On the first day they threw open their doors after the tornado, patrons of TJ’s Seafood Market and Grill packed into the restaurant.
It was Nov. 1, 2019, and Preston Royal Village limped but stood — shards of torn buildings and metal exposed by the tornado still stand.
None of the destruction held back TJ’s fans — they stacked up until there was a 45-minute wait for tables. Jon Alexis, who bought the joint from his parents (Alexis’ parents were frequents at the market in the early 1990s), couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
They received phone call after phone call of concern for their local seafood restaurant — some checked in with TJ’s by writing actual letters, you know, with paper and ink — after the EF3 tornado sliced its way through the village. When Alexis asked the customers why they waited on day one after the twister, their response hit him in the gut.
"We just want to feel normal again," Alexis says, relaying their words. Emotion clamps his throat recounting the moment. "We just wanted this to be a neighborhood restaurant. We have a generation that knows my parents’ names."
The idea of TJ’s being a stake in the ground, a calming anchor of normalcy in harsh times, was everything he could have asked for from his little space.
On a sharply cold day in February, the tornado’s path is still discernible. Chunks of debris and building skeletons are visible alongside hastily erected, temporary traffic lights. Inside TJ’s, of course, it’s warm and bright. Eleven years after TJ’s opened in the Preston Royal Village, they have a cheeseburger with flavors as big as the ocean. The yacht club burger has gone through some changes, and right now its quietly triumphant return is another reason to race back to the weather-torn village.
The patty used to be sirloin, which toughened up when flames licked its surface. A whiskey glaze once sweetened the bacon, removing that good, salty crunch. Now, Alexis’ tweaks — a new, puffy-soft bun (custom-baked from La Spiga) and crispy bacon without a sweet glaze — have adapted this burger into one of the best in the city. The beef is a fresh blend of brisket-short rib, stupendously marbled with juices. The beef has a tremendous flavor, big as the Atlantic. The bacon cracks like the sound of a soda can.
There’s a luxury without the pretension to this cheeseburger. The best burgers that cost a bit more have beautifully fresh ingredients, handled only to brighten their singular flavor. For example, a good indulgence to this burger is to add a handful of chargrilled shrimp. I know what you're thinking: Why treat a good burger this way?
I assure you, it is not a meaningless trick for Instagram.
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"The shrimp was totally, totally derived from a snack that I made myself," Alexis says with a laugh.
The sharp char on the shrimp fills the air with the aroma of grill fire. The flavor is intoxicating, an escape to a different season. Suddenly, you’re in a backyard somewhere with the mirage of heat waves over the fire grill. Add grilled shrimp or don’t, the burger lives on the humbler side of luxury. This isn’t some gold flake-covered chicken wing or Salt Bae-sprinkled tomahawk. It’s just a good cheeseburger, made with the stuff that’s a little bit more.
After all, shouldn’t our decade-old joints have some fun? It’s been a tough year. "Satan" is trending on Twitter at the moment this was written. Our favorite joints need us to be there, and nothing gets us hopping in our cars like a mountainous cheeseburger.
The yacht club burger is available during lunch at the Preston/Royal TJ’s Seafood Market, 6025 Royal Lane (North Dallas).