Sometimes it is OK to take a risk.
Now I am not about to tell you to try the tuna salad at a barbecue joint or the barbecue at a seafood restaurant, but every so often a place will surprise you with something outside the norm.
I was a bit timid about diving into the dinner menu at Joanna's Family Restaurant on West Jefferson Boulevard because it is offered only on Fridays and Saturdays. Plus, the original Joanna's at Leo Crossing is best known for its earlier meals even though it serves dinner Wednesday through Saturday.
So when I visited this new spot – in the former home of Friends Too – I went to the tried and true specialties first.
Take the corned beef hash skillet. It was exceptional, mostly because of the nearly flawless way it was executed.
The potatoes at its base were not only nicely browned and crisp around the edges, the interior of the thick slices was soft and fluffy like a good baked potato that steamed in the pan. They were also perfectly seasoned, so I never even looked at the salt shaker. It might have helped that the corned beef was finely diced and evenly distributed throughout the skillet. That made its seasoning more impressive because without restraint from the kitchen it could have easily been too salty.
The onions and green peppers were also properly cooked and distributed, there was plenty of cheese, and the biscuit I had with it was tremendous even though it had been split and toasted, which I am usually against. The only flaw was my eggs on top were a shade over, but there was still enough runny yolk to suffice.
The eggs were much better with my rib-eye and eggs breakfast. The steak was about as good as one expects from a breakfast joint – though it really isn't just a breakfast joint.
The meat was cooked to the right temperature and was decently tender, but it had a rather odd flavor that I did not care for and that flavor – from a marinade perhaps – permeated the jus on the plate underneath. Luckily my eggs and fried potatoes came on a separate plate so that jus didn't find its way onto them.
Though that steak was part of a breakfast, it helped ease me into the dinner menu. And once there, I realized I had nothing to fear.
There were a few inspiring choices among the appetizers, but Joanna's Nachos was a solid choice.
It was a dicey choice, too, because there was no menu description. What I received was a big platter of yellow chips that were not freshly made but were crunchy. They were piled with ground beef seasoned with a dry spice mix that had a decent flavor. That beef was not at all greasy – a big plus – and it was joined by chopped romaine, jalapeño peppers, tomatoes and a pale yellow cheese sauce with salsa and sour cream on the side.
Even better was my cup of chicken noodle soup. It had a wonderfully rich broth and loaded with stringy stewed chicken. Its only flaw was that the noodles were overcooked and mushy. Oddly, during my second visit, chicken noodle was the soup of the day again and this time the noodles were not an issue because there were only two in my entire serving.
I was very surprised at how good the Greek salad was and it created some bittersweet memories of Friends Too and its late owners who were masters of Greek food. It had a generous amount of thinly sliced gyro meat that I feared would be dry on appearance but was tender, moist and delicious. There was crumbled feta throughout, and its sweet, lively dressing with a salty-peppery kick was a winner. I would not hesitate to order a gyro here after having this yummy salad.
I was again caught off guard when I ordered the bacon double cheeseburger because it was well above par. The two big 8-ounce patties had American cheese pouring off their edges and the pile of bacon on top was, of course, perfect just as it is with breakfast.
The meat was flavorful, the patties were juicy enough to drip onto the plate after each bite and this behemoth was hard to finish, but I managed.
The Farmhouse Chicken had potential but was flawed by its sides. The breaded chicken breast was fried crisp enough to hold up to the blanket of mushroom cream sauce – and that sauce, which had plenty of mushrooms as well as diced green onions in it, was delicious. But my mashed potatoes were covered with a terrible chicken gravy that was unnecessary given there was plenty of sauce for the spuds, and the frozen California vegetable blend was so overcooked and bland I barely touched it.
I struggled to find an interesting dessert and struggled even more to find my server during one visit to even order it. Heck, I struggled to find any server.
I made my way to the cash register area in front and spotted all of the employees seated at a table and booth in the back dining room on this slow evening. Every one of them was staring and tapping away at their cellphones instead of checking on my party.
I asked for an order of butter sugared crepes to split with my dining companions for dessert and – to no surprise given they are from the breakfast menu – they were just right.
Restaurant: Joanna's Family Restaurant
Address: 3720 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Hours: 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Nachos ($5.85), bacon double cheeseburger ($9.05), Farmhouse Chicken ($9.05), rib-eye and eggs ($11.60), Greek salad ($8.20), skillet ($7.75), crepes ($6.10)
Rating breakdown: Food: ★1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: ★ (1 maximum), service: 0 (1 maximum)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Joanna's Family Restaurant
Out of a possible five
• The chicken alfredo was a horrible choice. The chicken was quite dry and seemed as if it had been reheated. The drab-looking sauce was a poor premade variety.
• My short stack of pancakes was spot on. They were fluffy - but not too fluffy so that they turned into mush after syrup was added - and had a faint vanilla flavor.
• Though it is open in the evenings on the weekend, it appeared closed when I visited as there are no lighted signs or adequate lighting in the lot. I actually left my family in the car and ran up to make sure it was, indeed, open on the snowy night I visited.