Before this was Jak’s, it was Dolly’s. In 2007, Stoneface Dolly’s, best known for its Sunday brunches, moved this – its original operation – over to its newer location on Preston Street, and 479 Bronson Ave. became Jak’s Kitchen.
Jak’s still offers brunch and I hear it’s busy and popular. I wouldn’t know – I’m not much of a brunch girl. Comes from working too many Sunday mornings in hotel kitchens back when I was a sweet young thing and witnessing – as I cubed green Jell-O – the resourceful reworking of leftovers for the lucrative 10-to-two crowd. Besides, Jak’s Kitchen doesn’t take reservations for its brunch service and that makes me doubly not a brunch girl. Waiting for a table isn’t much fun anymore. And there’s better coffee at home.
But lacklustre coffee notwithstanding, I found an awful lot to like at a couple of dinners here. Nothing dazzling, mind you, but winning comfort food, very well done.
Chef Phil Denny is in charge of the open kitchen in this tiny yellow and black room, and from his short seasonal menu, supported with a few daily specials, we plucked some gems, starting with a butternut squash soup sweetened with apple and laced with sage oil.
Simple, warming, delicious. The spinach salad was memorable for its wine-poached pink pears, squeaky-good cheese curds from St. Albert’s and toasted pecans.
We had sworn off deep-fried things for January, but the duck confit spring rolls were hard to ignore. We were bitterly disappointed to find them yummy, the richness of the soft, still-moist duck cut with green onion, and the orange chili sauce a pleasant plunge pool. More were ordered.
A bowl of mussels steamed in Beau’s lagered ale spiked with harissa (a North African hot sauce) were in excellent form. They were paddling in a slightly sweet, hoppy brew with just the right degree of oomph, and none of the usual raw garlic mugging. With the mussels came bread – delicious butter biscuits, olive bread and slices of yeasty homemade focaccia, all clearly fussed over.
Perfectly roasted parsnips, chunked fingerlings and golden beets propped up the flat iron steak, the meat rub winning, moistened with a seedy mustard aioli.
On a buttery bed of wild rice, halibut was plump and yielding, backed up with a pungent egg sauce, studded with black olives, chopped pickles and capers. Cornish hens tend to be darling little bores – hard to eat and reminiscent of every wedding in the ’80s. But this bird sported a nice piquant rub, a crisp, buttery, sage-scented skin, and though the breast meat was a bit on the dry side, the dark stuff was succulent. It came with a pile of barley, slow-cooked risotto-style, creamy and buttery and finished with Parmesan, and solidly good veggies.
They make a nice homemade vanilla ice cream and pair it with a winning chocolate brownie. Another visit, chocolate again – a luscious brick of pure pâté – and though its attached cherry sauce was a bit icky sweet, the crème anglaise provided rich, fragrant relief.
But it was the wonderful lemon tart that won our hearts – served with a marmalade-topped coconut macaroon and an elegant raspberry sauce.
The wine list is short and fairly dull, and on both occasions the bottle we wanted was missing. Jak’s falls a bit short on the service end too. Nice enough, but a lack of polish can bring good food down a notch. Otherwise, Jak’s Kitchen is a delicious neighbourhood bistro with food I heartily recommend.