Venue Review: Jake's Good Eats
The Charlotte Observer
12721 Albemarle Road, Charlotte
Jake's Good Eats is just tailor-made for folks like me. If I didn't know better, I'd guess it was the work of some mastermind publicist. Let's look at the list:
Renovated location chock-full of historical references, but down-home comfortable for all? (And so far off the beaten path you can hear the crickets?) Check.
Chef-owner with interesting back story and little, if any, pretension? Check.
Menu that blends old-school cooking with flair for the contemporary? Double-check.
Prices that make it affordable, even in this economy? Check your check.
Jake's is named for Jake Stegall, who runs the place with his brother Gordon and Gordon's wife, Jaime; the three met in high school in Salisbury. It's in a circa-1930 filling station and comes complete with horse in pasture next door, screen door and an interior bursting with knickknacks and signs. (Best one: an ad for Dennis's Pig Powders. I don't even want to know.)
Jake Stegall had some cooking school experience and some restaurant/catering stints, primarily majoring in hot dogs. Gordon Stegall is a graphic artist, and Jaime Stegall had front-of-the-house stints in the Houston's and 131 Main chains, before the threesome opened this in July. Hot dogs and burgers are in the lineup (roots matter here, naturally), but so is a venison quesadilla with jalapeno jelly.
And that quesadilla is some good eating. Nearly as stellar as the fat, juicy, seawater-sweet, cornmeal-fried oysters, served with just-wilted spinach and a drizzle of sriracha chile paste and pink peppercorns (when the kitchen has them) over housemade tartar sauce. Also excellent: pan-seared salmon over a crisp-edged, soft-centered, couple-inches-high potato cake with dill cream sauce, and thin, crispy fried green tomatoes atop leeks with balsamic.
Blackened flounder with crawfish sauce – the same as the étouffée entrée – over a country ham grit cake shines, too, and things as simple as sauteed vegetables are done brightly. There's a fried bologna sandwich on the lunch menu, along with chicken salad and shellfish po' boys, while dinner entrées include grilled barbecue chicken with mac and cheese; a maple-glazed, bone-in pork chop; and grilled filet mignon with onion ketchup.
Salads are huge: I loved a wedge with blue-cheese dressing and bacon crumbles, but the house with sunflower seeds was killer, too.
And our server one night knew the menu down to the kind of vinegar in the vinaigrette. That's an endearing quality anytime, but especially when you have dietary questions: She knew which dishes were salted more intensely, what went into the étouffée, and probably what color socks the chef had on. Another night, we got a newbie (evidence: she offered us a vegetable “melody”), but she didn't hesitate to find answers to our queries, and knew whom to ask.
It must be noted that this is exactly the sort of place screwed up for both regulars and newcomers by a flood of diners it's unprepared for. In fact, Jake's made me consider copying marvelous writer John McPhee's move years ago of writing about a place without naming it. But we should be able to do this responsibly, don't you think?