First, it is “The Old Place by the Graveyard” – but hey, I’m an Oregonian, not a Texian!
The location is all a self-proclaimed Dive Aficionado could ask for. I need to explain a little bit about Diveology – which is the pursuit/exploration of dives. First, a dive must have dive prices, EXCEPT if the food is so magnificent it makes up for the location…the closest I’ve found was Al the Wops in Locke, CA. (Aside to Ken – there was Island Cafe in St Thomas, and what was that little place Curt told us about?) I’ll write about Al the Wops another time – and maybe the two St. Thomas places also. This post is about L & J Cafe – and right now I am explaining a little bit about Diveology. Second (as we get back to our numbering scheme), good food at a dive does not have to be as good as the food at some place that takes itself seriously, like Cypress in Charleston, SC, it just has to be substantially better than the food you would expect to find in a place like this. Third, the Dive Quotient is a combination of location, external appearance, interior appearance, employee appearance, service, name and view. Let’s take them in order:
Location – you would only stumble on the place if you weren’t looking for someplace to eat – Al the Wops is a 10 on a scale of 1 to 5.
External Appearance – you wouldn’t go inside unless you had inside information, were extremely hungry or were feeling extremely adventurous – Al the Wops is a 10 on a scale of 1 to 5
Interior Appearance – the interior in no way makes you more comfortable with your choice, you are still operating on faith, extreme hunger, or thirst for adventure – Al the Wops…you know.
Employee Appearance – Pretty women not allowed! Ditto attractive men – but since I’ve never been attracted to men, I have never had to reduce the Dive Quotient because of a male employee. Al the…wait though, Al the Wops had older women that did not distract my attention from the food for an instant – that’s important, because Diveology is all about the food.
Service – a dive’s service should be unremarkable in any way. If anyone makes a comment about the service, or even remembers that there was service, this factor of the Dive Quotient is lowered. Al the Wops…blah, blah, blah
Name – either real name or nickname. It must be offensive, or disgusting, or incomprehensible. It must in no way invoke an image of good food. Yes, Al the Wops is a 10, but I have found a name that is at least a 15, and it is also in El Paso (remember, the place I’m telling you about, L & J Cafe, is in El Paso) – the 15 name? H & H Car Wash! (Don’t ask, because I swear I don’t know.)
View – NONE, in fact if there are windows visible from your table, and said windows are not blacked out, down, down, DOWN goes the grade. By this time, you know about Al the Wops – you don’t want to look for a window, because you’re afraid you might find one!
Obviously, Al the Wops has a double-perfect Dive Quotient of 10. But let’s score L & J Cafe.
Location – how can you get better than beside a graveyard? Well, it’s possible, but you’re tired of hearing about $%^ the *&%’s – score 5
External Appearance – it could be worse, so I can’t give it a 5. Score 4
Internal Appearance – the layout was inconvenient, there was nothing really appealing about the decor, but there wasn’t anything that made you feel extra cautious. Score 4
Employee Appearance – unremarkable, but the staff was too young for a dive. Score 3
Service – the food eventually arrived, the dirty plates eventually disappeared. Score 5
Name – The Old Place by the Graveyard? C’mon! Score 5
View – no windows that I saw. Score 5
Dive Quotient – 4.4
The food was good. We all got the combination plate, and we all agreed that the taco was slightly better than average, the relleno was average, the enchilada was average, the flauta was average but the chile verde con carne was outstanding, the chile con queso appetizer was excellent and the flan was worth traveling for; oh yes, the sopapillas were very good – and that’s the thing, sopapillas are either very good or they’re terrible – because they’re either done right, or they’re not (and I’ve had them decidedly NOT!).
So – given the favorable (or should that be unfavorable?) Dive Quotient, and given that this joint was born as a speakeasy, I put L & J Cafe on my Great Dives I Remember list.