Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Jack and Mary's Restaurant

Restaurant: Jack & Mary's Restaurant
Address: 655 N 114th St - In the minimall to the east of 114th, look for the sign with a chicken on it.
Website: None I could find.
Genres: Home-Style, Chicken. (Yes, that's really a tag.)
Check Constraints: 18% gratuity for 6 or more. $1 split plate charge.
Chain: No. | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • Iced Tea($1.49)
  • Onion Rings ($4.99)
  • Regular Chicken Dinner ($7.99)
    • Salad Bar
    • Chicken Noodle Soup
We're not dead yet! Much as happened last month, the dire specter of work has arisen and laid claim to huge amounts of our time. Rest assured, we're still eating at places, we just haven't told you about them yet, so you as the reader should expect there to be a minor surge of reviews sometime in the next two weeks. But right now we have a restaurant to cover.

In looking around on the web I saw two competing addresses for Jack & Mary's. Whether this means they've moved or that they have two locations, I'm not sure, but since both of them are around the Dodge and 114th St area, I have to say it's more likely they moved and the internet hasn't entirely caught up with that fact yet. Regardless, there's a location off 114th St, and that is the one we ate at. We were actually shooting for Feta's Greek Restaurant, which is in the same minimall, but the place was so packed with lunchgoers we opted to try to find another place to eat.

Jack and Mary's is a restaurant which has a very broad love affair with chicken. A good 90% of their dishes are chicken-based, and some of the non-chicken items still wind up chicken-fried. So you can cease wondering what the rest of the geeks got, because we all got chicken of one form or another. We tried a couple appetizers first, though, one of these being the onion rings (thankfully free of chicken). They were good stuff, too. Remarkably reminiscent of the ones at Mama's Pizza without the interesting salt, the onion rings had a good helping of onion flavor paired with a crispy batter that didn't overpower or smother the onions at all. They don't come with ranch, but there's ketchup at the table. Verdict here is definitely Would Eat Again.

Their salad bar is perhaps a little lackluster compared to some, but it's serviceable. You won't find multiple types of greenery and the bar seemed to be missing staples like cucumber, but there were pepperoncini and olives, which always makes me a little giddy about my salads. It's filling, if nothing else, and one has to ingest one's vegetables somehow. The soup was adequate but nothing special. For a restaurant which prides itself on its chicken, the soup seemed to lack a good chickeny base to it. It wasn't horrible by any means, but I don't think I'd go for it again.

The fried chicken, which seems to be the bread and butter of this establishment, was simultaneously a surprise and a let-down; a duality of food, not unlike some kind of chickenish Tao. The chicken itself was the most moist and flavorful fried chicken meat I had ever tasted. I have brined and roasted chicken breasts before, which results in very juicy and properly seasoned breast meat - the fried chicken breast here was very similar. Were it a piece of grilled chicken, I suspect I would have been ecstatic over the meal. Alas, I ordered it fried, and the real letdown was the breading and the process used. The chicken was fried with skin, but I confess I initially remembered it as skinless - there was some remarkably uneven breading and even some almost bare spots. In addition, the breading was essentially flavorless, so that it was nearly superfluous. Its sole purpose seemed to be to give the chicken a crunchy texture, which I have to admit it did admirably - no soggy breading here.

In summation: the chicken here was better than at a lot of "country-style" restaurants, and I wouldn't even be averse to giving it another shot, in the hopes that it was just an off day for the chicken. Most of the rest of the geeks seemed satisfied with the meal, so giving the place a total writeoff's not a good idea. I suspect if I go again I'm going to try to get a piece of fried and a piece of grilled, and see what comes of it.

  • Iced Tea($1.49)
  • Hot Chicken Sandwich ($7.99 ish)
    • Salad Bar
    • Cheese Soup
Work has been so busy that I can't really remember prices here, but it was all pretty close in price, so anyway, food. I tried one of the onion rings, and one bite was more than enough for me to know it was about a hundred times too oniony for me. What Cham calls a pleasant oniony flavor, I call "someone stuffed an onion up my nose."

