My heart sank when I read that The British Connection—the closest thing we have to a British megastore—started stocking “gourmet foods from around the world and fine cheeses.” I knew I’d better get down there before the place becomes a gourmet shop with pasta salad to-go and extra thick sandwiches, Barbara the owner was quick to remind me that she did this under pressure from a good (British) friend and that I had nothing to fear. Indeed, they didn’t even make sandwiches.
New Jersey's claim to fame is its incredible range of specialty food shops and The British Connection—with a cooler stocked with Lucozade and Iron Bru, Coleman’s instant mixes for cottage pie, jars of marmite, and Walker’s roast chicken flavored potato crisps is up there with the best.
Maybe it’s not as big as a Patel’s or Fairway, but there it is, an amazingly complete selection of British foods on a back street in a suburb of Atlantic City. Certainly, it attracts customers from far and wide, and a couple from Pennsylvania was sipping tea and checking out plates with images of the royal family on them while I snapped pictures.
Walk through the place and check out all the things that make expat Englishmen cry. All those Cadbury bars! Haywards pickled onions, marmite, and for expat colonials, vegemite. (A jar of which was eyeballed by a guy from New Zealand who craved all this stuff and yet had never been to England.) Grab a black pudding or pasty from the freezer, some bramble jam off a shelf, and a bit of farmhouse cheddar from the cooler and enjoy a taste of a country whose food is rarely offered for sale. And when you’re done, you can clean up with that most British of cleansers, Fairy Washing Up Liquid.
American Barbara and her British husband Dave came up with the idea for The British Connection eight years ago after seeing a similar store in Florida. She was looking for a business idea on her home turf of south Jersey after a stint as a bar manager in London. He just missed the food.
Her first location was in Smithville, that faux-pleasant faux-historic village (Dispatch in the works), but a few months ago, they left for a storefront in Absecon, a bit closer to Atlantic City. It’s a larger space that allows them to offer tea and snacks too.
British food has always had a bit of a strange reputation. Before the nineties, it was said to be somehow vile and bland at the same time and today it’s the turf of characters like Gordon Ramsay, The Two Fat Ladies, Nigella Lawson, and Marco Pierre White.
Nobody embraces this cuisine in one meal the way they do French, Italian, or Japanese. Instead, there’s always talk of a first great dish—often a sweet, or perhaps a meat pie, followed by deeper experimentation with items like pasties, Yorkshire pudding, and spotted dick. Finally, there’s complete British food mania where you wind up searching out Staffordshire oatcakes, rag pudding, or jellied eel and even eat bacon, eggs and beans for breakfast on weekdays.
So, if you’re already in that maniac state, or if you’re ready to take the plunge, The British Connection is waiting for you—back bacon, golden syrup and all.
By the way, they’ve also got teapots, Union Jack souvenirs, and a small beauty section. And for all you guys who want to look like Hugh Grant; some imported men’s grooming supplies.