Many small towns throughout Iowa have that one special restaurant where the locals gather for a good meal and a hot cup of coffee and the town scuttlebutt runs as freely as the Busch Light tap. In Montgomery County's Villisca, a nice farming community in southwest Iowa of about 1250 people, that local hangout is TJ's Cafe. TJ's Cafe is located in the downtown part of the community and across from the Memorial Park. It's on E. 4th Street but just barely off of S. 3rd Avenue, the main north-south road for commerce in town.
Iowa Adventurer stopped by Villisca for my first ever visit to the town in May of 2018. I was on my way to Coin for the annual Buzzard Festival. While in town, I stopped by the house but I also drove around the town. I remember being blown away by the quantity of large beautiful old homes. After publishing that post, a number of Villiscans (is that what you call yourselves?) contacted me and said I missed out by not stopping in to TJ's. It's clear I needed to get back to town to rectify that mistake.
The cafe is located in an old brick building with a black overhang that advertises their logo and their slogan. How can you argue with a place that bills itself as having 'homemade food people love'? Since I was in town and with a couple of friends who had never been to the world-famous Axe Murder House, TJ's was the obvious place to enjoy lunch.
Once inside, you find it to be not unlike a lot of small town bar and grills around Iowa. It's got a cozy and comfortable small-town feel to it. There's some hard-to-miss checkered ceiling tiles and handsome wood designs covering the walls. A wall of booths with mirrors and pendent lighting, a few tables in the back, and a whole host of bar stools provide an array of seating options.
There's a kitchen area and it's not behind any kind of wall or in a totally different room.
You always know a place is a good stop for a meal when you see the bulletin board by the entrance with all kinds of notices, offers, and business cards. It's my tell-tale sign that this is the place people go to congregate.
The decorations adorning the walls are a combination of branded TJ's merchandise and a whole array of clever or sarcastic signs. It's as if people printed out some of their famous memes and attached them to different signs. Some of them were a little edgy but that's exactly what you'd expect in a place like TJ's. Lots of character.
This particular flag, the thin red and blue line flag, pays homage to both firefighters and police officers.
TJ's is famous for their pork tenderloins though they have not yet (and I emphasize YET) won the Iowa Pork Producers' Association annual best breaded pork tenderloin content. Winning that award would be quite a feather in their cap and get them on the vaunted "Tenderloin Trail". Of course, since it was my first ever visit, ordering that was never in doubt. In fact, you can buy a bandanna that advertises their "lip smacking loins".
My loin came on a toasted bun with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion. I decided to try homemade American fries, though there are other side options to pick from. I added some ketchup and, though I didn't take the "after" picture, I can assure you that my plate was very empty afterward. I would definitely order it again - no complaints at all here.
Of course, there is more on the menu than just pork tenderloins. There's probably something for nearly everyone and at very reasonable prices.
I'm sure the breakfast is quite good. Places like TJ's always know how to do breakfast well.
They also offer daily lunch specials.
Regrettably, we left without having dessert there. However, I'm told you should probably save room for their homemade pie and cheesecake or TJ's twisters ice cream treats. The tenderloin was more than enough to fill me up so I guess pie or (and?) ice cream will have to be on the agenda for my next trip to town.
If you are looking for a beer on tap, I think you might only have one option: Busch Light. But then, what would you expect from rural Iowa? Busch Light seems to be the official beer of Iowa.
At the time of my visit, they were open from 6 days a week with similar but slightly different hours, depending on if you visit was on a Saturday or a week day.
I don't know how these hours are different right now given that as I am writing this, we are in the midst of a total in-restaurant dining shutdown in our state because of the Covid-19 virus. However, one quick check on their Facebook page shows that they are offering up both take-out and curbside delivery. I hope that it continues to thrive after we get past this tough stretch.
This is a great restaurant for the community of Villisca and it offers both a great place to grab a quick bite during a busy work day or a more social meal with friends or family. My friends and I had a terrific visit with great service. I know I'll look forward to my next visit, whenever I get a chance. In the meantime, whether you are a regular or planning a trip to Villisca for any reason, please support this fine establishment by devouring those lip smackin' loins!
As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Montgomery County or any of the other 98 counties in Iowa. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through this site.