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There are many good reasons to dine at Papa J’s in Inverness, but at the top of the list is a French onion soup that is unbelievably tasty.
How it gets that way is because owners Brad and Patty Gibbs emphasize flavor in their café menu and it is never more obvious than in this special soup.
What happens is that when beef is roasted on-site, a good amount of the beef broth is used to make the soup, which is also loaded with sauteed onions, perfect croutons and topped with a melting slice of cheese.
“Our soups are world class,” Gibbs said, with no hint of humility. He definitely should be proud of the dish.
Papa J’s, the latest restaurant venture by the Gibbses, who formerly owned Deco Cafe in the town’s historic district, is open for breakfast and lunch. Homemade soup starters also include, on any given day: loaded baked potato, split pea and ham, broccoli and cheese, clam chowder
(always on Friday), tomato basil and chili.
Other choices often requested, Gibbs noted, include carnitas (garlic pork) on fresh Cuban bread ordered from Tampa; the fish dinners or sandwiches; roast beef and turkey dinners, roasted on-site; baby beef liver and onions; meat loaf; and breakfast meal skillets, omelets, homemade sausage gravy and a.m. burritos.
And breakfast fans can order a variety of traditional breakfast all day.
“Also very popular are the half-pound, all-beef, foot-long hot dogs and Reubens, Gibbs said, “as well as our pork tenderloin, hand cut and breaded in the kitchen for a plated meal or sandwich.”
Before moving to the Colonial Plaza site, Gibbs said they totally gutted, remodeled and enlarged the building that now boasts an attractive spacious, 55-seat dining area counter and upscale kitchen.
Hot and cold and open-face sandwiches, melts, burgers, soups and salads top the luncheon menu, along with shrimp, clam strips, fish and chicken tender baskets served with slaw and fries, with nothing higher priced than $7.99 for the clam, shrimp and fish combo.
Early dinners always available are open-face roast beef and turkey, $7.99; liver and onions, $6.49; chopped steak and grilled onions, $6.99; meatloaf, $7.99. All are served with mashed potatoes and gravy or french fries and vegetable or coleslaw.
The menu isn’t fancy, though Gibbs offers unique specials from time to time, but flavor is guaranteed and that’s enough to keep folks returning for more.
“It is beyond our expectation,” Gibbs replied, when asked how his business has fared since opening about a year ago.
He said there is plenty of parking in the shopping plaza, including a large area in the rear that accomodates trucks and boats and trailers.
Gibbs is an avid fisherman who first plunged into the restaurant business as a yacht captain in Alaska, and later with a deli in Williston in Levy County. From there, he segued to the Deco Cafe.
Gibbs said he has “fished all over the world from Maine to Mexico” and honed his hobby and cooking skills during his upbringing in Key Largo.
Patty Gibbs once owned a catering service and makes many of the dishes and desserts at Papa J’s. One of those desserts is a creamy banana pudding served in a Mason jar.
“That’s so the customer can easily take it home to eat later if they wish,” Patty Gibbs said. “And many of them bring back the empty jar for later use.”
That’s exactly what we did during a recent visit, and the pudding was a nice evening treat. Yes, we will return the jar eventually — not that we need an excuse to revisit Papa J’s.
Papa J’s is in Colonial Plaza on State Road 44 just west of downtown Inverness. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 5:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and Sunday from 5:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Call 352-341-5169 for carry-out and other information.
Here is a favorite dessert shared by Patty Gibbs:
2 (4-ounce) vanilla instant pudding mixes
2 cups milk
1 cup sour cream
12 ounces whipped topping
6 bananas, sliced
1 (16-ounce) package vanilla wafers
Combine the pudding mix, milk and sour cream in a mixer bowl and beat well. Fold in the whipped topping.
Layer vanilla wafers, bananas and pudding mixture one-half at a time in a large bowl or 9- by 13-inch dish, reserving several wafers. Crush the reserved wafer and sprinkle over the top. Makes 15 servings.
Julianne Munn is the food writer for the Citrus County Chronicle. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.