Eat at Jo's
Vegans, rock stars, Amsterdammers and Tom Jones have dined at Eat at Jo's in the capital. We speak to owners Mary Jo and Erik Tunison.
On a recent afternoon in her restaurant, chef Mary Jo Tunison was delighted to be on the receiving end of a compliment from Welsh pop singer Tom Jones. He loved her soup.
Erik and Mary Jo Tunison (centre) with two regular customers at their restaurant
“No, no, no - it’s the soup of Wales,”she says. “It’s those big things — they’re like big onions: Leek. Leek soup. He loved it.”
On other days the Tunisons have played host to Dido, Everlast, the reformed Dead Kennedys, and many others. Mary Jo has a hard time recalling the names of the singers and musicians she cooks for nearly every day.
“It’s all a blur. I see them on MTV: That guy with that tattoo is a vegan,” she says, with her characteristic laugh. “Everyone is just a stomach to me. I don’t care who they are.”
They feed most of the bands that play the Melkweg, plus the crews that work the club, as well as customers who walk through the restaurant’s front door off the Marnixstraat.
“It can be a little interesting for the people walking in off the street: Who are those guys with the purple hair?” Mary Jo says.
Your typical Mid-Western punk rockers
The Tunisons, natives of the American city of Milwaukee who had an “18-year engagement” but didn’t get married until last October in a ceremony at the club, are welcoming to regular non-rocker customers, in a way that is comforting to anyone who is charmed by a Wisconsin accent.
The couple is so down-to-earth and friendly that it's all the more surprising to find out that Erik is a certified punk rocker and Mary Jo once had green hair back in her art-school days.
But now while Mary Jo cooks away in the kitchen, Erik works the bar and runs the front of the restaurant.
Sometimes he finds himself in the unusual role of preparing meals for musicians with whom he once toured.
Tunison is a drummer who played throughout the 1980s with the influential indie hardcore punk band Die Kreuzen and later with Killdozer, Paul K & The Weathermen, and another band whose name is fairly unprintable on a family website.
He toured in the US and Europe and one of his first international gigs was playing at a show at Melkweg.
With each of his visits to Amsterdam, he became more intrigued by the city. He returned to Milwaukee and tried to excite Mary Jo, who was working as a chef at a Sheraton hotel, about the idea of leaving the only city where they had ever lived.
Finally in 1998 they took the plunge. They had portable skills — she brought cookbooks, he brought his drum kit — but no job lined up. But soon after Erik arrived, he got word that the Melkweg was looking for someone to run its 65-seat restaurant.
Erik says their selling point to the Melkweg (“Milky Way” in English) was the combination of their experiences: her's cooking meals and Erik’s eating them on the road in his former life as a drummer.
“There’s an awareness of what we’re all dealing with” Erik says.
“Sometimes things are going to be a little difficult. Maybe the band gets caught in traffic and so they’re a little bit late. Or maybe they’re here early and we need to bring the catering up to them in advance. We get it built into our system, we know, we understand."
They chose the restaurant’s name both as a play on Mary Jo’s name and a quintessential American diner.
Ideal rock star food
The menu at Eat at Jo’s is eclectic and changes daily, but Mary Jo says she strives to offer “comfort” foods that will be especially appreciated by bands who have eaten too many pizzas on the road.
On a recent menu there were Irish lamb shepherds pie, Thai lamb with red curry and coconut, and chicken in filo with tomato-herb sauce. The American-style meatloaf and the burrito are also popular, Mary Jo says.
There are always several vegetarian choices, such as spinach pie with feta and tomato herb sauce or bow pasta with mushroom and chestnut sauce.
“The menu has to change because so many people from the Milky Way eat here, and believe me, they will let you know when they’re bored."
Every week they get an email list of bands, their schedules, and any special dietary needs. Later in the week the Tunisons were bracing for an entire crew of 11 vegans.
“We don’t take reservations from the outside because often times we have to take reservations from the bands,” Erik explains. “And they’re meant to show up at a certain time with a certain number of people, but it’s rock n roll so maybe they show up at a different time with a different number of people. We do our best to deal with it.”
Just the facts
Eat at Jo’s in the Melkweg, Marnixstraat 409 (Tel: 020 638 3336), is open Wednesday to Sunday from 2 pm to 9 pm.
A lunch menu is served at 2 and dinner begins at 5:30 pm. Main dishes are priced EUR 8 for a large salad to EUR 13.40 for a main dish.
Todd Savage is a freelance writer and editor who also contributes to Het Financieele Dagblad's English Edition and KLM's Holland Herald. If you ever make it to Milwaukee, he recommends going for a frozen custard at Kopp's.
Subject: Expat profiles