by Tallahassee Table

My husband and I were recently looking for a late-afternoon lunch spot so we could grab a bite to eat before going grocery shopping, because we all know that shopping when hungry is a recipe for bad choices, like buying a lifetime supply of Hostess Ding Dongs or Miss Debbie Cosmic Brownies (yes, there is such a thing).

So we wisely stopped at Hopkins’ Eatery in the Publix plaza on North Monroe for a sandwich and a slice of cake — after all, who can resist these homey treats when they’re sitting there on the counter, oh so tempting.

Blame Hopkins’ DeeDee Johnston or her daughters Debbie Johnston and Jennifer Poskey, who are the masterminds behind the restaurant’s long list of homemade cakes and pies, along with a selection of nearly 30 sandwiches plus homemade soups and salad

The place has been a local institution since the late ‘70s when it was founded by Clay Hopkins. DeeDee Johnston bought the restaurant in 1982. At that time it was located in the tiny spot that is now La Tiendita on Monroe. They later moved to the site of Siam Sushi by Publix. But the recession hit, so Hopkins moved yet again, to its current location in the shopping center.

“Moving across the parking lot was half the rent,” said Debbie. There are now three locations; on Capital Circle, North Monroe and Market Street. Debbie and Jennifer are now running the restaurants, with Steve Neale, who has worked at Hopkins since the ‘80s and manages the Northeast branch.

Debbie started working at Hopkins when she was 14, helping as a cashier. “Cleaning the yogurt machine was one of my first duties,” she said. Then her mom ditched the yogurt. She wasn’t too upset.

On our recent visit, my  husband and I each selected Hopkins’ comforting smothered beef sandwich ($7.39), with layers of sliced roast beef topped with sautéed green peppers, onions, mushrooms and Swiss and Parmesan cheeses plus mayo, lettuce, tomato and a Parmesan dressing. It’s a huge sandwich, a bit juicy, but you can finish it off with a fork.

Other choices include the Grecian Ham and Cheese Bake ($7.39), The Guac (with turkey and guacamole, $7.39) and vegetarian primo ($7.39 or sub, $8.39), plus chicken salad, grilled cheese, Cuban and meatloaf. Another fave: the Linda Special, which was named after a customer.

“She’d order the ‘tasty tomato and sprout sandwich’ and switch to rye, add turkey and provolone cheese,” said Debbie. “Other customers would say: ‘I’ll get what Linda’s having’ “

You, too, can build your own sandwiches and subs. Capital Circle is the only branch offering wraps. All locations serve gluten-free bread. Most sandwiches are available in half-size on rye-pumpernickel, wheat or white bread. Hopkins gets its bread from Tasty Pastry but “we do all the baking in-house,” said Debbie.

Credit: Hopkins’ Eatery

The restaurant features a different cake each day — carrot cake is so popular it’s available on Mondays and Saturdays. Other choices include hummingbird cake, Mississippi mud cake and peaches ‘n cream cake. In addition, you’ll find homemade heath bars and brownies, including one with the intimidating name of “Congo” (with pecans and chocolate chips). You can also special order whole cakes.

Photo: Hopkins’ Eatery.

We shared our slice of delicious carrot cake, spiked with raisins, nuts and slivers of real carrots, the icing rich and sweet — much better than a Cosmic Brownie any day.

The average meal at Hopkins is $10. Debbie said prices may go up slightly because Hopkins is getting rid of Styrofoam containers and switching to primarily paper products and a type of biodegradable plastic, which initially is more costly. I’d be happy to spend a little more to support a restaurant’s move to stop using Styrofoam.

“I carry my cup everywhere,” said Debbie. “I encourage customers to carry their cup and not use plastic.”

Another draw at Hopkins: It has a personal, homey  touch, reflected in the folksy decor: lots of kitschy knick-knacks and an abundance of live plants. While we were eating, we listened to an appealing soundtrack playing Bob Dylan, Dire Straits and Rob Stewart, musicians that gained fame before some of the young staffers here were born. But it’s likely many of the regular customers were humming along.

With so many new restaurants opening, it’s easy to forget a longtime destination. When we asked about still popular “oldies but goodies,” many Tallahassee Table readers mentioned Hopkins as a family favorite.

How has Hopkins remained such a popular destination?

“Aside from being locally owned, my sister and I and Steve are always there,” said Debbie.

“We use fresh ingredients. We cut our own produce, slice our own meats, do our own baking,” she said. “Our sandwiches are so unique and everything’s made to order. It’s a labor of love.”

.Hopkins is located at 1660 N. Monroe, 850-386-4258; 1208 Capital Circle SE, 850-325-6422;  1415 Market St., 850-668-0311. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

What are our favorite longtime restaurants in Tallahassee and what keeps you coming back?

Please send your suggestions to Tallahassee Table by commenting here, emailing me at [email protected] or going on Facebook TheTallahasseeTable/

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