Street, Housatonic, Mass., (413) 274-1000. Serving dinner
Sun-Mon and Wed-Thu 5-9, Fri-Sat 5-10; brunch Sun 11-2. AE,
American comfort food
price range: $10 (spaghetti with meatballs & sausage
or soy meatballs) to $21 (New York strip steak)
more grandma’s than Grandma’s
Full Disclosure No. 1: Several years ago, my nephew worked
in the kitchen of Jacks Grill. Full Disclosure No. 2: Several
years before that, this reviewer worked for the owners of
Jacks Grill, at the Red Lion Inn. Full Disclosure No. 3: My
siblings and their families visit Jacks fairly often, no doubt
plowing through the reasonably priced, heaping platters and
leaving nary a crumb behind.
When I went to Jacks Grill recently, using my married name
and making no reference to any of the preceding, I was immediately
struck by how things have changed in the dusty old mill town
of Housatonic. The restaurant itself used to be a hardware
store; the town, once the home of several wool mills, now
has seemingly dozens of art galleries and studios, including
a paint-your-own-pottery place just around the corner from
Jacks. I’m not sure if All Saints Church, which we used to
refer to as “the Polish church,” still conducts mass in that
language, but on a recent Saturday afternoon, cars of parishioners
ribboned the neighboring streets. A decided mix of old-time
working class and gentrified transplants, but still, a quiet
place to be on a Saturday night.
That said, Jacks itself was hopping. The restaurant is a high-ceilinged,
airy space flanked on its side and back walls by kitsch from
preceding generations: kitchen ware; fans; typewriters; board
games and boxes of paper dolls; lunch boxes; stills of famous
Jacks [the restaurant is named for its family owner’s patriarch,
former Massachusetts Sen. Jack Fitzpatrick]; lots of china
and, occasionally, an item that even my 81-year-old mother
couldn’t identify. Unlike similar-minded décor at chains like
T.G.I. Fridays, Bugaboo Creek, et al., the goods here are
the real thing, collected by the owners, on hand more for
conversation value than for anybody’s ideal of retro chic.
Wooden tables and chairs are set at comfortable distances
from each other, making for easy maneuvering for both wait
staff and patrons just dying to figure out what exactly is
that gizmo on yonder wall. A small, almost unnoticeable bar
banks the back center of the room.
Our party of eight included four children ranging in age from
about 3 to 14, and while the arrival of such a party often
makes restaurant hostesses purse their lips and look pained,
no such attitude was offered at Jacks. Indeed, there were
other tykes about; but don’t get the impression that Jacks
Grill is akin to Friendly’s or Chuck E. Cheese’s. The menus,
printed on plain brown paper, let diners know that “we at
Jacks have taken to referring to ourselves as a ‘Footloose
Subsidiary of the Red Lion Inn,’ but that they’re “really
all the same people acting out our food fantasies under more
casual circumstances.” Riding on the waning crest of the “home
cooking” phenomenon that saw pricey Manhattan eateries offering
$25 mac and cheese and meat loaf garnished with truffles,
Jacks keeps it real—as in real simple. And for the most part,
that’s a good thing.
Although I couldn’t interest anybody in my party into trying
the pigs in blankets—described as “1/2 dozen bun pups, wrapped
in dough, with two mustards”—I was more successful in getting
everybody to agree on several other selections from the starter
list. The Berkshire bruscetta [sic] were five or six rounds
of sturdy bread topped with a dicing of lusciously ripe homegrown
tomatoes, fresh peppery basil, and creamy, tangy Rawson Brook
goat cheese. Overall, a nice combination of flavors and textures,
and—compared to the half loaf that is often presented when
ordering bruschetta—a really nice portion. My worries over
the crispy popcorn shrimp were completely unfounded. The typical
treatment of such dish is usually nine-tenths greasy breading
to one-tenth tough, fibrous shrimp. Not so here, where small
yet plump and succulent shrimp were encased in a nicely golden,
crisp, greaseless breading. My only gripe with the fried calamari,
itself deliciously crisp and, like the shrimp, not at all
greasy, was that the promised accompanying cherry peppers
amounted to a mere tablespoonful of what appeared to be one,
at most two, minced peppers.
Jacks offers three simple salads, including a spring vegetable
house salad and a wedge of iceberg with Russian dressing,
but I opted to try the Caesar salad, which proved to be a
cooling, crunchy mass of romaine with a small dusting of diced
tomatoes, crispy, flavorful croutons and a creamy, slightly
zesty homemade dressing.
