Made to Order
Jack’s Restaurant & Bar brought us a casual, affordable family place just when we needed it.
Photos by Cody Pickens
Necessity often being the mother of awesome inventions, some Great Recession dining developments have been pretty great: Cupcake trucks and fantastic happy hour specials come to mind. Other changes in how we eat out, however, just make you feel a little downhearted—like high-end places willing to do anything to offer you a bargain. Frozen french fries? Oh, yes, Madam, we buy them in bulk.
For fans of Pleasant Hill’s Left Bank restaurant—and I was one, despite its ups and downs—it was hard to avoid feeling a little sad about chef Roland Passot’s high-ceilinged 1940s-style brasserie being replaced by a casual, family-style restaurant complete with five gigantic flat-screen TVs. Belle Epoque meets Chuck E. Cheese’s. Yikes.
Well, judging by the crowds that pack Jack’s Restaurant and Bar daily, the trio of Best of the East Bay categories the restaurant just won, and the meals my family and I had in recent months, it’s time to dry our tears. The food at Jack’s is homey and real. The servers are friendly and efficient. And yes, the prices (entrées starting at $7.95) and the portions could please even the most relentless bargain hounds.
Chez Panisse it’s not. When ordering off the encyclopedic menu, it makes sense to go with the straight-ahead American food: Fried chicken and big, juicy burgers with toppings from avocado to bacon to Thousand Island dressing, are two fine examples. Or go with something that can handle a somewhat Greek treatment—either an actual Greek dish like the souvlaki sandwich or a blank-canvas dish like the roasted chicken. The oregano flows very freely at Jack’s, and they’re not stingy with the garlic and olive oil, either. So, if you’re eyeing the Thai steak salad, you’re missing the party.
And back to that fried chicken. Whenever I get a little teary-eyed about the flat screens—which divert at least half of my husband’s attention to such vital topics as whether the A’s can pull off a comeback win—I order the crisp, succulent, melt-in-your-mouth fried chicken, and it perks me right up.
It also comforts me to consider that the owners of Jack’s—three brothers named Marcovici who all worked at their parents’ restaurant in Clayton—come by their souvlaki honestly. Their mother, Eleni, is Greek, the whole family lived in Cyprus when the boys were small, and brother Dave learned how to cook working right alongside his mom. The way brother Chris tells it, although the brothers each went out on their own after the family restaurant was sold, owning a place together was always a goal.
“We always talked about opening up a restaurant,” he says. “Finally, the planets were aligned.”
Since that planetary lineup, the delicious things that we’ve found at Jack’s have included the crisp zucchini cakes with a yogurt-cucumber sauce. A crisp, fresh dinner salad of impressively pert designer greens, cherry tomatoes, and carrot matchsticks. Tender, juicy lamb chops grilled after a relaxing dip in a tangy, zesty marinade. Equally tender, juicy, and flavorful roasted chicken. Potatoes coated with the ubiquitous olive oil, garlic, and oregano, and roasted to a tender lusciousness.
One thing we wouldn’t order again was an orzo pasta dish because its grilled salmon, cherry tomatoes, spinach, and lightly creamy sauce just didn’t come together.
We found wines we liked well enough on the modest wine list. A Joel Gott Zinfandel sparred nicely with the seasoned, grilled lamb chops. A Pinot from the Willamette Valley, called Belle Vallée, was wine enough for the roasted chicken. And for dessert, a crème brûlée was everything it should be—phenomenally rich and smoothly textured, with a crackling carmelized sugar shell on top.
All in all, Jack’s serves a very good meal. Take that, and the fact that you can watch four sporting events at once, and what else could you want?
At a Glance
What’s so special:
A friendly, almost festive atmosphere. With such a long, wide-ranging menu, there’s something for everyone, and it’s all remarkably well done.
The space: It’s cavernous and handsomely designed—and also a bit noisy.
When to go: You name it: They’re open daily 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays). We like dinner because of the lamb chops.
Don’t miss: That fried chicken. And the macaroni and cheese menu, with six flavors, including bacon or hot dog mac.
Bonus: The outdoor patio is huge, offering both shade and sun.
Contact: 60 Crescent Dr., Pleasant Hill, (925) 849-6195, jacksrestaurants.com. Hours: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. Price: Dinner entrées $7.95–$25.95. Alcohol: Full bar.