2814 Fredericksburg Road
(between Fresno and Hildebrand)
Mmmm. The aroma of chicken-fried steak. French fries. Onion rings. Be still, my beating heart.
Sadly, I'm one of those people who has indulged in such temptations to such a degree, and for so many years, that my beating heart may actually be threatened by more of the same. But on the other hand, I have the wisdom of the ancients saying it's okay once in a while: Ne quid nimis. (This was written by some dead guy, I forget which; it means "nothing to excess," or "everything in moderation." Take your pick.)
Today, though, wasn't my day for indulgence. I went to this greasepit because a good friend wanted to go there, and I keep telling myself that, on the WeightWatchers plan, I can eat anything I want. (I just have to write it down, and when I get to a certain point I have to stop. It's all about choices.) I didn't want chicken-fried steak, until I got out of the car and smelled it in the air. I didn't want French fries, until a plate of them wafted past me on the way to some other person's table. I didn't want onion rings, until I saw them stacked high on a plate as they came out of the kitchen. The Hell, I didn't.
But I was good. I had the vegetable soup and the sliced chicken sandwich. My friend, who is as prone to sudden death as I am, and watched the brown-and-white foods pass with as much lust as I did, went for a salad and a cheeseburger; and we sat there eating our (relatively) healthy foods while talking about ... chicken-fried steak, and onion rings, and French fries. And fried chicken. And pie.
At the height of the lunch rush, Tip Top Café's parking lot overflows. They've done what they can to alleviate the problem, paving half a lot in the back, but if you get there at a quarter to twelve, you'll probably have to park on the side street and walk. You will tell yourself that the exercise will offset the calories you're about to take in, but you know damn well it ain't really true. It's just what it takes, though, to get you to walk a few feet.
We were lucky: the peak of the lunch rush tapered off just as we showed up, and there was no line for seating. Our waitress was with us almost before we could breathe, and was remarkably helpful, patient, cheerful and informative. You kind of don't expect that kind of high-quality service in the sort of place that's likely to feature on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. And despite the numbers of people showing up to eat, we felt no pressure to finish up and move on.
There's nothing special about the dining room at Tip Top, and that's what's special about it. It is what it is, and there's no pretense about it. It's clean and well-maintained, buzzing with conversation but not loud, full but not crowded. We could talk in normal voices, no one bumped our chairs or had to slide by while threatening to spill a heavily loaded tray on us.
|Last city inspection: April 2011|
And the food, well, it's okay. I've had their chicken-fried steak before, and their fries and onion rings, and I like them. But today's choices were just okay. The soup was a little weak in flavour, but nothing that a few shakes of black pepper and a few dashes of hot sauce couldn't greatly improve. The pasta in it was, of course, way overcooked, but it still held together reasonably well. The chicken sandwich was sliced chicken breast, baked and still juicy, served with lettuce, tomato and pickles on toasted white bread; all good quality, and I'm relieved to say that the mayo was not slathered on, but applied with a touch of sense.
My friend's salad was stuffed into a too-small bowl and topped with so much ranch dressing that we thought it was cheese. He did not consider that a failing, so we'll not mark off for it. Everything in it was of acceptable quality, and there was certainly enough of it to satisfy.
The cheeseburger was small. Back when the Tip Top opened 75 years ago, it would have been considered a big burger, but our steady diet of quarter-pounders and half-pounders and Wendy's Number 3 combos has altered our perception. Still, it's as big as it needs to be, and for $3.95, it's a good deal. It was well-prepared except for the bun being just a tiny bit charred from the grill.
We did agree, though, that some day, when we're both in the weight ranges we're hoping to reach, we're going to come back to the Tip Top Café and have a brown-food orgy with some chicken-fried steak and onion rings. Maybe we'll split the onion rings.