Clearing the Air

Faces Light Up When Gathered at Moe’s.

By Warren Rojas / Photography by Kate Bohler

Pork chops and eggs with onion-topped hash browns

Pork chops and eggs with onion-topped hash browns

By all indications the smoking ban Virginia Governor Tim Kaine signed into law in 2009 has done nothing to extinguish the appetite for smoldering tobacco shared by those who religiously inhabit Moe’s Peyton Place.

The unapologetically smoking-friendly sanctum caters to those who favor a puff (or 20) as part of their dining experience, relegating the protected class (non-smokers) to an adjoining dining room while preserving the authenticity of the cloudy bar and lounge for those who have made the neighborhood restaurant their second home since current owner Mohammad Traish took it over in May 1971.

It’s unclear who/when someone slapped the American Cancer Society “Relay for Life” supporter static cling in their front window, but kudos to staff for successfully playing both sides of the field this long.

If you’ve never stepped foot in Moe’s, it’s perfectly understandable. The off-the-beaten path eatery operates in the shadow of the never-ending Mixing Bowl expansion, its pot hole-riddled parking lot an orphan of the regional roadway repair wars.

Geographic hurdles aside, Traish’s wife and business partner, Mina, claims there are a number of dedicated patrons who slide into the well-worn booths like clockwork.

Chicken-fried steak

Chicken-fried steak

“We have the same customers come in seven days a week,” she says of a carefully cultivated clientele that is now extending into the third generation of some families. “We have their drinks at the table when they walk in, and we know what they like,” she asserts. On any given day, Mohammad estimates he can count on recognizing roughly eight familiar faces for every 10 people that wander into the unassuming watering hole.

The décor is clearly nostalgic but hardly entrenched in days gone by. A dusty Redskins clock, gallery of framed Marilyn Monroe stills and a wall-sized flag inscribed with the names of the thousands who perished in the 9/11 attacks commemorate historical greatness which we’ll unlikely never relive again (sorry ‘Skins, fans), while a trio of high-definition, flatscreen TVs intermittently blasting local news or conservative commentators remind those seemingly wedded to the rarely vacant bar stools that the future is now.

House-made signs advertising their biker friendliness—Mina brushes aside all the stereotypes of thuggish, brute motorcyclists, noting that they serve doctors and lawyers who simply prefer to view the world from their two-wheeled, four-stroke engine-powered perches rather than from other self-enclosed, commercial conveyances—are littered throughout. And it, in fact, takes no time for a dyed-in-the-wool biker (clad from head to toe in faded denim, a well-broken-in leather baseball cap parked atop his dome) to saunter past us as we settled in for a mid-day repast.

Mohammad Traish’s signature broasted chicken

Mohammad Traish’s signature broasted chicken

But we also spotted all types of other incredibly neighborly folks, including: a Boomer-aged single woman who popped by for a late-morning breakfast; the suit-clad business exec who drained multiple cups of bottomless coffee, one eye trained firmly on the daily schedule taking shape on his flickering laptop while the other stole glances at the constantly updating breaking news ticker crawling across the Fox News broadcast; or the elderly couple who planted themselves in what they obviously consider their booth, tossed dueling packs of Basics and Salems on the table and commenced to chain-smoke (these two were intuitively synchronized better than most Olympic duos) their way through dinner. Conversely, early risers made no bones about chasing formidable stacks of flapjacks or bowls of butter-soaked grits with frosty mugs of frothy draft beer.

Staff makes their own fun as well.

“Too much to eat? I just gave you a little plate,” one devilish waitress teased a customer who attempted to push back before clearing her plate. Another razzed a gaggle of bleary-eyed outdoorsmen, barking, “We’re closed for you guys—no hunters allowed!” when the coffee-deprived bunch tried to belly up to the bar. More often than not staff greet every single customer by name, preemptively fetching favorite drinks and teeing up standing food orders while peppering their conversation with miscellaneous updates about fellow regulars who’ve dropped out of sight (“Oh, he moved back to … ”) and general goings-on.

The menu is a grab bag of diner favorites, floating from traditional bar bites (burgers, wings, fried flotsam) to a rotating selection of slightly more elegant fare (grilled salmon, chicken Marsala, baked ziti with meatballs). Traish may claim sole proprietorship for the menu development, but the shelves buckling beneath piles of pre-packaged cooking aids—everything from pre-mixed Gold Medal flour to an industrial-sized crate of Stove Top stuffing mix—suggest Sysco has as much a hand in the daily breaking of bread as anyone else.

Mina says she retooled the menu about six months ago but continues to sprinkle daily specials and experimental theme nights as opportunities present themselves. Her monthly “Greek” night, which actually extends through the entire first weekend of each month, allows Mina to celebrate her culinary heritage, a showcase predicated upon flaky spanakopita, zesty tzatziki sauce, protein-packed stuffed grape leaves and generous slabs of oven-baked pastitsio. She conceded that Mohammad’s signature broasted chicken, however, remains the universal favorite.

The bird—which Mina maintains is gobbled up with reckless abandon by rowdy, tail-gating football fans and reserved restaurant-goers alike—is quite tasty. The skin is, by design, less crunchy than traditional fried chicken. But the marinated meat, particularly the succulent breast, makes a convincing argument for pressure cooking more foods. The house seasoning is perhaps less novel than more modern poultry preparations (artisan brining, double- and triple-frying, truffle oiling/stuffing/infusing) yet firmly places its stamp on the chicken enjoying experience. Traish even rewards those who seek out the fabled fowl by offering up all-you-can-eat broasted chicken on Monday nights at the unbelievably price of just $7.50 per person (about as much as one might shell out for a skimpy three-piece meal at one of the commercial chicken chains).

Breakfast offerings are available at any time. Our favorite eye-opener: the country-fried steak and eggs. The battered and breaded beef is so tender, it’s easily cut with the side of the fork. Of course, you still have to find the steak beneath the pool of thick, rich country gravy liberally poured onto the plate by what we safely assume to be a non-calorie counter.

An eponymous burger returns a smallish patty crowned with juicy tomatoes, zesty onions, melted American cheese, mayo, lettuce, ho-hum bacon (neither exceptionally crispy, smoky or fatty; just average bacon) and a glorious fried egg. The toppings trumped the generic beef. Still, it was refreshing to find a reasonably priced burger devoid of the pretension exhibited by the rising tide of would-be gourmet burgermeisters determined to flood the market with trendy takes on true comfort food.

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Moe’s Peyton Place
6516 Backlick Road, Springfield; 703-451-6620; www.moespeytonplace.com

Hours: Open for lunch and dinner daily.
Prices: Average entree: under $12 ($). Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

 

(January 2012)

 

 

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