Thursday, 16 October 2014

Casual Dining - Papa Jack's

Southern style Americana is definitely the cuisine of the day at the moment and with a huge number of US of A restaurants opening, I thought I'd check out a place that's been kicking around for just over twelve months.  Papa Jack's didn't start the Southern American revolution but it certainly kicked off a second wave.

We'd been attempting to get to Papa Jack's ever since it first opened in the newish M&A Lane that houses a heap of other restaurants, including fellow Southern Belle the Mighty Mighty (see post here). Several false starts and and attempts to get along on really busy nights meant that we checked out every other M&A Lane restaurant before we finally got it together and paid Papa Jack's a visit.  In hindsight, that could have been a huge error!

We had a bit of a choice, go and see new Affleck flick, Gone Girl, or walk over to McLachlan Street in the Valley for a bit of Louisiana comfort food.  It was a tough choice, but we really felt like it was time, so made the twenty minute walk from the CBD and found ourselves on the front doorstep of Papa Jack's.  It's a spot that we've walked by many times on our travels and from the outside, Papa Jack's looks pretty neat and new, but it's a different matter once you step over the threshold.  It was like stepping into a vortex and finding ourselves in swampy old Louisiana.

If you're like us, then one of the must watch shows of 2014 was True Detective with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, a show set in the Louisiana bayou.  It's a brilliant show and some of it's set in seedy bars and while Papa Jack's didn't have that same seedy feel to it, it was un-mistakingly Southern American.  Adding to the feeling was the costumes that the wait staff were wearing and the French American accent of our waiter as he welcomed us and showed us to our seat. Owners Marco and Emily Nunes (who created Woolloongabba bar, Canvas), have faithfully recreated a Louisiana watering hole right in the middle of the Valley.

Looking around the inside of Papa Jack's, we could see hints of modernity, but on the whole, the place could have been from the thirties, with the upright piano and old style bar.  We were given a couple of grubby looking menus to look over and I couldn't tell if they were designed to look grubby, or if they had seen better days.  It was pretty busy at the bar, with the wait staff showing a group of customers a great time and pouring beers and cocktails and we felt a little abandoned for a while.  It did give us the opportunity to look over the menu, in detail, and added to the feeling of being in a slow paced southern style restaurant.

The menu had all the classics that you'd expect of such an establishment and was sectioned off between the buns, soups and salads, share plates and two weekly mains put together by executive chef Grant Skinner.  The most interesting looking option was the 'big easy' which consisted of a selection of the entire menu, which was only $55 bucks.  We did consider the 'big easy' for a while, but some of the other share plate options looked just to appetising.  Eventually one of the waiters made their way over to us and in a completely authentic, even laissez faire approach took our order.

While we waited for our food to come, SC sucked back a Newstead Brewing Company's LiquidAmber Amber Ale, one of the locals from just around the corner.  SC really enjoyed the smooth flavour of the ale and when I went for a sip, she cautioned me that I wouldn't like it.  While it wouldn't have been my choice of a beer, it was certainly not bad.

We'd just ordered a heap of share plates off the menu and weren't sure if it would all come out at once, or be drip fed over an hour or so.  Our questions were soon answered as food started coming out of the kitchen at a rapid rate and before too long, our table was completely covered with southern style food.  

We almost didn't know where to start and given that there was so much food on the table, we each started with the closest plate.  For me, it was the pick of the night, the root beer braised wagyu brisket with tomato and lime jam and kale chips.  My normal expectation of brisket is beef that is shredded, but the Papa Jack's version was beautifully tender slices of beef brisket covered in the sweet jam.  As a southerner might say, oh-my-lord, it was sensational.  Not only was the brisket tender, there was a rich vein of fat that was wonderfully decadent and clearly something that tastes that great just can't be good for you!  I wasn't sure I'd like the tomato and lime jam, but it worked nicely to help cut through the fatty beef.  I left the kale chips alone but SC assures me they were great!

