Carmel’s French Quarter
Jack London’s adopts more Louisiana attitude.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Jack London’s could very easily stand pat. The 30-year-old Carmel landmark has a well-established stable of loyal locals who subscribe to its Old World sensibility, it has long been a popular pilgrimage for area visitors, and it has a monopoly on late-night eats in the village.
But just as Jack’s defied complacency when it left its long-time location on San Carlos seven years ago (it already ditched its original spot years earlier), the popular restaurant pub has now revised its menu. Building on the Gumbo du Jour, a standard for the last half decade, Jack’s debuted a Cajun-influenced menu, labeled “Louisiana Purchase,” three months ago.
I gladly took the event as an excuse to revisit one of my favorite places on that side of the Carmel Hill, and it didn’t disappoint. I would learn later that 20-year co-owner Steve Whitfill, a former defensive end at Lousiana State University, is a longtime fan of Bayou cuisine. Whitfill says he and his chefs worked on the new recipes for more than six months before adding them to the menu.
Joy and I fell happily into a big round booth that allowed plenty of angles at the various basketball games on the flatscreens in the big dining room adjoining the welcoming bar area. A Sierra Nevada pint ($4.50) and the classic polished wood heightened the feel of homey luxury.
The kitchen had run out of the Andouille sausage, so the gumbo-with-shrimp substitution ($4.95/cup; $8.95/bowl) got Joy and I going. (Sadly, the unavailability of the Cajun sausage-delicacy would mean no Andouille-stuffed Pork Chop, $17.95, for the main course.) Though surprised by how smooth and unchunky the gumbo was, we were soon won over by the texture of its thick, dark roux. Whitfill says the gumbo changes as the kitchen works its way through a big multi-gallon pot, rotating seafood (with different combos of crawfish, cod, halibut, salmon, and lump crab meat) with chicken and Andouille.
The recent additions bolster the already sturdy stick-to-the-belly menu. Jack London’s regulars will take comfort in the fact that the in-house smoker still kicks out ribs (baby-back or St. Louis, $14.95-$22.75), that there’s rack of lamb ($27 with an herb-and-garlic crust) and that the grill still offers nice rib-eyes ($20) and filet mignon ($23) as well as burgers ($9.25-$9.95), a prime rib sandwich ($12.95), pizzas ($8.95-$9.95) and fish ‘n’ chips ($11.95). Jack’s also brought back some other favorites from the past just last week, like the fajitas ($17.95), the three-quesadilla special (carne asada, chicken breast, and artichoke, $9.95) and the steak sandwich ($12.95).
We were in a NOLA mode, however, especially once we saw the Big Easy options. The new items include blackened fish, Cajun chicken and some spicy-sounding Po’ Boys—brisket, shrimp, Andouille or the “Pig Sammich” ($8.95-$9.95 each).
Joy ultimately requested a hybrid of the Artichoke and Shrimp Creoles ($16.95); I ordered the La Peep Gruyere ($16.95). From the daily specials list, we each matched a Kit Fox wine to our dish—a smoky Cab-Syrah blend for her and a lively Chenin Blanc-Chard-Viognier-Savignon Blanc-Orange Muscat for me ($6.50 each).
The aromatic Gruyere held my delicious baked La Peep together, harmonizing fine Carmel Meat Company ham with juicy chicken breast. The sides were also excellent, with flavorful green beans, mashed potatoes dripping decadently with herbed butter and a solitary, savory hush puppy.
Joy’s rich Creole was a delicious bay-leaf nuanced celebration of spices. (Ironically it wasn’t very spicy; Tabasco, fortunately, was on hand.) Whitfill later told of at least 10 spices used in the Creole, in accordance with a recipe he borrowed from New Orleans legend Paul Prudhomme. The green beans and garlic bread—ideal for loading shrimp and artichoke—earned their own plate. There was plenty to eat—enough to honor the great writer who said, “The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” Jack London wasn’t one to stand pat.
JACK LONDON’S BAR & GRILL
Dolores between Fifth and Sixth, Carmel • 11:30am-close (about 1:30am); kitchen open until 11pm weeknights, midnight Fri-Sat. • 624-2336.