By Taylor Seale - 06/12/13 10:29 PM EDT
In the shadow of the Capitol, dotted with members-only restaurants, might be the last place you’d expect to find a typical neighborhood greasy spoon.
Yet just a few blocks east of the Capitol steps sits Jimmy T’s Place, a cash-only, sass-heavy hole in the wall that has steadily become a Hill institution. With a glowing “breakfast all day” sign in the window, Jimmy T’s welcomes in visitors from all walks of life who are looking for some good food at an even better price.
“We have some people that come in expecting the linens,” said John Foster, husband of owner Cynde Tiches-Foster. “But that’s not us.”
It doesn’t matter if you’re a longtime local or a well-known politician, everyone gets a mismatched coffee cup, some freshly made food and the chance to unwind.
Much of the diner’s décor remains the same as when its doors opened 40 years ago. The original menu signs still hang above a few of the booths, though the price of a hamburger today is a bit higher than the 65 cents listed.
John loves to show off the coffee mugs they’ve collected over the years, and one that reads “I’m a Democrat but I’m not an idiot” earns special spot by the counter.
And the collection of souvenir snow globes clustered near the grill? Cynde got into them about five years ago, when she asked friends and regulars to bring them back from trips.
“The best one are the tackiest ones. The more tacky something is, the better.”
Other than these few little additions, not much has changed since her father, James Tiches and the original Jimmy T, started the diner in 1969. He began the business while working for the Library of Congress as an elevator mechanic — and holding down both positions wasn’t a job for the faint of heart.
“Dad would work 14 days straight and then give himself two days off, and that was back when we were open for dinner too. I still don’t know how he did it,” Cynde says.
Cynde worked weekends in high school until around 1978, when she switched to full time. Ask Cynde what she likes to cook most and she quips “waffles, because they’re easy to make.” After she thinks it over for a moment, it’s really “pumpkin pancakes, but only if we aren’t slammed.”
The seasonal treat is a guest favorite, as are staples like waffles and bacon. Some locals, like the ones who come in for a breakfast boy’s club, order the same thing every time. “I don’t always know their names, but I remember them by what they eat,” Cynde says of the regulars.
Owning and running Jimmy T’s has long been a family affair. Cynde and John live with their three children above the diner, and the two met for the first time when he came to meet a friend for a bite to eat.
“He was very quiet that day, and he’s definitely not a quiet person, so I knew something was different,” Cynde says.
Twenty years later and the two are still a local force to be reckoned with. People may come to the diner for cheap eats, but they stay for the couple’s jokes and stories.
John teases about the troubles of having a Greek wife, saying “there’s a constant dichotomy of someone either yelling at you or being very, very quiet.” Cynde shoots back while frying some eggs that she prefers to be quiet nowadays anyway: “I don’t have the energy to yell at you anymore.”
Jimmy T’s feels more like a small-town joint you’d find off some Main Street, and it’s that kind of atmosphere that attracts such varied visitors and repeats.
“We get all different types of people in here,” John says. “For those higher-up officials, it’s a place to come and hide.” Pressing journalists, beware: The couple has no qualms with chasing out a snooping writer. From Supreme Court justices to former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) — a restaurant regular — Jimmy T’s Place has long been the choice for those who just want a good meal and a chance to relax.
The conversation begins to wind down before closing, and an older man in a booth gets up to leave. As he puts on his coat, he looks over the counter and says, to no one in particular, “Being here is like coming to someone’s house. It’s like always coming home.”
He waves goodbye to Cynde and John and steps out. Give it a few days, or even next morning’s breakfast, and he’ll come back. Everyone always does.