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JJ’s Diner turns our frowns upside down
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JJ’s Diner turns our frowns upside down

Several years ago, we stopped in at a local spot just down the street from our office at Atlantic City Weekly called the Golden Coast Diner. Though this location had already housed a few terrible restaurants and bars in the past – does anyone remember Ref’s? — our hopes were nonetheless high for a tasty fat boy feast. But what we were greeted with instead was an inept and disinterested staff that couldn’t seem to recommend much of anything on their ridiculously long and terrible menu other than a truly horrific and overcooked burger, which was instantly and enthusiastically panned after taking the first bite.

Our entire meal was a comedy of errors. Diner classics like roast turkey and mashed potatoes were abysmal — the gravy that accompanied it a frightening shade of neon yellow that looked more like something you might eat on a dare than any type of comfort food, and somehow even a dish as simple as mozzarella sticks proved to be too much for the kitchen to pull off. Needless to say, we walked out with our heads hung low, vowing never to return unless some big changes were made.

And they were. Golden Coast went out of business shortly after our visit, and the property sat vacant until recently, when JJ’s Diner opened in its place. After hearing quite a bit of positive buzz, we hopped in the Fatmobile and headed back to see what all of the fuss was about.

Ryan: I’m always a fan of a story of redemption, even if it’s only for the location itself, so I cleared my mind of any prejudices that may have lingered from our last experience and headed inside. We were immediately greeted by a friendly hostess who showed us to our table, which was nice and far apart from any other diners, an odd, but necessary safety requirement in the world of pandemic dining.

Scott: One thing Golden Coast did right was remodel the joint, so JJ’s might have some new paint, but it looks pretty much how I remember it, but that’s a good thing. It’s clean, has a great diner feel and is a great size in these pandemic times. Hand sanitizer is available at the door. Everyone wearing masks. All boxes checked. I was particularly excited about JJ’s because I have always wanted to go to their other location – a small joint on Delilah Road in Pleasantville that is currently closed because of COVID but is expected to reopen – but never made it. With this place so close to where we work, no excuses could be made not to check it out.

Ryan: The menu was mercifully much shorter than what the last tenant had presented us with. This made it easier to decide what to order, but of course, being a diner, there were still a ton of options. One section that did not have many choices though was the appetizers, a bit of a disappointment, as we both are big fans of any type of pre-meal snack.

Scott: Being a true diner, the great thing about JJ’s is that they serve breakfast all day. That’s a plus. And yes, while the appetizer menu for lunch pretty much consists of soups, mozzarella sticks ($6.99), onion rings ($6.99), wings ($7.99) and tenders ($7.99), they should expand this part of it. The rest of the menu pretty much nails what you would expect from a diner with everything from omelets to biscuits and gravy for breakfast, and burgers and sandwiches to open-faced platters for lunch. There are some strange omissions – how can a diner not have meatloaf as an entrée or stuffing and mac and cheese as sides? – but only a true Fat Boy like me would probably even notice.

Ryan: After a bit of hemming and hawing over whether I was in the mood for breakfast or lunch, I opted to go the breakfast route, ordering a Belgian waffle ($5.99) along with sides of bacon ($3.49), sausage ($3.49) and some bacon cheddar home fries ($4.99) that sounded too good to resist.

Scott: I deliberately ordered the same thing I ordered at Golden Coast for a direct comparison: an open-faced hot roast turkey sandwich ($10.99) with lots of gravy and mashed potatoes. The Fat Boy Challenge is on!!

Ryan: Service was great, for the most part. Our drinks arrived promptly, and the server was friendly, although I have to knock points off for constantly having her mask below her nose. Yeah, I get it, it sucks wearing them, but you gotta do it. Making customers nervous should never be part of the dining experience.

Within minutes, our food was at the table, and it was game on. Deciding to make my waffle the “dessert” of the meal, I began knocking down the side dishes one at a time.

The first bite of sausage was utter perfection. Flavorful and perfectly cooked, with a bit of char on the outside and a delightful snap from the natural casing, this was a great way to kick things off. I added a bit of maple syrup to my bacon and was again wowed – it was prepared crisp, just the way I like it — and the smokiness was right where it needed to be. The strips even looked pretty, perfectly crinkled like something you would see in a Denny’s commercial.

Surprisingly, out of all the side dishes, the dud was the bacon cheddar home fries, which looked incredible from a visual standpoint, but were somewhat burnt and lacking in overall flavor. Finally, the waffle was lovely, a nice balance between crispy and pillowy, and after being topped with butter and syrup, it made for a superb and indulgent end to the meal.

Scott: The turkey platter came with a cup of soup, so I chose the chicken rice. While decent and obviously homemade, it could have used a little more salt, but the surprise was that it came out luke warm. On the cold day it was, the last thing I wanted was luke-warm soup, so I didn’t even eat half of it. One of the other reasons I didn’t eat all of the soup was that within seconds of my soup being served, the meals came out, which clearly was a server error that was forgivable but something they should work on.

When the turkey dish arrived, the first reaction has to be “Wow!” The portion is huge with slices of tender, thinly-sliced turkey piled high on white bread and smothered in so much gravy to make this Fat Boy proud. Again, it needed a little salt – note to reader: I try to never pick up the salt shaker when dining out – but it was quite good. The gravy was a bit thick but had great flavor. It came accompanied by enough mashed potatoes to feed a family of four fatties on Thanksgiving, but unfortunately they were a starchy mess. They had the consistency of wallpaper glue. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any home improvements scheduled that day, so they remained on the plate.

Ryan: While there were a few bumps in the road, I’m happy to say that JJ’s Diner is the first tenant to take up this space that I would actually recommend to someone. The breakfast seems to be the home run here so far, but I would like to come back soon and try a few more dishes to see what other treats might be waiting in the wings.

Scott: I agree. I think JJ’s nails it on the breakfast side. In fact, I previously had some homemade sausage gravy over buttermilk biscuits ($9.99) for takeout a few weeks ago, and it was spot-on! While I may skip JJ’s for lunch, I can’t wait to try their creamed chipped beef ($8.99), pancakes ($5.99) and their famous chicken and waffles, which I believe are only available on weekends. By the amount of people I see going in and out of JJ’s daily, I think this diner has broken the curse of that location. We finally have a breakfast and lunch spot that is worth checking out and super close to our Fat Boy headquarters.

Rating: 300 pounds (getting chubby)

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