You know that old pair of sweats you have at home, the ones that you beeline for after a long day spent in an uncomfortable outfit, the pair you grab on a rainy Sunday morning in preparation for a long day on the couch watching football, your uniform when you’re down with the flu? They’re warm, familiar, not really suitable for company (depending on the company) but damn, do they comfort you and make you feel like yourself again? Those sweats, they’re the sartorial version of Tommy’s Joynt.
Growing up in the Bay Area, we drove by Tommy’s Joynt a lot. It’s located on Van Ness, aka the city section of highway 101, the connector between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Penninsula. As a child, I was totally intrigued by the circus exterior and big top font banner sign. It just looks fun, and at Tommy’s Joynt, looks are not deceiving. TJ’s is an old school Hof Brau; a no frills homage to meat and blue-collar eats. They’ve occupied their spot on Van Ness since 1947, and, it appears, have not changed a thing inside since. It just has charm. Well, if you aren’t a pretentious asshole it has charm. If you are, TJ’s is not the place for you.
I adore that chaotic menagerie of signs, the hanging heat lamps encased in big glass lamp shades, the smell of meat that hits you when you walk in the door. The cafeteria style counter runs the right side of the room, plastic gingham clothed picnic tables in the middle, a long, worn, old wood bar, serving something like 100 varieties of beer, opposite, sports always available on TV’s at either end. There is an entire back room as well, but it lacks soul and I basically don’t like to acknowledge that it exists. It’s like an overflow paddock, which probably isn’t even a thing, but you get my point. Maybe.
Also, Metallica like, met here or something. Tommy’s, a piece of San Francisco and heavy metal history.
We go to Tommy’s every New Year’s Day, settle into a booth, then spend our day playing cards, drinking, and taking turns making trips to the counter to buy food for the group. There is simply no better way to usher in the New Year. Also, we have the same drink server every year, who we absolutely adore, but whose name I cannot share for reasons I cannot share. She is just awesome, and we look forward to seeing her as much as we look forward to our food and drinks and merriment in the Joynt.
My routine, previously, was to order the $10 bottle of swill wine, with intermittent shots of fernet throughout the day. However, swill wine just kind of lost whatever appeal it had (cheap!) and now I tend to roll with beer and shots throughout the day. Our server, the one we love, will sometimes bring us some samples from which we place a larger order:
Or, we just go with our favorite Polish standby, Zywiec (pronounced JU-viets) which, incidentally, comes in a really fabulous textured can. The food.
The routine is, you stand in a switchback line until you get up to the counter. Then one guy gets your main composed and ready on your plate. This is typically carved meat with mashed potatoes, carved meat sandwiches, lamb shanks, meatballs, meatball sandwiches, stew on rice (buffalo stew and lamb shanks, pictured above), or their Cincinnati style spaghetti (made with cinnamon and not at all up my alley-acquired taste, that). He then slides your tray down the counter where someone else assists with salads, veggie sides, and rolls. You’d be hard pressed to find an entrée over $10. In fact, I really don’t think there are any. Tommy’s keeps it working class. Tasty, filling, affordable.
If you observe what people do up there, and I do, you’ll see a whole lotta carved meat plates and carved meat sandwiches going out. Jake and I rarely pass up our usual, the Turkey Leg (served Medieval Times style) with mashed potatoes, stuffing, extra gravy, a sourdough dinner roll, and a green salad with blue cheese. However, if I am ordering solo, I grab one of those deep, dark, delicious lamb shanks.
That’s just our guy. The dish I start salivating for at some point during my five-minute walk to the Joynt. I for one, adore braised, stringy meat, (yes, I realize it’s roasted, but it’s so braisy in texture) dark meat even more so, and I love pulling big hunks off of that big old bone like a savage. The mashed potatoes come in full-blown Hof Brau style, like big round buttery ice cream scoops, thoroughly sauced in meat gravy (Jake’s kryptonite). My final moment of bliss comes courtesy of their fabulously sour roll, upon which I mount hunks of cold butter then dip into my bowl of blue cheese dressing. On this day, the salad was dressed, but I have since learned to get a whole bowl of the creamy, tangy, white stuff. I didn’t say I go here to diet.
Sometimes though, we just want to spend our day snacking, intermittently throughout the day. We send one person to the counter at a time, all of us waiting with bated breath for the reveal of the meaty gift with which they return. The meatballs are a saucy and dense; I’m fairly certain they contain a good four ounces of meat a piece.
Every now and again, a sausage makes its way to our table. Jake prefers the bratwurst:
While I am more of a Kielbasa girl:
The table is set with the most adorable crocks of mustard; hot and sweet. The hot gives a really solid punch of horseradish to the sinuses and the sweet is sticky, tangy, and not at all cloying. I must admit, I always find the sausages to be a bit lacking. Firstly, they are boiled, so they deliver not one hint of char to the palate and there is zero snap to the skin, which I just sort of need. Second, the overall flavor is a bit flat, making them reliant upon the mustard for oomph.
Sometimes, the best course of action is a simple bowl of mashed potatoes, swimming in gravy:
Often, we get a bowl of baked beans, though on our last visit, my awkward ass spilled most of it on the tray as I was carrying it to the table, which made the whole mess look some sort of horrible bathroom accident. Better to just omit that photo.
Lest you didn’t know, this is how you hold a shot glass as though it is a mini beer stein.
Until next time, Tommy’s Joynt. Auf wiedersehen.
1101 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94109