By Cathy Wharton
For Hometown News
When John Georgopoulos moved here from Chicago two years ago, he brought a lot of restaurant experience with him.
He also brought along some great ideas. "My whole family is in the restaurant business" he said. "I gained (a lot of) experience working with them."
Having a background in the food business, Mr. Georgopoulos was eager to continue his family's tradition. On July 1, he opened his own restaurant, Tommy Johns Grill.
On State Road A1A in Ormond-by-the-Sea, this beachside eatery with the friendly sounding name occupies the same building as the former Lovece's Italian Restaurant. Though the outside of the building looks the same, parts of the interior have been remodeled to reflect a different style of dining - self-ordering.
I arrived at Tommy Johns on a Monday afternoon, just before 5 p.m. Entering the restaurant, I was immediately greeted by Mr. Georgopoulos' wife and co-owner, Chantel. As I looked around, I noticed the changes. The front room consists of several table-and-chair seating arrangements, and a counter where customers place their orders. Behind the counter is a large open window to the kitchen, plus a conveniently displayed menu board for take-out orders. The back dining area is lined on both sides with booths, a comfortable setting for private parties or casual indoor dining.
Casual is the main theme at Tommy Johns. Customers seat themselves and, once they've decided their food and beverage selection, they place their order at the counter. Meals are then brought to the table by one of the owners.
When it comes to Tommy Johns' menu, one thing is clear - variety.
Mr. Georgopoulos takes particular pride, however, in the quality of beef he serves. "It's not like what you buy at the supermarket," he said.
In fact, the restaurant's "claim to fame" is its fresh beef from Chicago, the original beef capital of the nation. Whether it's an Italian beef sandwich, Polish sausage, a hotdog or chilidog, the source is always Chicago beef. Choices also include a beef-cheddar croissant and charbroiled burgers.
Other popular items include chicken wraps, quesadillas, wings and strips; fish sandwiches, salmon patty sandwiches, fish and chips, and fried shrimp; and veggie sandwiches that feature fresh eggplant. Salads include Caesar's in three variations - regular, chicken or salmon; a grilled tilapia salad; and Greek salad. Also on the menu are barbecue ribs and sandwiches, and pasta mostaccioli (penne) with homemade marinara sauce or meat sauce.
There are plenty of side orders from which to choose, including fries (French, sweet potato or cheese), onion rings, chicken and vegetable soup, garlic bread and cole slaw. Tommy Johns also offers desserts - cakes and muffins - plus a variety of drinks, including wine and beer.
After a thorough look at the menu, I was ready to place my order. I decided on the eggplant sandwich, served with lettuce, tomato and cheese. I was also in the mood for chicken wings, so I ordered a hot and mild combo, served with carrot and celery sticks and blue cheese dressing, plus a side of creamy, homemade coleslaw. A short time later, the two owners brought my food order. Each of the items was attractively arranged in paper-lined serving baskets. (Remember casual is the word here.) Everything I sampled was delicious, but with such generous portions, I knew I'd be taking half of it home. I also took home a hefty slice of chocolate cake covered with rich chocolate icing and tiny chocolate nuggets - a sensational late night snack.
In addition to the daily menu, Tommy Johns features several dinner entrees. Formerly offered only on Fridays and Saturdays, dinner is now available six nights a week, starting at 5 p.m. The dinner menu includes barbecued chicken; barbecued pork ribs, full or half slab; lemon tilapia; a grilled salmon filet; an 8-ounce ribeye steak; chicken piccata; and chicken parmesan. Prices start at $9.99. Kids' meals are also available.
For Mr. Georgopoulos, the key to casual dining is this: "Keep it clean and simple so people can be comfortable." Also, "Keep the menu simple, but continue to have the food taste great."
Tommy Johns is at 1064 Ocean Shore Blvd. in Ormond-by-the-Sea. Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday - Friday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday. Phone: (386) 441-5422.