The salad bar was decidedly lacking in anything resembling Italian dressing, so I was forced back to ranch, but it had enough of the standards that I got a good salad that was worth the money. The cheese soup wasn't so amazing as I had in other places, but it made an excellent dip for the bread that was placed before us in generous baskets. I approve of restaurants that give bread baskets, as a general rule.

The hot chicken sandwich was exactly as advertised, and as expected, mostly. A big slab of bread with chicken, mashed potatoes, and a thick coating of gravy. The chicken gravy wasn't the best I've had, or even close, though. It was very thick, and not really chickeny enough. The blandness didn't go well with the potatoes and chicken. Unless you're a fan of a big platter of bland, I wouldn't go for it. I know I would go for something else if we went back.

  • Hawaiian (Chicken Sandwich) ($6.99)
I actually liked the onion rings here better than those at Mama's Pizza. Maybe the others were too salty for me. If ND got an end-piece instead of an actual ring, I can see the "onion up the nose" argument. I did have one of those and it was pretty strong. Your average ring, I'd say, isn't so bad. The other appetizer ordered was a plate of way too many fried gizzards. I'd never eaten one before, and I will likely continue not eating them. I don't think it's the restaurant's fault, but I am not nearly qualified to judge gizzards. The flavor was very strong and not my favorite. The texture was unpleasant. I barely ate the one, but I gave it a shot at least.

The sandwich was pretty good. It was a grilled chicken breast marinated (or otherwise infused) with teriyaki, a pineapple ring, and a bit of cheese in a bun. I think it came with fries, and if so, they were forgettable. The chicken itself was good and tender inside with a bit of a tougher outside. The flavor of the sandwich in general wasn't very strong. It sounds like most dishes were relatively bland. The strongest thing I encountered were the gizzards. In general, I'd say it's pleasant but not amazing food. The price was ok. I would be willing to give the place a try. It'll be on my mental list of places for chicken or country/home-style food.

  • Regular Chicken Dinner ($7.99)
    • Salad Bar
    • Cheese Soup
Mmm. Chicken. Ahem. Pretty much everyone else nailed the comparison to Mama's, with less of the popcorn salt and more of the onion flavor. I was very pro-these-rings, although I think just a little less salt would do a better job of bringing out the flavor without having the obvious salty flavor. Still, salt makes things good. The cheese soup was thick and tasty. Not amazing, but a good choice. And the salad bar was okay for providing, well, salad. No real ew to it, which is the reak thing that salad bars risk. Also, totally avoided gizzards. No thanks.

As for the chicken, Cham is right that the meat itself was juicy and likely brined, and also right about the lack of skin/breading flavor, which is a real surprise. They definitely do a good job on the meat, but the outer coat is not just for crispiness and contrast, in my mind, it's for taste. You can do so much more with skin/breading, and it may be just because they're home-style/traditional that they haven't moved that way, but I really wish they would. Still, there's a good variety of other things to try (I'm really interested in the burger Moogle got), so another go wouldn't be a problem with me.(Unfortunately, it's competing with a lot of other enjoyable places in that same area that I'm a sucker for (Thai Pepper and the Taj), so I don't know if it'd be my first pick on my own.)

  • Chicken Fried Chicken ($7?)
    • Wisconsin Cheese Soup
The cheese soup was surprisingly good. There were chunks of celery in there for a nice crunch and there was a spice to it that gave it that little extra that I've never seen from a cheese soup. The Chicken Fried Chicken was a bed of mashed potatoes with a large chunk of chicken fried chicken on top with white gravy on top of that. I thought it was delicious. The Chicken itself was fried crunchy but not crack your teeth hard and overall it worked and it filled. I don't recall whether I ordered the special or just off the lunch menu, but regardless, I'd get it again.

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