While I started on the brisket, SC kicked off at the same time with the 'stickiest of the icky baby back ribs', the Jack Daniels and Coke braised free range pork ribs.  It was another wow moment, with the sweet pork flesh just falling off the bone, they were sensational.  Not quite the best ribs we've had before, but definitely up in the top three.  There could have been just a little bit more of that delicious and smoky sauce, which would have helped push it into the top two position and to be honest, I would have loved more of those bad boys.  Probably a good serving for one, but to share, it sucked.  My advice, don't share the baby back ribs, you will regret it!

It was hard to get a good view of 'the brigadier', which was our next course of buttermilk southern fried chicken with spicy chipolte coleslaw.  Presented in a bright yellow bucked and covered in the creamy coleslaw, it was a bit of an exploratory adventure to pull out the chicken pieces.  It was a messy but rewarding exercise with the chicken pieces retaining their moistness underneath the crispy exterior.  There was a little heat in the chicken that we thought probably came from the chipolte coleslaw and I probably wouldn't have known that they were buttermilk fried but they were great.  There was almost dueling forks for the last of the three pieces, but given SC didn't want any of the next dish, I withdrew my interest and got stuck into the gumbo.

I'm not going to profess to being an expert in gumbo, but the dish certainly looked the goods.  It was actually a shrimp and andouille gumbo with Louisiana rice but looked a little thinner than other gumbos that I'd previously tried.  There were piles of the spicy andouille sausage and quite a few prawns lurking underneath the murky gumbo surface.  It kind of reminded me of Louisiana swampland where you know something is lurking under the water, but just aren't sure what.  There was quite a bit of gumbo for one person and I did my best to get through it all, but it definitely beat me, especially with the cumulative build up of the spicy sausage!

The last time I'd gone along to a southern style meal was the Mighty Mighty, just around the corner (see post here) and we'd left disappointed because the pie that we'd wanted was sold out. Thankfully, we were able to get a slice of the Papa Jack's blood orange and meringue pie, put together by new apprentice chef Sam Maltby.  This was a sensational dessert.  I'd been really worried how blood orange, which is really bitter, would translate to a pie.  As it turns out, fabulously!  It was indeed one of the greatest pies I've ever had.  So good in fact, that SC, who'd claimed she didn't want dessert, ate half of it!  The flavours were perfect and the balance between sweetness and a very slight bitterness was spot on.  I'd have more of that pie any day of the week.

Our reservation for a 6:30pm sitting, which meant that we would be there for the live entertainment that comes in at 7pm each Sunday.  We were a bit nervous about the live entertainment, but the guy was really good, so good, the crowd was really getting into it and singing along.

I was pretty stoked with the food and the atmosphere at Papa Jack's, it was much better than I'd hoped for and the type of food that pays homage to the term 'comfort food'.  The wagyu brisket was something special, I love brisket normally but this was almost unbelievably good.  The highlight of the night though was the blood orange pie, which has radically transformed my opinion of pie.  I'm going to go on a binge to see if I can replicate that feeling (oh, no, that doesn't sound good!)

It was a strange atmosphere, when we first arrived, it was pretty quiet, and there was a feeling that we'd stepped into the backwaters of southern America, we could almost hear the duelling banjos (yeah, thinking Deliverance here!).  As more people turned up and the music kicked off, there was a completely different feel, quite a homely one.  It was helped along by the wait staff, who found their straps once a few more people were in the house.

There are a lot of American style restaurants in Brisbane, no doubt, but I'd have to rank Papa Jack's as one of my better experiences.  Yeah, I think I'll be back!

** We were guests of Papa Jack's for this meal

We got a side of the chips with cheese fondu and bacon crumbs - YUM
Our table was a sticky mess with all this southern goodness!
I guess there was a little room left on the table :)
The pie was just so damn great!  Bravo Sam, bravo!
Much of Papa Jacks is a bar - and there are lots and lots of cocktails and beers on the menu
An old stand up piano gives the dining area an extra authentic feel
Outside Papa Jack's is really modern looking!

Papa Jack's on UrbanspoonPapa Jack's Restaurant

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