Greatest Little Pub In Carmel
Jack London's is the place for pork chops, Scrimshaw Lager and the ballgame.
Thursday, July 25, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnell.
Photo: Pub Grub- Chef Jose Ramirez (left) fries it up and hostess Sheryl Brooks dishes it out.
Jack London''s is a Carmel locals'' hangout. When I reported that to my friend Chip, who was visiting from Arizona a few weeks back, he raised his eyebrows, flashed a devilish grin, and asked, "Does that mean there''ll be a bunch of cute, rich California women there?"
"Could be," I said.
"And the food is great," I added quickly-my honey was with us. "And we can watch the ballgame."
Penelope had conspired with Chip, all in secret, to arrange it so his visit was a surprise for me. It was a big treat. Somehow it had gotten to where Chip and I hadn''t seen each other in years, and, as it turned out, it was his birthday weekend. So we''d all been working hard for several days to have fun.
Our quest had led us this beautiful Saturday evening to Big Sur, to watch the sunset. As the ocean turned purple and the hills lit up the color of watermelon, Chip looked at his watch, half-worriedly. "What time does this place close?" he asked. Maybe he was just hungry, or maybe he was imagining being whisked off to a beachside cottage by a gorgeous divorce in a cool old Mercedes. "The kitchen closes at midnight," I said. He grinned and rubbed his hands together. "Well, let''s go eat!"
We walked into Jack''s a half-hour later. I scanned the bar, noted that there were no beautiful, lonely women around, and considered checking out the dining room-it was my friend''s birthday, after all. But Chip and Penelope immediately pulled up to a couple of stools around a high table by the door-that was okay by me; the Giants game was on.
I eat at Jack''s a lot-always in the bar. The dining room is pretty and comfortable, but for my lifestyle, Jack''s is one of the world''s great saloons. I''ve spent many evenings there enjoying a great burger, a plate of ribs or a delicious pasta, talking baseball or politics with waiters, shop-owners, the occasional tourist, or Conrad, who is one of those bartenders who seems to have been born to make sure we''re getting what we want out of this life if it''s within their powers to grant it. I knew Chip was going to love the place.
We started with a round of Bushmill''s, or maybe two, I don''t really remember. While we sipped, we watched the game. The Giants were winning, to Chip''s dismay-he''s a Diamondbacks fan, natch. To ease his pain, I described our dining choices.
Because its mission is to serve the people who spend their day-to-day lives in this town, Jack''s features a varied, affordable menu. There are burgers and sandwiches and burritos in addition to a selection of dinners. The specials are classic Monterey County plates: creations based on the whim of the chef and what''s in season. On this night, there was a salmon dish, a fancy pizza, and a pork chop.
Chip settled on the Sante Fe Chicken Sandwich. A poli-sci professor who has lived in a bunch of college towns-Madison, Wisonsin; Missoula, Montana; Bucharest, Romania; and now Prescott, Arizona-Chip has become a proud Southwesterner. "Santa Fe," he said. "We''ll see."
Penelope, who has become a Californian in her own way, ordered the personal-sized pepperoni pizza and a salad. I''m from New Jersey; I ordered the pork chop.
Chip ordered a salad, too-women dig men who eat their greens.
The salad says a lot about Jack London''s. There are late-night restaurants all over America that don''t bother with the salad-they give you iceberg and pink tomatoes-you don''t like it, go to Denny''s. The salads at Jack''s are seriously good eating, like everything else in the place.
Since it was a party, we got a round of beers. Conrad has turned me on to Scrimshaw Lager, a beer from Alaska that I''ve never seen outside of Jack London''s. Good stuff.
When the main courses arrived, it was almost 11pm. We''d been hiking and driving and drinking for a long time, and it felt like the day''s reward had arrived.
My pork chop was thick, crusted with a spicy dry rub, grilled, and lathered with a sweet gravy. At first bite, I thought it might have been slightly overcooked, but it turned out to be perfect-done enough to bring out the full flavor, but still tender. It came with mashed potatoes and gravy and a veggie medley-just like mom''s.
Chip''s sandwich was classic California-style simplicity-a flame-grilled chicken breast draped with an Ortega pepper and melted provolone, plus a thick slice of ripe tomato and a slab of red onion. He ate quietly, and then approved: "This is hitting the spot."
Penelope''s pizza was as good a little pepperoni pizza as you''re going to find anywhere-crisp and tasty. She didn''t finish it, thank goodness, so there was a little slice for me, and one for Chip for dessert.
The Giants won the game, but Chip was still grinning anyway. We walked a couple of blocks to Sade''s for a nightcap and a smoke. Weirdly, there were no single women there, either.
I returned to Jack''s the other night. I got the special-Southwestern Pasta-penne bathed in a creamy, very spicy sauce, with big chunks of grilled chicken. It was good. After two or three bites, I put down my fork and moaned.
A woman sitting next to me at the bar touched me on the shoulder. Lovely, thirty-something or forty, her dark curls pulled up and falling out- I hadn''t noticed her; I was watching the game. She asked me: "What''s that you''re eating?"
I wished my friend Chip was there. He''d like that pasta.