With two locations in North Arlington, Jay Jay Cafe has long been the kind of safe-but-nothin’-fancy place that people in the neighborhood go to but no one travels any distance for.
About a year ago, the owners decided to step up their game. Jay Jay Cafe No. 3, in southwest Arlington, is not only much larger than the first two locations, but also far more visible, with a brightly colored awning that shouts the restaurant’s name to drivers and shoppers in this highly trafficked area.
The growth strategy seems to be working. On a recent Sunday afternoon, there was a line of customers waiting to be seated for their post-church pie.
The Jay Jay menu is your standard Southern comfort food, the kind of fried-and-gravied things you’d find at The Black-eyed Pea or Dixie House, though the prices are a bit lower than you’ll get at the chain restaurants.
We went with a couple of comfort-food classics for our meal: meatloaf and catfish. The Southern meatloaf ($7.99) was a generous slab of solid, not crumbly, meatloaf with a thickly spread topping that was closer to chopped tomatoes than tomato sauce. Sides were a creamy coleslaw that seemed fresh and crisp and mashed potatoes with brown gravy that seemed old-fashioned — and not in a cool-retro way. If we ever order mashed potatoes here again, we’ll order the cream gravy.
Catfish with ginger-apricot sauce ($8.99) was the one surprise on this menu. The catfish plate held two large breaded and fried fillets, one sporting a dollop of the sweet sauce. Ginger and apricot are two of our favorites. We liked the sauce, we liked the fish, we just didn’t like them in tandem. You can also order pecan-crusted chicken with the ginger-apricot sauce, and we suspect that would be a better paring.
The sides were a satisfactory cooked cabbage and outstanding home fries that were nicely crisped and flavored with onion and peppers. We could have made a meal out of the potatoes alone.
The pie case had been calling our names since we walked into Jay Jay. An assortment of pies, fruit and cream, are made fresh twice daily by the owners’ wives — some 30-35 pies a day.
And they did not disappoint. The mildy tart filling of the strawberry-rhubarb pie — we hadn’t seen that one on a menu since Tippin’s closed — was nestled inside a crust that shouted “homemade.” The chocolate cream pie began with the same flaky crust, followed by a luxuriously rich chocolate filling, then whipped cream and finally chocolate sprinkles.
OK, I’ll confess. The pies were so good we returned the next night to split a piece of blueberry-cream cheese pie. My dining companion thought that one was the best of three.
Whole pies can be purchased for about $10.