We came upon it almost by accident. Mom was visiting and we took a drive to the Gulf Coast. Hungry, we finally came upon this Italian restaurant on Indian Rocks Beach, set along the road almost like a house in this heavily residential and right-along-the-water setting. No, you’re not on the water at TJ’s Italian Cafe – its across the road and behind homes and other businesses, but its pretty much right there.
The setting is nice; indoor-outdoor seating so take your choice based on time of year.
We were indoors and found the ambiance rather warm. Perhaps a little “typical” for Italian, but non-the-less a nice place. Darker lighting, comfy, almost a feel of a relative’s home, but not. We were impressed.
Our visit was off-time, so few others were there. TJ’s obviously has a “regular” crowd who find the small and almost “private, clique” area of the bar right off the kitchen theirs. In fact, walking past to use the bathroom brought on stares one would equate with trespassing and not being all that welcome. No worries, just keep walking.
The other two tables occupied held a small family from England behind us and a couple across the small dining room. The couple settled in and seemed to enjoy most of their meal, the family from England brought to a point the idea that TJ’s isn’t necessarily about customer service. In deed, a quick review of some of the reviews on TripAdvisor shows that the #1 complaint here is the service.
On this occasion it wasn’t hard for us to hear as this family presented a coupon from the local Welcome Guide Map. You can find these things all over Florida, showing the area in a map with various businesses advertising. I later found the exact coupon and yes, the family was right.
The gist of it was, they had a coupon that basically gave them a free pizza. The waitress wanted nothing to do with honoring it. She even checked in back (I did notice a man who looked a lot like the owner from a photo on the wall) and came back to say no, they wouldn’t honor it. She was actually pretty snotty, asking if they expected her to give them free food and all they asked for was to honor the coupon. The lame excuse she gave about it being ‘the printers’ fault was laughable and that was that. No, they didn’t get the coupon. She never cared nor noticed the others in the room hearing it all.
Outside of this – and the several Trip Advisor reviews that paint a similar picture – TJ’s Cafe is actually a really nice place.
Food & Pricing
Laura ordered the special pizza that day – which ironically got her a good deal – and we all found it to be terrific. This White Veggie Pie was tasty and memorable and something we’d all try again. The pricing is average to high, but on this day got a deal for the pizza.
Mom had the burger and fries. Not a large palate, she prefers such All-American fare and again, we found it to be very good. It was, as are all the servings we saw, a good sized portion for the typical, Italian restaurant pricing.
I tried the Chicken Marsala, a personal favorite of mine that I rarely eat out. Laura does this dish particularly well so I tend not to find any I like as much. On this visit, that remained true. While it was fine, it was not as flavor-filled as I like. Ironically swimming in a pool of Marsala, I found little in the lingering flavor of the wine. It was at best average and if we were to return, I would likely go for the pizza next time.
Like too many Italian restaurants, these more “traditional” dishes are priced high and in this case, not worthy. I’ll frankly never understand pricing something so high that too often tastes better at home, but one hopes.
Yes, we would return to TJ’s and I think we’d be more than happy. We would carefully consider our dishes and likely stick with the pizza. This seems to be a speciality based on their advertising.
They obviously have their fans and obviously do well throughout the year. Pricing is average for Italian dining in that it’s high, but when the classic dishes are on par with average, I’d rather not pay the prices. Service was decent for us, but average overall and while the way she handled the other table was very wrong, perhaps at other times it would be better – TripAdvisor calls that into question though.
TJ’s Italian Cafe
1515 Gulf Blvd
Indian Rocks Beach, FL 33785
For Pricing, Food, Flavor, and Customer Service, I so want to give TJ’s Italian Cafe 4 Diamonds, but cannot at this time. We will return and try again one day, but until then: We give TJ’s Italian Cafe