One of the neat things about the dinner menu is the Jacks
Family Style option, described as “like at home—except, we
do the dishes.” Any of three family-style meals—spaghetti
with meatballs and sausage, pot roast, or meat loaf, each
with all the fixings—feeds four people, and, priced at $32
to $34, is an exceptional value. In our party, however, we
each went our own way. Entrees are simple without being simplistic:
There’s Jacks Infamous Mom’s Meatloaf, which I ordered in
spite of my concern as to whether it was Jack’s mother or
her meatloaf that was infamous, and what that boded for my
meal. Pot roast, chicken pot pie, strip steak and spaghetti
and meat balls are the other comfort offerings, but to accommodate
those more urban transplants, the restaurant also offers soy
balls in lieu of meat, as well as grilled marinated chicken
breast, an entrée-sized Caesar salad, grilled salmon, and
a catch of the day, which on this visit was mahi mahi.
Excepting only the strip steak that was still mooing (medium
rare had been the indicated choice) and necessitated a trip
back to the kitchen, the meals were exceptionally good. My
mother and husband each savored the “famous” pot roast, a
nicely textured meat that was cooked slowly to the point of
easy-shredding tenderness, and whose accumulated juices helped
flavor the accompanying mashed potatoes, as did the simple
brown gravy. My oldest son’s chicken pot pie was, in a word,
homey, a large stew with chunks of white meat, carrots, celery
and onions, flecked with black pepper and herbs, and topped
with a flaky biscuit.
My meat loaf was a tidy little square of well-seasoned ground
beef, slightly dry, but enjoyable with brown gravy. Instead
of mashed on the side, I was treated to golden tater tots,
which I unashamedly lapped up; less so the undercooked asparagus.
My sister raved about the grilled salmon, which came with
a black-bean-charred corn salsa. “The corn is freshly shucked!”
she exclaimed. “Look, you can see the fresh juice from the
cob,” and indeed, one could observe the milky juices of fresh
local corn within the colorful mix that was her salsa.
Less satisfactory were the meals ordered from the kids’ menu
(kids under 12 eat free from this menu on Wednesdays). My
middle son had the chicken fingers and french fries, the latter
of which he claimed were the best he ever had, but overall,
the platter looked and tasted exactly the same as what the
chains typically serve. The toddler had the mac and cheese,
which turned out to look suspiciously like Kraft, and while
I’m not averse to the occasional giving in to such a craving,
I could have easily made the dish for less than a dollar at
The wine list offers a decent selection at modest prices,
and oenophiles are advised to look to “Lincoln’s List” for
a broader selection.
Desserts carry on the “just like home” theme, with Toll House
cookies, chocolate pudding, ice cream, hot fudge sundae, and
red Jell-o (“nervous pudding just like you remember”); slightly
more sophisticated options like New York-style cheesecake,
carrot cake, and pound cake with berries and whipped cream
provide more balance and flavor. There are also dessert-type
drinks, but for my money, the best bet is the rich, fulfilling
cup of joe.
Smack-dab in the middle of a sleepy hollow, Jacks is an oasis
of good cooking and homey ambiance. The service is friendly
and unaffected, although the staff really should make an attempt
to regularly bus the tables and avoid, say, the awkwardness
of serving ice cream amid a tabletop laden with uneaten vittles,
dirty dishes and empty cocktail glasses. Also, it doesn’t
really matter that the waitress is cheery about fulfilling
your exasperated request to refill the water glasses, when
the point is that she should have noticed it earlier. Then
again, if the oft-described point is to be “just like home,”
then I guess it’s natural to expect some unevenness and a
pile of dishes along with food you’ll really crave come colder
weather, or whenever you require the spiritual warmth that,
somehow, a plate of savory meat loaf and steaming mashed potatoes
always seems to provide.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Day Nursery’s fifth
annual benefit Lobster & Steak Fest takes
place from 5 to 8 PM Aug. 18 at the Picnic Pavilion
in Schenectady’s Central Park. The menu includes
a 20-ounce lobster or 14-ounce steak, potato,
corn, beverage and dessert for $35—which drops
to $30 if you buy your ticket in advance. A surf-and-turf
option with both lobster and steak is available
for $60 ($50 in advance). A children’s hot dog
meal is $5. Participants may eat in or take out.
Entertainment will be by DJ Dave Wilkinson, and
there will be a Paper Bag Raffle and door prize.
For info and tickets, call 377-3492, or buy advance
tickets at the Open Door Book Store, Salamack’s,
Marty’s True Value Hardware, or Lang’s Pharmacy.
. . . The Basement Bistro is celebrating
its 15th Anniversary with a special “Taste of
Summer” event on Thursdays in August. Chef-owner
Damon Baehrel is encouraging each patron to bring
an ingredient, perhaps from a personal garden
or farmer’s market, which the chef will incorporate
into the menu. A portion of the proceeds from
these evenings will be donated to the Wildwood
School, which serves children with developmental
disabilities. Cost per person is $39 (excluding
beverages, tax and tip), and reservations are
required. For more info, call 634-2338 or go to
www.sage crestcatering. com. . . . Remember to
pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail:
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very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..