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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Lunch Report: Tip Top Cafe...

My wife and I were headed home from the downtown area this afternoon and decided to take a drive through what the Express-News is calling the Deco District. Let's cut to the chase - there are a lot of older homes and buildings and people are buying them up, making them look artsy and they are now calling it the Deco District. Whatever.

But I have to admit, I love it!

I once did some work on a house around there in the Jefferson High School area, just off of Donaldson I think. A nice older home going through a transformation that would include a media room. The people were adding a new bathroom, updating the kitchen, adding the aforementioned media room, and I was thinking, they could build a new house for all the renovation they were doing, but it occurred to me that they just loved the area. And I must say with some jealousy, that I like it too.

Anyway, lunch is what we are here to discuss and for years, I have listened to people rave about the awesome vittles at De Wese's Tip Top Cafe on Fredericksburg Road, and was embarrassed to admit that after all these years, I had never been. So, today as we traveled through the Deco District, I aimed the Garmin for Tip Top and this is what we found.

When they say that they have been around since 1938, I would ask if they have any intentions of updating before 2038. Make no mistake, the place is old and the the interior reflects that. Not so much in a bad way, but everything about Tip Top says, "Old diner".

When we first walked up to the door, an older couple was coming out. The man said to me, "Good luck in finding a place to sit." I tend to take that as a good sign. It says to me a few things about a restaurant. First, it says there must be good food, or the place wouldn't be so popular. Second thing though, it tells me there must be good service. Because even if the food is good, people are not going to come back and fill the place if the service is crappy.

When we got inside, I saw another possibility. The place is freakin' small! People were packed in like sardines. I actually told my wife we should leave and try it another time, but when she saw the plates of goodness coming out of the kitchen, she was ready for whatever wait there would be. And in the end, there was no wait. Two parties in front of us took seats and the nice gentleman directing traffic pointed toward another few open tables so we jumped right into the sea of hungry people and began to adjust to what comes across as some sort of hunting lodge or perhaps a creepy uncle's basement, filled with stuffed and mounted deer, fish and assorted roadkill. There is a wall of older newspaper clippings and some old photographs, perhaps of the owners or former employees.

The menu contains quite a selection of en trees, sandwiches and fried treats, and as we looked around like vultures at what other patrons had ordered, it was tough to really not want to try a little of everything. My wife mentioned chicken fried steak several times but finally decided to try a cheeseburger. I went for the corned beef on rye and selected the potato salad instead of fries.

I wrote about the huge stack of onion rings we saw at the Red Robin a while back, and Tip Top had their own version. Piled up on a plate like a small mountain, these rings were reminiscent of the style and texture we enjoy from Clear Springs Catfish Cafe. When our order arrived, my wife mentioned that they would probably go good with tarter sauce. What they definitely needed was salt! No complaints, mind you; I ate my fair share and more.
My wife was immediately pleased with her cheeseburger. The patty looked as though it came from fresh ground beef, not a frozen patty. The bun had that look to it like it had been steamed or grilled or something, to give off a glow of butter. I'd show you a picture, but the picture I took didn't come out. But, it looked like a good, homemade burger. In the grand scheme of things, my wife reports that it was good, not great. The patty had no real taste to it that would make it stand out amongst other great burgers we have tried. So, I'm not saying don't order it, but you'd probably best ask for some mayo, mustard and some extra salt.

My corned beef on rye was awesome! I would have liked fore the bread to have been toasted, but the fact that it wasn't didn't create any disappointment. My wife questioned me about, just what corned beef was, and to be honest, I didn't have the Internet with me, so I really didn't have a good answer. But you can learn all about it here.

I was especially pleased with the potato salad. It was very creamy and not bitter in any way. I could have gone for another scoop had I not made a pig of myself on the onion rings.

Our service was outstanding. Our waitress, a very pleasant woman of perhaps 90, looked exactly like Bill Parcells - but smaller boobs. As I said earlier, the place was packed but the people working here were pumping out food and getting orders to the guests fairly rapidly. I'm guessing they've handled a lunch rush or two.

Okay, a few things to consider before bringing your sancha her for your first weekaversary dinner. Tip Top is a cafe and and old one at that. There is nothing remotely romantic about it, unless you have a thing for former Cowboys coaches.

You should also know that this place is still in the last century, complete with outdoor facilities. Yes, my wife went to take a short visit to the ladies' only to find herself wandering around in a back parking lot waiting on the single-holer.

The other thing you should know is that they do not accept credit/debit cards, though you can write a check if you need. Don't worry, the prices aren't high - our lunch came out to less than $14.00 before tip - but really, who doesn't take plastic? The answer is a place that has the bathrooms out in the alley.

Bottomline: Good eats. If I had come up with a little logo for my "Tasty Treat" scale, I'd have to give this one 3 1/2 TT's on a scale of 5, but I'd probably get my order to go next time. The most important thing though is that now, when people talk about Tip Top over on Fred Road, I can nod approvingly without feeling like I'm faking it.

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San Antonio, TX, United States
I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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