One day recently a colleague, Dan Aubrey, brought me a menu from a place from which he had just picked up lunch: J&C Teriyaki in Ewing. I only had to look at the menu for a minute to know that it was someplace I wanted to try.
J&C Teriyaki is a tiny take-out shop in a tiny, seven-shop strip mall on Parkside Avenue, just off South Olden Avenue. The Chinese-owned restaurant, opened by John Yang in 2010, has an unusual menu: a mix of Southern-style soul food and Japanese teppanyaki.
The first thing you see when you walk in is a huge stack of Member’s Mark creamy liquid shortening. It’s not the kind of place that worries about atmosphere. Nor are there any tables. J&C Teriyaki is take-out only, as is its sister restaurant, J&C Fish Market and Soul Food, which has been down the street from Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton for almost 20 years.
The majority of the menu at both restaurants is soul food. There’s seafood like fried fish (croaker, whiting, porgy, catfish, flounder, ling cod and tilapia), steamed and fried shrimp, grilled salmon, scallops, clam strips and crab sticks.
There’s also fried chicken, baked chicken and chicken gizzards, pork chops fried or with gravy, stewed chicken, stewed beef, short ribs and oxtails (BBQ or smothered in gravy), and BBQ ribs. Sides are familiar to devotees of soul food: collard greens, black-eyed peas, macaroni and cheese, string beans, candied yam, cabbage, lima beans and buttered corn.
Most items can be ordered as sandwiches (regular or large), regular platter (with french fries and cole slaw) or dinner platter (includes two sides and a hunk of corn bread). Sandwiches range in price from $4.70 to $7.55. Regular platters range from $4.85 for fried chicken leg and thigh to $10.85 for short ribs and oxtail. The most expensive thing on the entire menu, excluding catering options, is $12.95 for the oxtail and short rib dinner platters.
At J&C Teriyaki, but not J&C Fish Market, you can also choose from among 14 hibachi options: chicken, squid, white fish, shrimp, tilapia, salmon, plus combinations of the above. Although there’s no showmanship in the presentation a la hibachi restaurants, the kitchen at J&C is open and you can watch your food being made.
Teppanyaki comes with steamed or hibachi rice and vegetables, and range in price from $6.55 for chicken to $11.45 for steak and shrimp $13.45 for a 12 ounce portion of steak. Desserts are also available include banana pudding, sweet potato pie, peach cobber, carrot cake and cheesecake.
I stopped into J&C Teriyaki one day last month to give some of their most popular dishes a try. I ordered a fried chicken mix (drumstick, thigh, wing, breast) with fries ($6.15) as well as hibachi chicken. I also got sides of collards and black-eyed peas ($2.45 small, $3.75 large).
I rarely order fried chicken. Well prepared, it is one of the most delicious things in the world, but it is all too easy to get wrong. I’ve had my share of underdone, overdone, overbreaded, underseasoned and greasy chicken where the breading slides right off, leaving behind a defenseless breast or thigh. It begins to degrade the minute it comes out of the fryer, and too many times I have been served chicken that clearly had past its prime.
None of that was an issue at J&C. The chicken was fried just right, without a hint of uncooked flour and reasonably oily. The crispy, salty batter lacks any cayenne zing but is good, and the seasoning carried into the chicken nicely. The meaty breast, so often dry and stringy, was juicy and delicious; the slightly dry leg pieces were also good, and the wing very good.
The sides were also good. Colleague Vaughan Burton, who grew up in the South, says the porky collards compare favorably to the food he grew up with, and says the black-eyed peas were outstanding as well, though they could have had more meat flavor (like his mom’s).
French fries were garden variety fries, filling but not noteworthy. The cole slaw is sweet enough to be considered a dessert.
The teppanyaki chicken, prepared on a flat-top grill rather than a hibachi, was also good, and particularly, good value for the money. Big strips of slightly sweet, teriyaki-flavored chicken came over white rice, accompanied by unseasoned sauteed vegetables including zucchini, broccoli and bok choy. The container weighed in at just over 2 pounds.
The next day I stopped in to J&C Fish Market and Soul Food to sample a few more of the entrees. I ordered the fried whiting and catfish dinner combo with sides of candied yam and macaroni and cheese, ($10.10), as well as a regular platter of short ribs and gravy with fries ($10.85).
The fish came in decent-sized fillets, breaded in salty corn meal. We would have liked to see the fish a deeper golden brown, with a crunchier texture. Vaughan preferred the catfish to the whiting. Though there was a hint of fishy smell on both, the flavor was quite mild and indistinct.
The short ribs were perhaps the home run of the entire smörgåsbord. They tasted the way I want them to come out when I make them, well stewed and tender, with a heavy, clingy gravy. The macaroni and cheese was good, made with real cheese and not a processed cheese sauce, and the plentiful candied yams were like pie filling.
Although I did not order it, Vaughan also put in a good word for J&C’s banana pudding, which he has had. He says the thinly sliced bananas and vanilla wafers on a vanilla-flavored pudding are tasty.
The bottom line is that both J&C’s offer tremendous value for money. What the food lacks in spectacle, it makes up for by being plentiful and filling.
If soul food is what you’re in the mood for, it’s worth going out of the way to pick something up. And if you can’t make it to your favorite hibachi place, J&C Teriyaki might be the best way to scratch that itch. J&C Teriyaki, 1429 Parkside Ave., Ewing, (609) 403-8956; and J&C Fish Market and Soul Food, 1469 Nottingham Way, Hamilton, (609) 631-8899.