Thursday, March 5, 2009

Zora's Zoo slides into history, Krystal Jo's takes over

For my former Flint Journal colleagues who used to visit Zora's Zoo, an eclectic and fun old style neighborhood diner I've got a little news. And for those who don't want to hear about what or where I eat, now would be a good time to read something else.

Zora's is gone.

Replacing Zora's is a remodeled and refreshed restaurant called Krystal Jo's, but before I tell you about that, a little history.

Zora's was always an interesting stop on our Flint-area lunch forays. It was small, maybe five little tables squeezed into an 10-foot wide business. There was a long dining counter with maybe 15-20 stools.

But the center of attention was always Zora. A tall, not bad looking woman, who was tough, nail tough. But she was also a great cook. If you could get past the insults and the abruptness of her demeanor you actually got a really good meal at a pretty good price.

What happened behind that counter was street theater. Every day, starting about 5 a.m., Zora held court behind the counter and in front of her large gas range. The decor was decidedly anti-male with photocopied papers of male hated.

The bread was homemade, just like the epithets, and you never wondered who was the owner of the place. Her mother often hung around and helped, but Zora was the main attraction. Once in awhile Zora hired a street walker trying to go straight as a waitress, and if you could get by the tattoos and needle marks they were always pretty nice people.

Ask for rye toast and you might get slapped in the head, like I did, with the single page laminated menu.

"I have wheat and white and that's all I make," Zora said. Actually, there were more offerings on various days.

Want a refill? "Get up and get it yourself, can't you see I'm busy," Zora would yell across the razor thin restaurant.

In a bizarre lapse of judgement I once took our friends, a couple we dine with weekly, to Zora's for breakfast. The four of us sat at the counter and my friend, Diane, likes her food cooked a certain way.

As Zora cooked up the eggs, Diane (who had been warned about Zora's temperament) told the cook to make sure her yolks weren't running. Worried that she might get slapped by a menu, I was pleasantly surprised that Zora merely turned around, looked at Diane, and said: "I knew you were going to be trouble."

We used to walk into the restaurant through the back door and the kitchen and we always marveled at how this one woman kept this place going. The other problem was the while Zora cooked breakfast and lunch, she often closed the grill down at 11:45 a.m. A couple times, including the last we were thrown out of the restaurant without eating when we showed up at 11:50 a.m. for lunch.

We always tried to get there early, but sometimes work got in the way.

So today, Thursday, I was meeting a friend for breakfast and thought it would be cool to see Zora and the Zoo again. I hadn't been there in awhile and I nearly drove by it this morning without seeing it.

Instead of the sandwich board sidewalk sign there was a 6-foot tall "Restaurant" Flag and a new sign "Krystal Jo's Diner." Well, we were already there, so I persisted, wanting to see what remained of Zora's.

"What happened to Zora?," I asked.

"She retired last April," the new owner said.

But what really caught my eye were the walls, the clean, painted walls. The owner said they took a full day to strip all of the insulting copy paper off the walls. Many of those items were given to old customers who wanted them as souvenirs.

Instead of the old copy paper on the walls, the new owner has family photos, including a photo of himself in a Kearsley High School football uniform. The white tile behind the stove was bright and clean. The place looked great.

And it's not only open past noon for lunch, it's open for dinner too. The menu is simple, but includes a variety of lunch sandwiches and a Spicy Chicken wrap. There are salads, soup and chili and dinner offerings of pot roast, Country Fried Chicken, Battered Fish 'n Chips, Chicken Parmesan and Cajun Chicken Alfredo.

They also offer a Flint favorite - a coney dog - and of course a variety of hamburgers. Dinner prices range from about $5.99 to $8.99. The owner said his coleslaw is very popular.

But we were there for breakfast and it was a good one. I had a meat omelet and Dustin had the breakfast special. The eggs and potatoes were very tasty and the bread, while not homemade was very good too.

I had rye toast and I didn't get slapped in the head with a menu for asking.

So if you want to see the old place, stop by Krystal Jo's at 3616 Fenton Road in Flint. You won't be disappointed in the food or prices. But if you liked getting bossed around or hit in the head with a menu by Zora you might leave a little nostalgic.


Anonymous said...

Krystal Jo's is great. Tony (the new owner) has a bit of the "Zora demeanor" . . . picking at his customers, yet making sure everyone has a meal that they enjoy. The food is ALWAYS good. Unfortunately, due to the economy - he had to got out and "get a REAL JOB", so he's working evenings now - someplace else. Current hours are 8 a.m. to 2:00 (or 2:30 ? sorry, can't remember) 7 days per week. They serve Coke AND Pepsi in a can, and if they're out, they will run to Rite Aid and buy one for you. PLEASE SUPPORT THEM! Krystal is Tony's wife. She and her mother are the typical helpers. Tony is great and always has a good story to tell. He also has an eye for those "trouble customers". :)

ENJOY - and tell him that the CrAzY horn lady sent ya! :)

Anonymous said...

I agree my whole family love it at Krystal Jo's and even though he's since reduced he's hours we're glad he hasn't closed. His whole family(including alot of regular customers) are very nice and funny. I don't mind getting my own drink when the food, prices and company is good. I enjoy the fact that this restaurant is not another big chain(expensive and unfriendly). I prefer the small town friendly atmosphere. Also even though they don't have alot Tony and Krystal have already given to several charities and causes. We should support our local small business before we lose them and are stuck with only big chain. My mom always said bigger is not always better.