It’s 1892, and Portland, Oregon, is booming. Some 90 trains a day bring people pouring into the city from across the country. The economy is roaring with good jobs in the lumber mills and furniture factories, flour mills and the ships being loaded and unloaded on the busy waterfront. Electric streetcars ferry folks from the downtown area to the newer outlying neighborhoods. “Sweet Mary” is running her brothel from a barge on the Willamette River, outside the city’s legal jurisdiction.
And Jakes Famous Crawfish opens its doors to the public for the first time. It has been feeding some of the best seafood in Oregon, and maybe the country, to Portlanders and visitors ever since.
Location: Find Jakes in the famous Pearl District, at 401 SW 12th Ave. at SW Stark, Portland, Oregon
Menu: The menu at Jakes changes daily depending on what’s fresh and in season, but think seafood: oysters, salmon, thick and delicious clam chowder, crab bisque, big luscious razor clams, hearty seafood gumbo. The calamari appetizer is big enough to share or make a full meal for one. It comes with three dipping sauces: sherry aioli, cocktail sauce, and an orange marmalade with horseradish and cilantro that is dance-on-your-tongue good. And of course, crawfish: popcorn crawfish tails with sherry wine aioli; Jakes crawfish boil, with hot sausage, corn, and potatoes in a spicy broth; spicy chilled crawfish ordered by the pound. They are famous for their Dungeness crab and bay shrimp cakes, fried to a golden brown, just crisp enough to hold them together, never mushy, and served with a heavenly jalapeno ginger aioli.
The menu lists the sources for the seafood. The salmon comes from Vancouver, or Scotland. The live crawfish from Oregon. The Ahi tuna from Hawaii. There’s Alaskan cod and Idaho trout, catfish from Mississippi and mussels from Prince Edward Island. You can pretty much bet that if it comes from a sea, lake, or river, it’s edible and it’s in season, it will be on the menu at Jakes.
For non-seafood eaters, there’s excellent filet mignon, strip steak and chicken linguini, very fine French onion soup, a variety of salads, escargots and baked brie. But come for the delights from the rivers and seas. That’s what Jakes built its reputation on and what keeps loyal Portlanders pouring in the doors.
After several visits, I can honestly say I’ve never had a bad dish or a bad meal at Jakes.
Thoughts: You feel welcome as soon as you step in the door at Jakes. The décor is old-time Portland clubby Victorian, with lots of dark wood, beveled and stained-glass, dark green carpets and paintings of local natural beauty in gilded frames. You get to dig right into a basket of fresh , chewy and light with the perfect sour finish. Order an innovative craft cocktail, such as my Blueberry Lemon Drop, made with , fresh squeezed lemon, a touch of sweet syrup and a splash of Campari, chilled, served up in a sugar-rimmed martini glass. If you’re up for a splurge, order 25-year-old Macallan at $110 a shot.
Service at Jakes is old school and excellent. The wait staff here are true professionals, not college students making a buck between classes. Their hallmark is not writing down your orders, ever. They just remember them. That’s how they’ve always done it and probably how they always will.
Price Range: Lunch menu prices are mid-range for this quality. Soups from $9 to 12, appetizers from $10 to $19 (or up to $30 for two lbs. of crawfish). Salads run from $7.50 to $12 or up to $22 for the most high-end main dish salads. Lunch entrees are $11.50 to $18.
For one of the bests lunch deals in town, try the Blue Plate Special for $9.95. It might be a blackened salmon catch of the day with veggies and mashed potatoes or a Jakes Cakes Duo with a crab & shrimp cake plus a salmon cake served with mashed potatoes and vegetables. This is a really great deal!
For dinner, expect to pay $20 to $45 for the seafood specialties, or up to $70 for a 20 oz. Maine lobster tail, oven roasted with red potatoes and vegetables.
Since Jakes is very popular with locals, reservations are a good idea for dinner, especially on weekends.
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