Stacey's Korean Barbecue Brings Everyone to the Table in South Jersey

By Erica Bauwens / Photography By Rebecca McAlpin | September 15, 2016
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banchan and beawon
Banchan at Beawon—clockwise, from top left: seasoned cucumbers, steamed and seasoned soy bean sprouts, seasoned squid, sliced pickled radish, oiled and seasoned spinach, kim chi

Melting Pot: Escape to the East
 

You’ll find plenty of dining diversity along Cherry Hill’s Marlton Pike, a sprawling stretch of road that comes complete with a handful of Indian, Mediterranean and Japanese restaurants, among other international venues. But one spot has stood out as an exciting and authentic symbol of diverse delicacies for 23 years and continues to draw crowds night after night. Opened by Stacey Kwan in 1993, Stacey’s Korean BBQ (or Beawon, as it’s also known) has become a leading local name in Korean cuisine.

It’s a massive, 128-seat dining room, with private party spaces, a banquet hall and a grocery store—H Mart—directly downstairs, serving up Korean entrees, hot pots, rice bowls and Beawon’s true specialty: Korean barbecue, which guests cook themselves at built-in tabletop grills.

The space has long served the large population of Korean families and businesses in the area. “Our crowds are very Korean-based,” says Joann No, the manager of both H Mart and Stacey’s. “But we are getting more and more of white, Spanish, Mexican and diverse cultures coming in every day. We have people coming over from Philadelphia recently.”

The lunch crowd serves up a large Korean population, while churchgoers from the nearby Korean Methodist church and ministries fill the tables during the rest of the day.

“This has been here for a long time, so a lot of our customers are regulars from the neighborhood,” says No. “This township especially has a very large Korean population, so it’s been a good place for people to come and get a taste of home.”

The restaurant sits tucked back off the main road, in a mostly shuttered shopping center of independently owned Asian shops. But while the other businesses have closed, the H Mart Asian Market—built directly below Beawon and also owned by Kwan—remains a thriving and bustling grocery store. The H Mart chain has locations across the United States and offers hardto- find Asian ingredients, prepared foods, produce and frozen dishes that you won’t see at American grocery stores. It’s a sense of home and culture that isn’t easy for Camden County’s almost 30,000 Asian American to find just anywhere.

A girl and her mother shop in the fresh produce section of H Mart
A girl and her mother shop in the fresh produce section of H Mart

“A lot of people will come into H Mart after dinner, actually, and try to figure out how to make food from the restaurant,” says No. “People really love our salad dressing, so they come down a lot and ask what they need to make it. We even serve some of the food that we sell in the restaurant at H Mart.”

“I like to walk around H Mart after dinner and kind of do my homework on what I just ate,” laughs diner Lauren Steele, picking up a durian fruit from the produce section of the shop. “They have things that I never knew existed here. It makes me want to ask more questions about what it is I’m actually eating at Beawon. It makes ordering there more exciting too.”

Each meal starts with a banchan course: small plates of Korean sides like kimchi, tofu, vegetables in chili oil, mung-bean sprouts and more. Servers guide guests through each dish, explaining what is in each and offering advice on spice levels. Diners can refill the banchan bites throughout the evening, and they serve as an exciting warm-up for what’s to come.

Next comes a selection of entrees: Rice bowls like bibimbap arrive still sizzling in hot stone bowls. Traditional dishes like Korean Miso Stew are also popular.

But it’s the Korean BBQ that has become the restaurant’s showstopper. Uncooked, marinated meats of your choosing are brought to the table, skewered and ready for grilling. Servers guide diners through the process: how long to cook your protein, where to put vegetables and sides, what goes best together. The customer favorite remains the kalbi, which No describes as a small, marinated short rib.

Kalbi lunch combo
A portion of the large variety of soy sauces at H Mart
Photo 1: Clockwise from top left: The Kalbi combo lunch special includes garden salad , beef dumplings, kalbi, maki (pickled radish, fish cake, spinach and crabmeat), rice, and seaweed salad
Photo 2: A portion of the large variety of soy sauces at H Mart

“They’re cooked on the grill and are really delicious,” says No. “It’s my favorite thing on the menu and I always tell people to try it when they come in for the first time.”

“This place has kind of helped us break out of our shell,” says Al Staniszewski, a local resident who says he tries to meet his parents here once at least once a month. “To be honest, my family [and I] weren’t incredibly adventurous eaters before we tried Beawon. You kind of get to play with your food, and I’m convincing my parents to try things like kimchi and bulgogi in the process.”

The mix of families and friends of all different ethnicities, ages and sizes doesn’t go unnoticed in this dining room.

“It’s a really diverse place,” says Staniszewski. “I think that’s a good thing: I mean, there’s only so much Italian in the world. I think it’s good that all different people are trying something like Korean and not just settling for what they’re comfortable with.”

No confirms that she’s seen an increase in interest from non- Korean diners. “In the past we used to go through every ingredient, every dish with customers, because they didn’t understand or know what Korean food was,” she says. “But now I’m seeing people come in that know what they want to order, and they know what it is they’re ordering. People are starting to know more about Korean food and how good it is.”

Stacey’s Korean BBQ aka Beawon
1720 Marlton Pike E., Cherry Hill
856.751.7388
njkoreabbq.com

Article from Edible Jersey at http://ediblejersey.ediblecommunities.com/eat/staceys-korean-barbecue-south-jersey
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