To understand the theme at Little Jerry’s, a 16-seat cafe that opened mid-February in Tacoma’s Fern Hill neighborhood, you have to get 1990s TV sitcom “Seinfeld.” Like, really get it. Otherwise, the J. Peterman catalogs on the tables or the boudoir-style photo of Seinfeld character George Costanza in the bathroom are just going to seem odd. And the Superman comic books and the endless stream of Seinfeld episodes that play nonstop in the dining room? Equally weird.
A little bit of the theme goes a long way. I found the concept a little tiring after a second visit, but diehard fans will get a kick out of the Seinfeld kitsch. There are quotes on the menu that harken to specific episodes. The restaurant name itself is an homage to that famous episode of the rooster fight with a contender that Kramer named “Little Jerry.”
You’ll find Seinfeld-isms peppered throughout the menu, from mention of the famous marble rye to “The Puddy,” a breakfast skillet dish named after Elaine’s boyfriend. Burgers are named after key Seinfeld characters: Poppy, Cosmo (Kramer) and Georgey (Costanza). You won’t find a Snickers bar served with knife and fork or the last chocolate babka, but you will find diner favorites in the style served at Monk’s, the name of the fictional diner featured on the NBC sitcom.
Burgers, hand-cut fries and skillet breakfasts are served Tuesdays through Sundays at the restaurant started by first-time restaurant owners Tara and Tony Valadez. Nothing is priced higher than $8, with most lunches and breakfasts priced fairly at $6-$7. The restaurant is sandwiched in a small shopping mall and is flanked by a tiny post office and a nail salon - it's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it neighborhood that has been home to other interesting restaurants, including the German restaurant Alt Heidelberg that previously operated in that locale.
The idea for Little Jerry's came from the couple’s obsessive amusement with the television show. Tony Valadez earned his culinary degree at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland before coming to Tacoma to study biology at Pacific Lutheran University. He worked in several restaurants, earned his degree and then did something unexpected: He became a real estate agent. During down time while showing houses, he’d fire up old Seinfeld episodes on a portable DVD player.
While the restaurant is well-conceived in theme and decor, the couple still is working on executing the menu. Two visits during the first month of operation found a restaurant struggling to keep up with demand, a symptom of a minuscule kitchen with one tiny fryer. On a first visit, a burger (priced $6-$7) showed up rare and leaking pink juice onto a plate filled with really delicious but limp hand-cut fries. Another visit found stale bread on a sandwich and a chicken-fried steak came with a pasty gravy that tasted of flour. I’d say give them some time to work out the kinks.
Our pledge to readers: Sue Kidd dines anonymously and all meals are paid for by The News Tribune. Reach her at 253-597-8270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Little Jerry’sWhere: 8233 South Park Ave., TacomaHours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, closed MondaysInformation: 253-474-2435 or facebook.com/littlejerrys