Without Tuffy’s no longer

Dorca Gomez, Ashton Miller, Van Choate, Savannah Thompson, Brittany King and Joh
Chicken-fried chicken, seasoned green beans and fried okra

After a five-year hiatus, a long-standing Mauriceville tradition has returned and is receiving an outstanding reception.

Tuffy’s Eatery, best known for its homemade rolls and pies — not to mention its plate-filling chicken-fried steaks — reopened May 16, and Southeast Texans have shown that they appreciate the restaurant’s comeback.

“In our first seven days, we sold about 1,600 chicken-fried steaks, 9,000 rolls and 840 chicken-fried chickens,” Van Choate told The Examiner during our two-hour visit with the restaurant’s owner. Choate displayed the generosity he has been known for by cooking literally every dish on the menu for us and even boxing up what we couldn’t eat for us to bring home to our families. That intimate kind of down-home customer service you receive at Tuffy’s is definitely hard to come by, especially in a food business that has become inundated by fast casual, quick service chains.

When Van, also known for his Cajun Cookery restaurant formerly open in Orange, Catfish Kitchen in Beaumont (now owned by Mike and Terry Hamilton, former owners of Tuffy’s) and Hushpuppy Seafood in Vidor, and his wife, Josette, announced the news that they were planning to reopen Tuffy’s in a Jan. 30 post on Facebook, Van said the couple never expected the reaction they received. The post went viral with 2,900 likes and more than 2,600 shares.

Even June 4 floodwaters wouldn’t keep Tuffy’s fans from coming back home to their favorite eatery on a Sunday afternoon.

“We were going to post on Facebook that we were closed due to the flood, but people started showing up anyway and they were taking their shoes off and rolling up their pants legs and wading through the water to get to us,” Van said.

What’s causing customers to go crazy about Tuffy’s?

Besides the buttery rolls, which were famously featured in Texas Monthly magazine, and homemade chocolate pies like your grandma used to make, among other desserts, dishes like blackened pan-grilled catfish with crab and crawfish Florentine sauce; shrimp burgers, made with Gulf Coast fried popcorn shrimp, lettuce, tomatoes and Tuffy’s special tartar sauce; the Old-Fashioned, a juicy burger served with all the fixin’s; or the shrimp spud, a baked potato served with fried or grilled shrimp, butter and cheese, keep patrons coming back for more.

“These people put their blinkers on and come into this parking lot, I want them to do it again,” Van said. “The only way we’re going to get them to do that is if we do everything above and beyond what they expect when they come in here.”

Tuffy’s menu also includes chicken and sausage gumbo, a Southeast Texas favorite. Save room for dessert because there’s a plethora to choose from including red velvet cake, coconut cream pie, chocolate marmalade, Italian cream cake, a banana-pineapple spice hummingbird cake, chocolate cake, lemon ice box pie and coconut pineapple cake. Decisions, decisions.

Besides being a Golden Triangle favorite, the restaurant has attracted more than its share of customers from outside the area as well.

“We’ve got customers that have driven all the way from Jasper; Alexandria, Louisiana; Baytown, you name it,” Van said.

In addition to providing great food and a family friendly environment, Tuffy’s has been a boost in the arm for the local economy, creating 58 jobs for those who need them the most.

“Providing jobs for teens and single moms is what this restaurant has become known for,” he said. “We have two teens from Deweyville, one just graduated from high school and one is a senior. Their house flooded (in the Sabine River flood in 2016).They’re making $100 a night and helping their parents out. That’s huge!”

Van can usually be found reconnecting with customers from the past and welcoming new faces, and he’s been known to offer veterans free meals and lend a helping hand to those who are down on their luck.

“99.9 percent of the people that’s in here are in here because they love this place for what it is, what it’s done, and what it’s doing,” Van said. “It’s more than what’s going on in the kitchen.”

What does Van want the public to know about Tuffy’s?

“I think the biggest thing is if they know of a family that’s in need or can’t afford to say thanks to their kid that’s doing good, give us a call,” Van said. “We’ll get them in here and take care of them. We’ve got a spot that they can fill. … If someone is in a bad way or needs to be shown some love, we’re good for that.”

Van has also been known to volunteer his time to help with fundraisers by taking his catering equipment out to local churches and other causes.

Tuffy’s is open from 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Sundays. The restaurant is closed on Mondays. For more information or to place an order, call (409) 745-3170 or follow Tuffy’s Eatery on Facebook.

Don’t forget to visit the gift shop!