Quietly tucked away on the corner of Kenmore and Lyndale avenues is an amalgamation of American and Indian cuisine disguised by a worn-out storefront that looks like it hasn't changed since the spot opened in 1983. In fact, it probably hasn't. But that's part of the appeal of eating at JJ's Cafe.
Walking into JJ's makes you feel like you're about to eat a family meal. Owners Jagat and Sushma Seth strike up a conversation about work, school, whatever's going on in your life, making you feel warm and comfortable as if talking to your grandparents. Regulars walk behind the counter and pour themselves a cup of coffee and pictures of long-standing customers share wall space with pictures of the owners' family.
JJ's menu boasts a variety of diner breakfast staples, available in combination or alone. Eggs, pancakes, waffles, Polish sausage, French toast, a breakfast garbage plate, breakfast sandwiches and more cost between $3 and $13. Hot dogs and burgers are available for lunch (from $2.50 to $9). Meal prices are listed in two ways: the traditional way or with a beverage and tax added.
The true star of the show, however, is the Indian cuisine hidden on the menu's back page.
The samosa chaat ($7.99 or $10.86 with a beverage and tax) is a savory rendition of the Indian street food, featuring a stewlike mix of chickpeas, herbs and aromatics with a samosa crowned on top. The tandoori chicken sandwich ($6.99 or $9.78 with tax and a beverage) Americanizes the Indian staple but doesn't sacrifice its integrity. Served in a buttery sauce with onions and a cilantro chutney sauce for dipping, it's a strangely satisfying creation.
During a recent visit, Jagat welcomed me from behind the grill. Sushma, his sister-in-law, immediately brought me a cup of coffee and took my order. I decided on the breakfast supreme with two eggs, two strips of bacon, three sausage links, two pieces of toast and home fries ($10 or $13.05 with a beverage and tax) and a samosa sandwich ($5.75 or $8.43 with a beverage and tax) to go.
After about 10 minutes, an impressive breakfast spread arrived. My eggs were perfectly runny and, though I'm normally not a crispy bacon kind of guy, the crunch was a nice contrast to the sweet and juicy sausages. The home fries were nice and crispy, but a tip: Let Jagat hit them with his spicy seasoning that makes them even tastier.
My breakfast also came with a glass of what could have been orange or mango juice, or possibly a combination of both. It was refreshing nonetheless and a nice addition to the bottomless coffee ($2).
Later that day I dove into the hearty samosa sandwich for dinner. Between two lightly charred pieces of toast sat a large, smashed samosa covered in melted American cheese with home fries, chopped onions and zucchini. The samosa, filled with potatoes and peas, crisped up nicely and packed a spicy punch. I was doubtful about the cheese at first, but it held the sandwich's components together nicely, effectively turning it into a delicious Indian grilled cheese. The accompanying cilantro chutney was semi-bitter with hints of citrus; it offset the spiciness well.
Whether you're a University at Buffalo student ordering brunch after a night out in University Heights or a local looking for authentic Indian food, one thing is for sure: Classic diner fare and Indian food have found a happy coexistence in an unlikely place. Good, cheap eats housed within the classic charm of an '80s diner has cemented JJ's as one of Buffalo's best eateries.
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265 Kenmore Ave. (837-2310)
Hours: 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; closed on Monday.
Price range: $2 to $13; cash only.
Gluten-free options: Most breakfast entrees are gluten-free if ordered without toast. Some Indian entrees are not gluten-free.
Wheelchair accessibility: A step at main entrance.