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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

A Fine Comfort

By B.A. Nilsson

 

Jake Moon Restaurant and Café

2082 Delaware Turnpike, Clarksville, 768-2570. Serving 7 AM-3 PM Tue-Thu, 7 AM-9 PM Fri-Sat, 8 AM-3 PM Sun. D, MC, V.

Cuisine: comfort food

Entrée price range: $3 (one egg with home fries and toast) to $17 (pan-roasted tuna)

Ambiance: country diner

Ask any nine out of 10 chefs which meal they most enjoy cooking,” says chef Daniel E. Smith, “and they’ll tell you breakfast. Probably because it’s such comfort food.”

Smith has put in many years of fine-dining cookery, most recently as executive chef at Nicole’s Bistro at Albany’s Quackenbush House, but for the past year and a quarter he’s been putting out the omelets, pancakes and much, much more at Jake Moon, an out-of-the-way eatery that will become your neighborhood diner as soon as you enjoy your first meal there.

Although the place was vacant when Smith acquired the building, it had won renown in earlier years as a diner called “June’s Place.” A nondescript edifice that could as easily be a repair or retail shop, it transforms once you’re inside and you’ve settled at the counter or in one of the booths. The menu changes weekly, with blackboard specials added daily. Breakfast and lunch are the staple meals, but the Friday and Saturday dinners have been selling out with recent items like pan-roasted yellowfin tuna with garlic and capers ($17), rigatoni Marsala with chicken breast ($15), chicken pot pie strudel ($9.50) and Mom’s meatloaf with country gravy ($9.50).

My family visited a couple of Sundays ago. It was graduation weekend at the University at Albany, and my wife was awarded her master’s—but we figured the local restaurants would be clogged and wanted to celebrate in a more relaxed manner. There certainly was room enough for us when we arrived at Jake Moon. A few other tables were in varying meal stages; by the time we finished, however, the place was filling fast.

As well it should. A basket of homemade bread hits the table to get you started. Beverages are on the soft side (wine and beer are in the works) but the iced tea is freshly made and attentively refilled. One to three eggs with home fries and toast runs from $3 to $4.50. Add a side of bacon, ham or homemade sausage for $1.75. Or go for the Clarksville Scramble, which gets you three eggs with sausage, onion, potatoes and cheddar ($6.50). Hungrier than that? There’s a ploughman’s breakfast of two apiece of sausage, bacon and eggs with biscuits and home fries for $8.

Local purveyors are stars of the show here. The buttermilk pancakes ($5.75), for instance, feature Champlain Valley flour and Meadowbrook buttermilk; very French toast ($5.75) is made with Smith’s own cinnamon raisin bread.

Lunch items include the aforementioned meatloaf, but in a $7.50 portion, along with a quiche of the day served with salad ($6.50; it was broccoli-and-bacon when we visited), Caesar salad ($3.75, with grilled chicken for an extra $2.75), black bean chili with jalapeño cornbread ($6.50) along with sandwiches like grilled chicken breast and cheddar ($6), a Paesano sandwich of grilled sausage, peppers, onions and melted mozzarella ($6.50), grilled hamburger and coleslaw ($4.50, add cheese for 75 cents) and a BLT made with applewood-smoked bacon, and in-season tomatoes and lettuce ($5.50).

We mixed it up a bit. I started with a cup of New England fish chowder ($2.50/$4), which gave me the confidence to know the direction of the rest of the meal. You’ve no doubt encountered a wide range of viscosity in the variations on this soup, many of them so unnaturally thick that the rest of the ingredients seemed like an afterthought. Here the brew was balanced in all aspects: flavor, seasonings, consistency and especially fish flavor.

I continued in this lunchier direction with one of the day’s specials, a Cuban pulled pork sandwich with fries ($7). Served on a crusty roll with cheese melting on top of the meat, it had a pleasant spiciness-smokiness component, with excellent hand-cut fries alongside—but the best surprise was a side of white bean salad boasting curry flavors.

Other specials that day were sautéed trout with cottage fries ($8.50) and crab cakes with side salad ($8.50).

I talked my daughter into ordering red flannel hash ($7.50), a signature dish when Smith was chef at the Beekman Arms in Rhinebeck. It’s made from hand-cut sirloin, and chopped alongside roasted beets, with corn, onions and potatoes in the mix as well. If you’re nervous of beets, it’s a great starter. The accompanying eggs and toast were almost an afterthought.

My wife indulged herself with the breakfast of breakfasts: eggs Benedict ($8.50), profoundly flavorful in a straightforward way—if the Hollandaise sauce doesn’t dismay you. She chose to ignore any aspect but the taste. The sunshiny sauce floated over two poached eggs, themselves perched on thick country ham slices and English muffin halves. A side of home fries, and there you are.

A dessert slice of coffee toffee pie proved why it’s become immensely popular, although the strawberry rhubarb crisp had plenty going for it, too. We could only groan in appreciation as we made room for the next party.

Why did Smith make so dramatic a culinary transition? “It’s hard to say,” he says. “I don’t know if I’m even sure myself.” He suggests that it may have begun when he moved to Clarksville’s rural environs. “I saw that there was a need here for this kind of restaurant, but it’s also been evolving ever since we opened. I’m happy here.”

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Schenectady Day Nursery’s 11th annual fundraising event, “A Little Bit of Jazz & More,” will take place from 5:30 to 8 today (Thursday, April 29) in the Fenimore Gallery at Proctors Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady). The “more” part of the proceedings includes a cornucopia of food, including a carving station with turkey breast and roast beef, a pasta station, an hors d’oeuvres display and, if you don’t want to fetch your food, circulating trays with even more hors d’oeuvres, including sesame chicken, a Mediterranean artichoke tart, shrimp Wellington, spanakopita and more. There will be complimentary beer and wine and Chocolates by Lindt. The jazz part is a performance by Colleen Pratt and Friends. The event includes a benefit drawing with a choice of a $500 gift card at either Town TV or Empress Travel, and gift baskets sponsored by the Schenectady Day Nursery Board of Directors. Reservations are $50 per person or $100 for honorary committee status, and may be made by calling Jim Kalohn at 894-6305. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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