TJ’s Cafe – Albany, NY
I try to stick to my meal plan during the week, but, occasionally, I see something that eats away at my willpower and drives me off the plan.
One Tuesday, I saw the following image and caption on the facebook page for TJ’s Cafe.
If you haven’t guessed, chicken parm isn’t on my meal plan (yet). But it’s ok to be bad sometimes.
I’ve been through this a few times, but just to remind everyone: having grown up eating and cooking this style food, I generally don’t seek it out in restaurants, especially since the majority of my experiences at Italian-American places in the area have been average or below. But sometimes, something (in this case, a picture on facebook) strikes me to go to an Italian-American place, and when I do, I usually order chicken parm because it’s what I want when I go to this kind of place. The picatas and marsalas are good, but I want bready, saucy, cheesy chicken parm.
And that’s why the picture drew me in; it embodied everything I love about chicken parm.
When we arrived (TJ’s is located at 1135 Central Ave in Albany, a little west of Westgate), many of the tables in the main dining area were full; the majority of diners were older, but there was a healthy mix of younger couples and families. After browsing the menu for a few minutes, our server took our order. I went for an order of their fried mozzarella with raspberry sauce because I like to try more than one thing when I go somewhere. I had forgotten that salad was included with the $9 chicken parm special, so I was surprised when the server asked me for my choice of dressing.
Our server brought some warm bread and butter, and we snacked on that while we waited for our appetizers. Our salads arrived next, and it was a pretty decent salad. The blue cheese dressing was kind of mild and very creamy but had the texture of small blue cheese bits. I enjoyed it.
Once I finished my salad, I noticed the table beside us which was seated after us had been served their stuffed mushroom appetizer. I figured something was up with our fried mozzarella, but I gave it some time.
The chicken parm came out next, so I reminded the server that we had ordered an appetizer we never got. She had forgotten to key it in, and gave me the option of whether I still wanted it. Hell yes I wanted it!
The chicken parm hit the spot that night. As far as chicken parm goes, it had a little more sauce than I enjoy and was a little on the soggy side, but, at the very least, the sauce had great flavor and was clearly very fresh. The cheese on top was nicely melted and slightly browned.
I get a little picky about how pasta is served. The fettucini (my choice) was left with a little excess water and the dollop of sauce on top. It wasn’t perfect, but the portion served for $9 between the pasta and chicken was one heck of a deal; you really can’t complain for that price. It definitely hit the spot that night.
The fried mozzarella didn’t take long to arrive. It was served with both marinara and raspberry sauce. I set the marinara aside, because I had enough tomato sauce by that point. I was quite surprised by the shape; TJ’s are rectangular blocks that have a thick breading. I love fried mozzarella with a good amount of breading, in fact, other than the shape, I used to get in trouble for breading the mozz sticks too thick back in the day. The breading at TJ’s reminded me very much of my own, and, as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with that.
The raspberry sauce was very sweet and slightly thinner than the jarred stuff you’ll find elsewhere (that’s my clue that it was somewhat homemade), but it worked very well with their fried mozzarella. It was serendipitous that this was how the meal was capped off because it was almost like dessert.
So now that I know that the quality of the $9 Tuesday chicken parm special is totally worth it and that it’s a sensible portion, I’ll have to make every effort to avoid facebook on Tuesdays until chicken parm is part of what I regularly eat.