Jayne's Gastropub4677 30th St. Normal Heights619-563-1011www.jaynesgastropub.com
Jayne's had me at Hitachino. I'm a huge fan of Hitachino Nest beer, especially the White Ale, so I was elated to see it at Jayne's Gastropub. I was disappointed to find it unavailable on my last visit, but hopefully that was just a brief beer-lapse. Hitachino's witbier is one of my absolute favorites—its crispness is especially great when matched with food, and the revved-up pub dishes at Jayne's provide the opportunity for some harmonious pairings.
A “gastropub” is a British term for an eatery that's a step above a pub. The menu at Jayne's is concise, just a handful each of starters and entrées, and hasn't varied too much in the year the Normal Heights restaurant has been open. The items themselves are pretty straightforward—and I appreciate that the chef doesn't muck around trying to cram loads of ingredients into a single dish. The proteins and produce are all top-notch and, for the most part, prepared with care.
The best thing I've eaten at Jayne's—bar none—is the burger, a juicy, well-seasoned patty of Niman Ranch ground beef topped with a nice Vermont cheddar. The element that elevates the burger from good to great's the housemade pickled red onion—translucent pink strands that retain a slight crunch after being infused with a sweet-tart brine. It's traditionally served as an accompaniment to Mexican and Latin dishes, but it does something magic when it's tucked into sandwiches, too.
The burger's served with a hillock of fries, one of those never-ending piles that are my kryptonite. A similar fry mountain comes with the fish and chips, made somewhat unconventionally with sea bass instead of a firmer-fleshed fish and coated in Newcastle Ale batter. The Delirium Tremens pale ale is a perfect accompaniment to this dish—the high carbonation of the beer makes it an amenable counterpart to the richness of the fish and chips, and all those fries offset Delirium's strong alcohol content.
From the appetizer list, the Gambas al Ajillo is a champ—plump shrimp seared à la plancha-style in olive oil that's been infused with loads of sliced garlic and fresh chili. Grilled bread is served alongside to ensure that not one delicious drop of the garlicky oil is left behind. The salad of organic mixed greens is also good, sweetened with blood orange segments and a shallot vinaigrette. The fried calamari might benefit from a tweak, though; on two visits it was dark in color, almost burnt-looking, and fairly greasy.
My Vienna-born mom would approve of the wiener schnitzel, though she'd probably prefer it made with veal instead of the thin-pounded pork loin Jayne's uses. The breadcrumb crust, on the night I had it, was faultless, as were the skinny spears of broccolini, simply sautéed. The gruyere cheese-covered spatzle wasn't amazing, but it's great to see this side dish appearing on any menu.
I'm usually not a fan of cooked salmon, but on a recent visit, I shared a friend's wild king salmon entrée and was duly impressed that the kitchen had managed to preserve the fish's moistness. The swaddling of bacon that wraps the filet probably helped, too, both in keeping the fish moist and my enjoyment of it. It's almost the end of short rib-eating season for me, but I just might have to stop back in for one last braised-beef hurrah and a glass of red from Jayne's appealing wine list. The garlic mashed potatoes, port wine sauce and tiny baby vegetables that accompany the short ribs play excellent supporting roles.
Jayne's dining room is cozy but tends to be noisy on busy nights. I like eating at the bar and chatting with the friendly owners, who've thoughtfully installed purse hooks beneath the bar. In warm weather, drinking and eating in the peace of the hidden-away back patio is refreshing.
As for the desserts, the lemon tart is a bit dry, but the brownie has a nice tender chew. The ubiquitous crème brulée gets updated here with butterscotch, a twist that makes it much more interesting, but my preferred way to end a meal at Jayne's is with an affogato: vanilla ice cream drowned in hot, unsweetened espresso, or maybe just one more beer, something like a chocolately Aventinus Doppelbock. Someone behind the bar is sure a fan of wheat beers, and that's a lovely thing indeed.