1203 Woodward Avenue
Muscle Shoals, Alabama 35661
There are many eating places in the Shoals area, all having their own unique draw that keeps regular customers coming back. Anyone who has seen food businesses open and close knows this is one industry with a high casualty rate. If a new establishment can make it the first year, the odds then start to lean in their favor, but even then not much. As each year goes by, the odds get better and better for survival. Jim and Cindy Clark can relate to what every restaurant owner has thought a few times. Will we be able to keep the doors open next week?
As Jim and Cindy said during many of our conversations, they have some very high traffic days and then a few when they wonder if the town has closed down. The best they can hope for is it all averages out in their favor. During the past seven years, those averages have done just that, and each year has gotten better with the opportunity now to move to a new location with more table space and a larger kitchen area.
None of this happens without hard work and hours that make a 40 hour week look like a vacation. Being from Chicago, they not only had to fight the normal barriers of building a successful restaurant, they were what some considered to be “Come Here’s.” They didn’t have the benefit of several generations of family or friends here to give them a hand as they took a dream and made it into a reality, but both of these people come from good stock who understood that just because something is hard and even sometimes difficult to achieve, it doesn’t mean success can’t be had.
This was their American dream, so with scant working capital and a strong religious faith they began. They put together a menu that sometimes seemed foreign to the Southern taste bud--things like Italian Wedding Soup, Vienna Italian Beef Sandwiches served with thin gravy to dip it in, sandwiches with a relish called Hot Giardiniera, and Chicago Hot Dogs with celery seed buns that had cucumbers and tomatoes smothering the dog. Yep! That is what I said--no chili, no slaw, no cheese, just a hot dog that barked “Chicago” when you bit into it. Then to top it off they added this Greek sandwich called a “Gyro” that some pronounced “Ji’ro” in our Southern dialect.
They wanted a place that was more than just a place to eat. Their dream was to create a place like the bar “Cheers” without the alcohol. They wanted it to be comfortable and unassuming with a laid back atmosphere. Thus, the interior is mostly decorated just like your own kitchen or dining room. Some of the tables have soft executive chairs to relax in as you eat. Got time to relax for a bit, then go over and get one of the many used books off of the shelf to read. If you like the book, you can purchase it at a discounted price way below what it originally sold for. In this place you are not # 213 or # 562, instead they know your name and use it quite often.
You and I have been in places where their attitude was, “This is all you are going to order?” Why did you even come in, as I am too busy for such a small order? Well! Not ever in a million years I don’t believe you would see that attitude from Jim or Cindy, as their hearts are bigger than their sandwiches, but not much. You walk into this place and you know just by the smiles and laughter of people, this place is like going to your relative’s house and sitting down. You never have to wonder if you're welcome here, it is evident with not only how Jim and Cindy treat you, but the interaction you start to have with the regulars there. It is not long before you find you are going back there on regular basis just to see the once new that are now just friends.
It is a place where you get to experience many of the varied styles of Coffees, Latte’s, Espresso’s, Breve’s, and Smoothies that are brewed daily without the Starbuck prices. You can buy it by the cup and, if you like it, purchase it by the 1lb bag to take home.
Last Friday I decided to run by and pick up some sandwiches for the evening dinner. One of my favorites is the Greek Gyro. The Gyro is a Greek dish consisting of meat, tomato, onion, tzatziki sauce, then wrapped in Plain Pita bread and covered with feta cheese. In their version they use thin slices of spiced lamb. The Tzatzike sauce is a mixture of yogurt, minced cucumber, salt, garlic, olive oil, pepper and sometimes dill.
Their sandwich list has names like Maxwell Street Polish Sausage, Chicago Dog, Italian Meatball, Italian Sausage, Philly Cheese Steak, Chicken Philly, Wraps of various kinds, Sonny’s, Kimmy’s, Chicago Fire, Reuben, and Chicago Flicker. The Flicker is a Pastrami, Salami, Pepper Jack cheese, Jalapeno concoction that is a killer for the ones who want their mouth to feel like Lava after they finish eating. One of my favorites is the Meatball and Italian Sausage loaded with sautéed onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, and slathered with a red tomato sauce that makes you start speaking Italian immediately without any studying at all (this saves hundreds of dollars that you would spend on a language course), then if that is not enough they load it down with melted Mozzarella cheese so deep and thick you know the other stuff is down there somewhere.
It took a while, but I picked the Italian Beef Sandwich as my second order, which consists of Shredded Roast Beef, Sautéed Red Bell Peppers, Onions, Mushrooms, covered with cheese and nestled in a Gonella Roll. Along with it comes the large bowl of Au Jus to dip the sandwich in. Let me stop and say something about the Gonella Roll. This roll has been a tradition in Chicago for over a century. It is widely used in various styles of sandwich shops throughout the windy city and in order for you experience the real thing they have this roll shipped in from Chicago just like the Poppy Seed Vienna Bun for the Chicago Dog. What makes it so unique is not only its flavor, but its ability to absorb the juices of a sandwich, yet maintain the integrity of the roll so it does not fall apart on you. This sandwich is so large they give you a knife and fork in case you think you need it.
I have eaten at a lot of sub and various sandwich places in this area, but I have yet to come across one where the sandwiches are larger. The size greatly exceeds the money you put out for their sandwiches. In fact, now that I think about it, they should change their name to “Over Stuffed” Sandwiches because at $6.49 this is a Po Boy’s Bargain.
If you are in the Muscle Shoals area, you owe it to yourself to at least treat yourself to a one of a kind sandwich. I believe you just may become one of their regulars just like me.
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