Hillyard eateries rebuilding with 'hobos'

If you want to sound like a local at PJ’s Cafe Express in Hillyard, ask for the Hillyard Hobo Sandwich. Stacked high with roast beef, cheddar, bacon, French’s onions and barbecue sauce, it’s not on the menu, but owner Pam Farnsworth will be glad to make you one.

When asked about the unusual name of the sandwich, Farnsworth explains. “Hobos played a big part in the railroad history. If they wanted a meal, they worked for it,” she says. “A lot of people think they were bums, but they didn’t take things for free.”

After the devastating effects of last summer’s road construction, Farnsworth and other Hillyard businesses are trying to rebuild. “It killed most of our business, and we still haven’t recovered,” says Farnsworth. She compares Hillyard’s recovery effort to the neighborhood’s hobos of years gone by. “We don’t want a handout. We want people to understand Hillyard and know it’s not a bad place.”---

Open for about a year, PJ’s Café is a small, neighborhood kind of place, next to Mr. Ken’s Barber Shop. With three Formica-topped bar tables and vintage car photos on the wall, it’s got a 1950s-diner feel. The menu includes deli and grilled sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers and ice cream treats. Farnsworth plays up the diner theme with sandwich names like the Doo Wooper, Yakety Yak and Route 66. The sandwiches ($6, whole/$3.50, half) are generous, so if you want to indulge in the Chili Fritos (which I heartily suggest), order a half sandwich. The café also serves espresso drinks, including the six-shot Hillyard mocha, which is sure to get your engine revving.

In addition to running the café, Farnsworth publishes Hillyard’s Hobo Bulletin, a community newsletter e-mailed to more than 5,000 recipients. It’s full of Hillyard history and community events, and each edition spotlights a different community nonprofit.

“People have a really bad image of Hillyard,” says Farnsworth. “That image has been gone for years.”

Good thing the Chili Fritos didn’t vanish with it.

PJ’s Café Express, 5022 N. Market St., is open Mon-Sat 11 am-5 pm. Call 217-5543.