtapose that with 30 municipalities (in NJ) that passed resolutions saying ‘no we don’t want grow facilities.’ We want to be the first municipality that says yes! And we’re marketing that to prospective developers”
Trenton has languished under a series of governors including most recently Chris Christie. There was a time when Christie was seemed poised to become a truly transformational leader. Instead, he did a series of extravagantly stupid things like BridgeGate. And floating a $250,000,000 bond for vanity development projects in Trenton.
“So we’re going to have three new state buildings that can’t be undone that will have no positive economic effect on the city of Trenton,” Gusciora rued. “We had no cooperation from a Christie administration that was very hostile to the state capital.”
Is the new Governor Phil Murphy any better?
“We’ve had meetings both with (Lt. Gov) Sheila Oliver and the governor’s office,” Gusciora told InsiderNJ. “They’re very interested in helping move the revitalization of the capital city along. They’ve said from the very beginning ‘what can we do to assist you?’ We’ve had a really good relationship partly because of the 20 years I spent in the legislature to know what doors to open at the governor’s office.”
As lunch was winding down, Dora Dunn, the culinary arts instructor here dropped by the table to say hello. She obviously recognized Mayor Gusciora. She wasn’t gonna miss an opportunity to talk up this program to the new faces at the table. You could hear the passion in her voice describing the hopes for the young chefs in her care.
“Dessert for everyone?” Ms Dunn cooed, which on this day was a pair of chocolate chip cookies.
I don’t don’t fall off the carb wagon lightly. But the pride on Ms Dunn’s face was impossible to resist so I didn’t bother trying.
When I say “it was the best cookie I ever ate in my entire life” that seems insufficient. So don’t take my word for it. Check out Mates Inn for yourself! Tell ’em Mayor Gusciora sent you!
JAY LASSITER is a cultural anthropologist using New Jersey politics as a lens to examine the 9,000,000 people who call the Garden State home.