At the risk of engaging in sports-bar profiling, it would be easy to assume the food at Jack & Grill would be predictable, brawny fare.
The year-old Roanoke restaurant has 10 flat-screens, sports banners raining down on customers from the moment they walk in, and a mini-NASCAR auto hanging above the 45-foot-long bar. Jack & Grill never conceals its sports bar intentions.
And, yes, the basic menu touches all the expected sports-bar bases, from wings to pizza, nachos to burgers.
But take a second gander at each of these clichéd selections and you’ll find a hint of gourmet daring, a dash of culinary sleight-of-hand. Like its Italian pizza: Jack’s makes sure to toss in those exotic, Greek darlings — Kalamata olives — and dress it up in a spiffy balsamic glaze. You want nachos? Forget about a mountain of tortilla chips, and a volcanic lava flow of goopy Velveeta. Jack’s features delicately seared Ahi tuna.
And it’s been awhile since I’ve been at a mainstream sports bar that prides itself on offering 53 craft beers, from McKinney’s Franconia Lager to the inimitably named Dogfish Head 90.
Start the meal with the surf-and-turf of those Ahi tuna nachos along with the more conventional bone-in wings. The nachos ($10.99) matched the heat from the tuna’s crisply charred skin, all speckled with blackening seasoning, and the zing of the wasabi aioli, with the calming cool of the sushi-quality fish itself, and a stack of fresh ginger.
Meanwhile, the bone-in wings ($11.99 for 12) had blissfully fall-away meat, with six of them cloaked in a smoky, wet marinade of chipotle barbecue. They were more flavorful than the six other wings, all undone by a somewhat dry, tangy sesame rub.
The barnyard burger ($7.25) was another delicious curveball: a healthy half-pound slab of Angus beef comes covered with a perfectly cooked fried egg, releasing its gooey, golden center over the cross hatch of smoky bacon slices. More unctuousness came courtesy of Monterey Jack cheese. And all that flavor was housed inside an herbed-wheat bun with just the right amount of chew.
The supple meat of the half-rack of smoky, baby-back St. Louis-style ribs ($14.99) easily left their bone with the first bite. Even flavored with the house’s patented chipotle barbecue rub, the ribs were almost upstaged by two irresistible sides of toothsome, garlic mashed potatoes and a beguiling little ramekin of coleslaw that delivered a twin punch of slight vinegar and jalapeño heat.
Blackened chicken Alfredo pasta ($10.99) was surprisingly well balanced as the thatch of linguine didn’t drown in a lagoon of cream but, instead, was gently glossed by its sauce. Flecked with bits of Parmesan, the dish allowed its secondary ingredients (artichokes, mushrooms, and onions) to share center stage with the tender nubbins of chicken.
Even if the chefs at Jack’s can’t take credit for making the chunky chocolate dessert brownie ($4.99, from an outside vendor), they still had the good sense to go old-school with an a la mode topping of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream.
That last dollop of Blue Bell was the final smart move from this surprisingly satisfying casual restaurant camouflaged in a sports bar’s jersey.
301 S. Oak St.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday