West Side Comfort Food!!
By: Colleen A Johnson
One day you wake up and it feels as though a black cloud hovers over you. You can’t shake the malaise and ennui. You receive a piece of bad news adding to the long list of bad news alerts — making your day, week or month even worse than it is. You wait for the other shoe to drop and then POW –a steel-toed boot hits you on the head! Life is hard and oppressive. We all have bad days, stressful weeks, or challenges that might even crumble the strongest of men and women. When we are faced with such obstacles, all of us on some level seek out food as our source of comfort. Food has a magical and medicinal quality that can assuage the guilt, calm the fears, and alleviate the anxieties.
Every country in the world and every region in our great United States have satisfying foods that provide security and contentment when we are faced with such difficult situations. The stereotypic portrayal of a broken and betrayed heart finding solace in a cereal-size bowl of ice cream or eaten directly from the container is not without some kernel of truth. Sometimes soothing words from a well-intentioned friend cannot fix the heart’s sorrow like a big bowl of rich, creamy ice cream.
Anxiety for a final exam, a presentation at work, or a first date, reaching for that chocolate bar calms the savage beast roaring inside of us. Fear from the loss of a job, a fender bender, an unexpected bill, mac & cheese can easily make the dread seem less foreboding. Moving away from home for the first time or moving for the 7th time in 10 years, mashed potatoes and gravy are always a prescription to a nostalgic, lonely heart. Finally, there is nothing like homemade chicken noodle soup to fix any and every sickness, owie and booboo that life hurls at us.
So the $64,000 question is — what happens if we start our day eating delicious comfort food? Wouldn’t that make everything right with the world?
Thus, off I went with my friend Aggie, who is rather enjoying these food outings with me, to eat at TJ’s Homestyle Restaurant in Avondale. TJ’s Restaurant has been cooking and serving home-cooked breakfasts and lunches to the community for 35 years. Brothers, Dan Liddle and Don Holmes are the third owners of this family-owned and operated restaurant and for the past 12 years have been preparing fresh, delicious homemade food. We walked through the unassuming diner doors and were immediately transported into a vintage diner replete with authentic vintage furniture and memorabilia. The kind and friendly waitress, Donna, handed us our menus and sure as the sun rises and sets, the menu was filled with abundant choices of homemade comfort foods. What to order was our stressor for the morning. So many choices…
Aggie ultimately ordered the VIP French Toast Combo with Bacon for $4.29 and I ordered their Chicken Fried Steak with Eggs for $8.39. For an additional $2.69 we ordered a giant homemade cinnamon roll, swimming in butter, with homemade icing. Both meals ordered are foods that are listed as “comfort food.” The testing of my theory – what happens if we eat comfort foods before the day begins was in overdrive.
Donna served the cinnamon roll first. No time elapsed with us waiting to indulge in this visible sweet confection. We took our forks and immediately began eating this saccharine treat. The homemade roll was light and airy with a hint of sugar added to the dough. Most importantly, the cinnamon gooey inside, the piece de resistance was full of cinnamon permeating each layer and roll of the bun. The icing was thick, sweet and definitely homemade tasting. Delicious does not describe adequately this wonderfully made breakfast bread.
Donna came with our main meals after half the cinnamon roll was consumed. Aggie’s plate brimmed with food despite the fact it was ordered from the “smaller size” section of the menu. The two large slices of French toast sat catawampus on her plate. The homemade bread was drenched perfectly in its egg/milk mixture and toasted to a beautiful golden brown hue. Accompanied with the toast was scrambled eggs and bacon. The bacon was extremely flavorful and cooked crisp but not overdone. The scrambled eggs, like mine, must have been vigorously whisked, because both of our scrambled eggs were extremely light and fluffy.
My meal of chicken fried steak was a giant portion of food fit for a king. Along with the chicken fried steak, I had scrambled eggs, toast and hash browns. Too numerous to count the many times I have eaten hash browns with my breakfast and the potatoes were barely brown and crunchy. But, not today! The hash browns were fried to just the right consistency of crispiness and crunchiness. I was very happy with my potatoes! The chicken fried steak was a large piece of beef smothered in thick homemade delicious sausage gravy. The meat was tender, full of mouthwatering flavor. There was so much food on my plate that I could barely eat it all.
After breakfast, we had the distinct pleasure to talk with Dan, the owner. He and his brother clearly love their work and are dedicated to making good food for the community. Dan shared that because of the ambience and as having a family-style neighborhood diner reputation; TJ’s Restaurant is known for people becoming regular patrons. Isn’t that what we ultimately want with our eating establishments – the theme of Cheers where everybody knows your name? Dan also shared with us how committed his family is to making everything in-house. Daily they make their own breads, from the French bread for French toast to hamburger buns and dinner rolls. Last year they opened a bakery whereby they bake homemade pies, cakes and breads for the general public. Their eggs are supplied from the local egg farm, Hickman’s Eggs in Buckeye, yet supporting another local family-owned farm and business. They own their own refrigeratored truck and buy and cut their own meats. TJ’s Restaurant employs 25 people. They limit their advertising and only advertise with Yelp, local hotels and RV parks. Word of mouth and returning customers are the bread and butter of their advertising. These people work extremely hard everyday, cooking, baking, prepping, cleaning, and purchasing the best quality food for their menu.
Absolutely my test of eating comfort food first thing in the morning proved that one can stave off the gremlins of life’s hardships and disappointments. But, was it really just the food today or was it because I also met some wonderful, hardworking people that love what they do and do what they love for the good of our community? If this is what is behind TJ’s Restaurant’s success in the preparation of comfort foods on their menu, I know for certain I will be back for more!