A New York style deli has opened at the corner of Annandale Road and South Washington Street with an exterior appearance that gives no hints about the delectable foods inside.
Step into the warm and homey Johnsons Café and sense a Pennsylvania Dutch house with light streaming in big glass windows upon light blue painted walls, wooden tables and chairs, potted plants, bookshelves and music by Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, the Eagles and more.
New blue and yellow picnic tables with umbrellas sit outside waiting for warmer weather and customers.
The restaurant bills itself online as Indian-American, but the Indian foods are almost hidden on the menu except for the “lassi,” a traditional Indian drink made with mango, rose, or strawberries and yogurt, and a few more items. Once Covid-19 bows its ugly head, the owners, David and Bobby Johnson, plan to expand offerings and extend hours.
Being a big breakfast eater, I could not resist the organic whole grain pancakes with a homemade berry compote and French toast, brioche, layered with jam and served with ricotta (each, $7). I ate both (!) without butter and syrup, neither necessary since these delicious treats melted right in my mouth. The pancakes were as light as angel food cake and overnight fruit soaked the three pieces of French toast (I could not eat everything in one sitting) turning it into a breakfast/dessert the next morning.
David said the deli’s bestsellers are probably the crispy fried chicken sandwich with a “secret” sauce, lettuce, onion and slaw on a potato bun ($7.50), and the lunch bowls with rice pilaf or quinoa, lentil stew, chopped salad, sweet potatoes, and raita with a choice of chickpea masala, Indian butter chicken, chicken curry with herbs and spices or the Tandoori spiced chicken (which my editor wanted me to try), all for $9.50.
I told Bobby that I had to try the Tandoori but she promised “spicy” could be adjusted for anyone, and my preferences were honored and the chicken came out just right. It was a quarter of a small bird with a leg and thigh, perfectly roasted and tender. The piquant salad more than satisfied my daily “crunchy” need. Mixed with small-chopped pieces of radishes, parsley, red cabbage, onions, tomatoes and cucumbers in what tasted like a light dill dressing, I can think of no ways to improve it.
The bowl’s lentil stew was scrumptious with a slight curry taste and the sweet potatoes were sweet, but not too sugary sweet. (As I luxuriated in this dish, I was certain that any nutritionist would give this meal an A+++!)
Johnsons sells several sandwiches and the BLAT ($6.50) with everything you long for but should not eat, including all BLT ingredients plus avocado, scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, and onion on a roll.
I also had a bagel (!) with three eggs and cheese and a bit of potato stuck inside ($4.50). For a bit more ($2-$3), bacon, pastrami and sausage may be added.
The Johnsons are New York City transplants where they spent 22 years in the restaurant business. After living a fairly humdrum life last year (“there are only so many movies you can watch,” Bobby said), the couple turned their sights and talents south to Falls Church where friends and family reside. “I feel comfortable here,” David added.
At the new restaurant the only problem is parking, which David forgot about, being from New York where “nobody parks!” and many people walk to eat. The Johnsons’ Falls Church neighbors have been generous (so far) permitting their customers to park nearby, and David hopes to work out a rental agreement with some of them.
The couple is eager “to give back to the community,” David said, and start a “community fridge” where they’ll put out fresh food and drinks every day at 3 p.m. These won’t be leftovers and extras, he insisted, because “they deserve to eat fresh, too.”
All food is made to order and fresh at Johnsons. Nothing is pre-made.
David continued: “I have actually seen a lot of poverty in my life and a lot of people without food to eat. My wife and I come from humble beginnings in India. America has done great for me. I love America and if there’s any way I can possibly give back, I want to do it.”
I am eager to get back to Johnsons, too, for a refill. It will be hard for me to choose between the pancakes, the French toast, and the lunch bowl, but maybe I’ll just get them all again and walk off those calories like New Yorkers do. After all, we only live once. Breakfast is served at Johnsons from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.; lunch, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. every day except Tuesday. Dine in, dine out or order online.
Johnsons Café is located at 301 S. Washington Street, Falls Church. It’s phone number is 703-534-3838. Visit thejohnsonscafe.com for more information.