Our second lives and friendship go back a decade, but our familiarity with the Gonzaga district dates back more than 40 years.
So even before we put our heads together for this endeavor, we found ourselves breaking bread and commenting about the recent culinary transformation in the Gonzaga neighborhood, where we both spend good portions of our days with our real jobs. The Hamilton corridor has definitely been upgraded.
We decided the credit belongs to Jack and Dan’s. That venerable tavern has remained relevant and set the standard for the neighborhood. Back in the day there were a handful of drinking establishments (Back Door Tavern, The Forum, The Bulldog and Joey’s/Jack and Dan’s). None were known to excite a sober palate. The lone restaurant, The Chef, was known for breakfast. It is now The Star, which hasn’t kept pace with the neighborhood upgrades.
There are a couple of fast-food places in the Clementine Building, new faces in old places and a subtle but impressive addition to go with some old standbys.
With recent growth at Gonzaga University and an established neighborhood community, it would seem there is a room for quite a few eateries, but the competition is stiff. To survive you’ve got to do what you do and do it well.
An example of the challenge is the University Bar & Grill – formerly the Bulldog – which made it but a year and has changed hands once again. Already two fast-food places, Asian cuisine and a pizza joint, have come and gone in the Clementine Building. And Rusty Roofs, despite awesome burgers and great sides like deep fried parmesan beans, made it all of about three months.
Blame Jack and Dan’s. You have to do it right to keep customers coming back.
Geno’s saw the writing on the wall and did a monster transformation. The old family-style Italian restaurant is now an eclectic bar with a menu to put the old restaurant to shame. We were beaten to the punch for a favorable review on Feb. 20.
Remodeling doesn’t have to be part of the successful formula if the food is good, like at Pete’s Pizza, which just keeps churning out great calzones, setting the benchmark for that savory dish by which all others are rated for generations of Zags.
For breakfast, it’s now Wolffy’s Diner, which was Stromboli’s way back when. A long-time Vietnamese restaurant next to Jack and Dan’s is now Rincon Tapatio, a Mexican restaurant, adding variety in the neighborhood and well within our standards of good service and cleanliness.
Dogs, sandwiches, bagels, pitas and yogurt are all available in that three-block stretch. Maybe the biggest surprise is an easily overlooked two-story house on a side street, next to a gas station north of Jack and Dan’s. It’s called Clover and is definitely a high-end restaurant that is worth getting dressed up for. It adds a welcome option for neighbors and out-of-town parents.
The menu matches up well in value with its comparably priced options around town. We didn’t dine together at Clover and didn’t know until writing last week that our orders were identical: Stuffed Chicken Breast (pesto, fontina, roasted red peppers, bacon; $24) and Crab & Mascarpone Ravioli (lemon-white wine butter sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano; $22). We did enjoy different wines.
Not far away, on Trent, are two other quality eateries: the No-Li Brewhouse Pub and Bangkok Thai.
Still, we keep coming back to Jack and Dan’s. Whenever someone suggests meeting us for lunch on a regular basis and anyone who ever wants to meet us requests that as our destination.
Years back the tiny bar became the benchmark for a classy saloon with the addition of a dining room and full menu. And why wouldn’t it be? The owners are always there, wearing ties and greeting everyone, usually by name.
It’s always clean, the service is friendly and the food is consistent. It’s far more than deep-fried bar food, with a wide variety of soups, salads and sandwiches, including a tasty chicken Caesar wrap. And the Reuben is as good as any around.
We’ve been amazed at being part of a boisterous, no-room-to-maneuver basketball crowd and then sitting in a spic-and-span saloon for an early lunch the next day. That’s attention to detail.
You can’t go wrong meeting friends at Jack and Dan’s, but you’re cheating yourself if you don’t check out the competition.