This review is probably going to make Passionate Eater even more angry with me, given her comment in response to my Shalimar review. I'm sorry! It was a bachelor party! No girls! Well, wasn't strictly true...
Click here to read my entire Bachelor Party Series.)
When we finally stumbled out of Shalimar, I thought I was finished. At that point, I'd already eaten two full meals and snack in a little under five hours. Both the calorie rush and the alcohol were doing odd things to my head. I was having difficulty thinking or staying focused, which was, no doubt, the reason that I made no objection when the boys suggested we head straight over to our next location.
Down Polk Street we lurched, past some of the most "interesting" people and locations the city had to offer, until we reached Geary. A sharp right and a few more blocks brought us to Tommy's Joynt, the next offering in a night full of pleasurable pain and gastronomic delight. A citizen of the street, and self-appointed doorman, welcomed us with a nod as he held open the entrance and extended a cracked Styrofoam cup for "tips".
Founded in 1947, Tommy's Joynt is a tchochke-strewn warren of tables, rooms, and people. The air inside is warm and steamy, thick with the rich smells of their hofbrau-style food. The noise from so many people in such a small space can be overwhelming. It's definitely not for the claustrophobic or faint of heart.
Hofbrau-style restaurants hearken back to turn-of-the-century America; a period of rapid industrialization and urbanization, of factory towns and immigrant ghettos, explored by American writers like Upton Sinclair and Katherine Paterson. Local beer houses, which catered to the working poor, would often lay out smorgasbords of salty meats, cheeses, pickles, and side dishes, and invite their patrons to eat as much as they liked for a nominal fee. Diners, lured by the cheap prices, would invariably order a few drinks with their meal, making the bar owner a tidy profit.
Tommy's Joynt continues this long-standing tradition in fine style, with a daunting selection of tasty, steam table meals served up cafeteria-style. Of course, the picture wouldn't be complete without the other half of the equation; an immense bar stretching nearly the full length of the main room, and with seemingly endless offerings of almost every possible form of alcohol known to man. The drinks make the money and the food keeps them coming back.
It's a tried and true formula that's made Tommy's Joynt so successful for all these years. However, the relationship isn't one-sided. The hofbrau also does a lot for the community. San Francisco's Tenderloin district is the city's most impoverished neighborhood, populated almost entirely by the blue-collar working class and "housing" the highest concentration of the city's homeless. As a city icon, Tommy's Joynt draws a fair amount of tourists to the area, providing a much needed source of capital. With its large portions and low prices, it offers affordable dining options for neighborhood residents and tourists alike.
The hot food section is a meat lover's paradise, with roast beef, BBQ beef brisket, corned beef, pastrami, ham, turkey, buffalo stew, meatballs, and baked salmon. You can get your protein of choice served up in a thick sandwich or as part of a hefty dinner plate. With deft, lightening fast motions, the carvers will slice your selections off of one of the large slabs, plate it, and hand it to you with your sides.
The sides are your standard array of starches, including mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, rice, and baked beans. Depending on what you order, your options may be limited. However, additional orders of anything that strikes your fancy can be purchased at very reasonable prices.
Further on down the line are the cold plates, where salads and desserts can be added to your meal. I was sorely tempted by a piece of carrot cake, but decided against it after remembering Mr. Creosote from the Autumn Years segment of Monty Python's Meaning of Life. Those cakes were far from "wafer thin".
Of course, I was already in some serious trouble. After I initially opted not to get anything, my friends/tormentors called both my manhood and my integrity as a food blogger in to question. My food-addled brain was unable to ignore their challenge to "throw down", which is how I ended up with a Dinner Plate of half Corned Beef and half Pastrami with a side of Mashed Potatoes. The Pastrami was really great. Lean and salty, with a smoky bite, it practically melted away in my mouth. The Corned Beef offered a great contrast; tender with a nice chew and almost too much fat. The Mashed Potatoes had a great texture, but were a little bland. However, they provided an effective vehicle for spreading the flavors of the meat through my mouth. Needless to say, I cleaned my plate. You have no idea how much effort that took.
I was also foolish enough to order an extra side of the Macaroni and Cheese, which was heavy, gluey, and practically tasteless. After a few bites, I decided that it wasn't worth the stomach space and pushed it aside. That resulted in no small amount of taunting, believe you me.
My meal came with a Sourdough Roll, which was somewhat chewy and pretty good. Like the Macaroni and Cheese, I decided the pain I'd feel trying to finish it wasn't outweighed by the flavor. Off to the side it went.
My Dinner Plate also included a salad selection. After all the heavy food I'd eaten, I was in the mood for some penance. I gave the heavier, mayonnaise-based options a pass and opted for the healthier Mixed Fruit, which I hoped would, in some paltry way, make up for the abuse I'd put my body through that evening. Despite my growing discomfort, I ate it all.
Some of the lads were men enough to join me. Most weren't.
VII XLII got a tempting looking Meatball Sandwich that needed a knife and fork to eat.
Silver Paladin got a brick-like Pastrami Sandwich, which he was very happy with.
Ninjafuzz picked up a hearty Dinner Plate with Corned Beef and Baked Beans. I must credit his manliness. Truly, he is a man amongst men.
Ninjafuzz and Semajim also got Beer. Lots of beer.
I salute them all. Real men every one.
Tommy's Joynt - Worth every penny. Even the tourists are part of the decor. If I hadn't already been so full, I would have gone back for seconds. Don't expect anything other than the barest of service. If your table is dirty, wipe it up yourself. Dirty dishes from someone else's meal? Push them to the side. What can I say? The place has character.
Bill (items pictured)
Dinner Plate - 7.95
Side of Macaroni and Cheese - 2.25
Meatball Sandwich - 3.95
Pastrami Sandwich - 5.25
Beer - ???
1101 Geary Blvd.
(Corner of Van Ness & Geary)
San Francisco, Ca 94109
Reviews from my food blogger friends:
The KQED Food Blog also has this interview with the general manager of Tommy's Joynt, who also happens to be the original owner's niece.