Restaurant Review: Papa J’s Server Made My Night

We’ve been to Papa J’s many times over the years, both the Carnegie location and the now-closed location on Boulevard of the Allies. Tonight, Laura proposed we head to Carnegie for dinner and take advantage of our discount coupon (BOGO entree up to $14) so off we sped (or fled.)

Parking is semi-crummy. There’s a lot in the back that’s always filled to capacity and usually at least one car partially blocking the exit. We typically circle the block and find a street spot within a few blocks. The problem is that Carnegie is laid out weirdly so it isn’t easy to just swoop in and park on the street during our first pass. Too much looping around for my taste, but I’m no city designer.

The interior is lovely – very homey and sort of country Italian which draws you right past the bakery display and giant piles of freshly baked bread. The tables are a titch too close together for my taste, but otherwise perfectly nice. Laura loves that they use butcher block paper and have crayons on every table – she draws a cute little cat each time. On our most recent visit, she complained that the crayons weren’t sharp enough but declined my suggestion that we steal some from an empty table.

Papa J’s is one of the very few places where I break my “must have salad/soup” option with my entrée. I find it ridiculous to order everything ala carte and end up with the gargantuan garden salad that even two could not reasonably eat before an entrée AND then pay like $12 for it. It just means more styrofoam containers which increases my ire a thousandfold.

The prices overall are just a bit too much. $14.00 for pasta alfredo plus $8.00 for chicken? What? This is not even Downtown Pittsburgh, peeps. It is Carnegie, a suburb where the coffeehouse closes at 7 PM. Fortunately, Papa J’s appeases people like me with the lovely BOGO coupons available both online and in the weekly coupon mailer thingy.

Also, fortunately, we both tend to like simple dishes so we can have two entrees, a gargantuan salad and sometimes a piece of cake within our budget range. That’s also two-three extra meals depending how much salad is leftover. It also means I usually order water to drink and definitely skip the chicken. I can buy a whole chicken for $8.00, roast it and put it on my leftover pasta.

The food itself is pretty good. Laura rotates between the chicken dishes – picatta, marsala and romano. She is always disappointed to have no starch side dish, only vegetables. But she likes the chicken dishes enough to deal with it.  She gives them all a thumbs up and I must say that I’ve enjoyed what she’s allowed me to sample.

I usually order a pasta/sauce combination. The sauces are pretty good. I like that the Alfredo is just the right amount of think and the fusion sauce has spunk. The portion is very generous so I have plenty to conserve for a second meal.

We occasionally consider the pizza, but we love Giorgio’s pizza so much that it seems silly to spend extra on unfamiliar alternatives. Especially without a coupon. Plus, I dislike the idea of eating pizza in a plate with white napkins. It is just adding to the overall environmental impact  of the meal by increasing the need for bleach. I’m already struggling about the styrofoam.

So Papa J’s has failed to turn our occasional coupon visits into an upsell. We never order the special, we rarely order drinks and we infrequently try an appetizer. I guess I just feel like I’m already overpaying because there’s no salad with my entrée. It is the hallmark by which so many Mon Valley kids grew up – nice restaurants had salads with the meal. They also served bread on the paper placemat, but you can’t have everything.

I have to give a big plug for the desserts. They are huge and delicious. I highly recommend the coconut cake. It is the best in the City.

Service is usually just fine to a solid good. We’ve rarely had problems even when they realize we are drinking water and using a coupon. When we get the bum rush, we understand – we tip well, but they don’t know that.

So that being said … tonight, everything changed. So much that I might return to Papa J’s sans coupon (1 per customer per quarter) for some pizza.  Tonight our server Peter did something so awesome that I’ll just never forget it – at the end of our meal, he said “I read your blog. I love it.” Both of our jaws dropped and he went on “I recognized both of you when you came in, but I didn’t want to say anything and embarrass you.”

He didn’t want to embarrass me!  He didn’t have to worry about that because I took care of it for him when I kicked over the bag carrying the extra salad and realized the pocket of my new too-big-for-me jeans was caught on my seat as I tried to stand up to talk with him. So I’m sort of slouched in my seat trying to unhook my pants while flailing around with my leg to lasso the wayward styrofoam container (no leakage!) and smiling at the first person to not want to embarrass me.

I was a little overcome and unsure what to say beyond ‘Thank you, I am glad you like it.”

Should I have asked him to become Facebook friends? Should I cyber spy to find Peter of Papa J’s and tag him on my post? What do cool people do in situations like this?

I told Ledcat to give him a $50 tip, but she told me she wasn’t incentivizing blog praise. She was smiling though because she knew it was a really nice thing to have happen and that I have had a tough time this week. So she left the normal 20% tip and swore an oath that she hadn’t bribed him to say it. She doesn’t carry cash so I believe her.

I’m really feeling the money pressure right now after an entire year of monthly vet visits and expensive tests. And paying for AMPLIFY – I had no idea how much art costs to create.  My Christmas gifts are mostly barters and handmade things. I can’t even indulge in my usually splurge on extra decorations. I didn’t even want to go to the restaurant, insisting we could eat cheaper at home. But Ledcat insisted.

And it was definitely worth every penny, especially with a coupon.

Thanks, Peter. I hope you will send me a Facebook message so we can someday share this story as one of those feel-good holiday moments in 2016.

Also, Papa J’s may want to hire me for social media support. I’m blunt and narrativey.

Peter is an artist, but not a drawer. When he saw Ledcat doodling on the butcher block paper (she can draw a cat and that’s it), he told us he could draw an elephant butt. And he did, indeed!

Papa J's Carnegie

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