Growing up in the Fifties and Sixties, my family frequently took a drive in the country. All of us piled into our station wagon and headed out into Dad knows where.
Nowadays, my dining partner and our friends try to keep this travel custom alive with what we call a “Toot.” On a recent dine-around bunch “Toot” through Sulphur Springs, our friend the Retiree suggested we stop at a local diner the three of us were familiar with. Imagine our surprise to discover that the diner had changed hands just this past July, while taking a trip back to the 1950s.
JJ’s Diner is located in downtown Sulphur Springs, occupying a renovated gas station. Inside the restaurant there is seating for eighty or so customers in two dining areas. As you enter, there is a cashier and a busy carry-out station on your right, with a hallway to the kitchen and restrooms to your left. Décor is “Fifties,” right down to the relevant movie posters on the walls and a 21st Century version of a jukebox comfortably tucked into the far corner. The staff is young, eager, and friendly, especially to families with young children in tow. Some of them even dressed in Fifties-era outfits: poodle skirts for the carhops, chinos for the waiters.
57 Chevy Classic Cheeseburger
The JJ’s Diner menu is what you’d find on a Fifties road trip: hamburgers, hot dogs and sandwiches for the cool cats, with the classic “meat & two veg” plates for Mom and Dad. The Retiree spotted the 57 Chevy Burger ($8.99) and ordered hers with American cheese, lettuce, tomato and mustard instead of mayonnaise, with JJ’s own waffle fries as her side order. The Chevy Classic burger was six ounces of 100% beef cooked medium well, topped with melted American cheese, lettuce, tomato and a squirt of yellow mustard. With a squirt of ketchup on the waffle fries, our globe-trotting friend was glad to be back in the USA.
Meatloaf plate with broccoli salad, & macaroni & cheese
I consider myself something of a connoisseur of meatloaf, being confident enough to determine a kitchen’s cooking skills based on how its meatloaf turns out. My dining partner wanted to see if that was just talk on my part, and ordered the meatloaf plate ($8.99) with JJ’s Diner broccoli salad and macaroni & cheese as her side orders. My dining partner’s only stipulation was that her meatloaf entrée be free of green bell pepper, which it was. Her verdict: JJ’s Diner does a very good meatloaf, properly accompanied with an equally good broccoli salad. Unfortunately, there was a so-so macaroni & cheese that marred her otherwise excellent version of “meat & two veg.”
Chicken & Dumplings
Other than meatloaf, chicken & dumplings is another one of my touchstones as to whether a restaurant’s kitchen is up to snuff. My gold standard here is chicken & dumplings as prepared by Mamaw.
Finding chicken & dumplings on my JJ’s Diner menu, I went right ahead with my order ($7.99), adding some fried okra and a side salad as my two veggies. The fried okra was the best I’ve ever tasted, hot and steamy inside, enrobed in a thin breading and deep-fried until crunchy outside. The side salad was very good as well; crisp, cold and crunchy on the fork and the palate.
The chicken and dumplings were good, especially the chicken and the broth. The dumplings seemed to be somewhere between German spaetzel and marble-sized lumps of pizza dough simmered in chicken broth until chewy. With chicken and dumplings from JJ’s Diner, Mamaw’s reputation is still secure.
Dessert at JJ’s Diner is a must. How can you say “no” to an old-fashioned soda fountain serving hand-dipped scoops of creamy-cold Blue Bell ice cream?
Well, the Retiree put the final polish on her 57 Chevy Burger meal with a single scoop of Moo-llenium Crunch ice cream ($1.99): vanilla ice cream shot through with chocolate and caramel chunks along with a mixed nut menagerie.
My dining partner had her “Total Waffle”; two scoops of ice cream in a large waffle cone, ($3.99). Her scoop choices were milk chocolate (of course) topped with butter pecan. My wheedling got me a spoonful of the butter pecan, just a shard of waffle cone sticking out of it. I could see the attraction.
My soda fountain choice was a classic 16-ounce chocolate shake ($2.99) poured into an old-timey fountain shake glass. It was pure Fifties delight, chocolate-y smooth with whipped cream and a cherry on top.
The bottom line
JJ’s Diner is well worth visiting. Their kitchen creates a very good cheeseburger and waffle fries, does a good job with their versions of meat and two veg plates, especially the meatloaf, and has an outstanding soda fountain for “afters.” Why not take a “drive in the country” from your idea of the Fifties, and stop by?