Home Cookin'

Jethro's Little Café prepares diner fare that's a step beyond the ordinary

Like all good neighborhood diners, the two Jethro's Little Cafés have developed loyal followings. People really like diners, those iconic American institutions, thanks to friendly service, decent prices and reliable food.

But Jethro's offers a little more. The folks here make most items from scratch, and it shows. Plus, the portions, as expected from a place named Jethro's, are more than generous. (Remember Jethro's immense bowls of whatever Granny was serving on The Beverly Hillbillies? Although in this case, Jethro is the alter ego of owner Greg Seader.)

John and I roused ourselves one Saturday morning to make the trek across town to the eastside Jethro's for breakfast. We found the place bustling, but thanks to a nicely shaded patio, a table was easy to find.

In a nod to the hillbilly theme, a large, hand-painted mural dominates the room. On it are a handful of country folk, some critters, a wooden shack and even a saguaro or two—and both sites have the same mural. A few Southern cooking items are also on display; thankfully, the whole hillbilly theme isn't overdone.

Breakfast-menu items include sides of chorizo ($3.29) and avocados (75 cents), and there's a malted Belgian waffle ($3.99) which I've been told is darned good. The same can be said for lunch, with a grilled-chicken-salad sandwich ($7.29) and a chili cheese dog with fries ($6.49) as examples.

Coffee ($1.79) was at our table in a flash, thanks to our charming young server. It was hot and steamy—just the thing I needed to knock the cobwebs out of my head. John ordered scrambled eggs and bacon with crispy hash browns and rye toast ($5.49). He also ordered a large orange juice ($2.49). My choice was the three-egg cheese omelet with grits and a toasted English muffin ($5.49).

I'm not saying that our morning meals knocked our socks off; I mean, how different can scrambled eggs be? But the difference here is the quality of ingredients and the obvious care in preparation. This no slap-dash greasy-spoon stuff—not in the least.

The eggs in both dishes were fresh and fluffy. The bacon on John's plate was perfect: cooked to a nice crisp and not overly greasy. Bacon, one of the most wonderful foods on Earth, is often abused and misused. Jethro does neither. The same could be said about the potatoes, which were done just right.

I loved the creamy grits, even though I committed a grievous error by adding sugar and butter rather than asking for more cheese. The omelet stood an inch high, with oodles of American cheese both inside and out.

Neither of us finished our meals, because there was just so much food. I can't say that about most of the other patrons, who seemed to be members in long standing of the Clean Plate Club.

A few days later, we ate lunch at the westside location. Again, we found the portions—even the sodas—to be humongous.

Although we ordered traditional items, they included a few fancy surprises, such as the yummy carrots and garlic smashed potatoes that came with John's hot roast-beef sandwich ($7.49). The carrot slices came with walnuts and were dressed in a maple glaze. The potatoes were redolent with garlic, with their skins mixed in.

The sandwich itself might've benefited from more of the savory gravy, but the beef had been slightly grilled, which added another layer of flavor. These are preparations that don't come from a can or a mix—they come from a higher-thinking cook.

I ordered a personal favorite: the pork tenderloin with fries ($7.49). This was the quintessential pork tenderloin sandwich, one of the best I've ever had. The inch-thick loin spilled over the edges of the French-style sandwich roll, revealing the nooks and crannies of a perfectly fried batter. All of this was topped with a tomato and chopped lettuce that had been tossed with mayo, which added a nice little tang. The fries were sizzling-hot and crunchy.

Yes, Jethro's is a diner, but to put it in that category alone would be misleading. However, Jethro's is not an "upscale" diner, where old favorites are turned into food no granny would recognize. Jethro's is a perfect blend of old-style eats and a modern sensibility, a place where hungry folks and those who appreciate quality over quantity can find a common bond.

I look forward to a return visit ... very soon.

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