I was apprehensive about staying for brunch on a recent weekend at the new Neighborhood JA.M. We arrived between 1 and 1:30 p.m. with a 5-year-old and his mother visiting from Missouri, and we were told the wait would be one hour.
A bit daunting for two reasons: We were there with a 5-year-old boy, and the restaurant closes at 2:30 p.m.
Knowing restaurants usually build some cushion into the wait times, we decided to stay. We waited on the sidewalk, where there was complimentary water and coffee. We were led to our table a mere 20 minutes later. It might have helped that we saw one or two groups ahead of us bail, but no matter, we were in and happy to be there in good order.
Neighborhood JA.M. (notice the A.M. for morning) is the third eatery from Hal Smith Restaurants to locate in the Shops at Warren Place at 61st Street and Yale Avenue, following Mahogany Prime Steakhouse and Pub W.
Our first impression was that it was loud, frenetic and fun. A few couples and lots of families. Cool industrial décor. Varied and inviting menu with almost 50 selections.
“We wanted to hit that morning market really hard with farm-fresh eggs, hand-made biscuits and everything as fresh as possible,” Brad Johnson, corporate executive chef, said by phone. “Everything is done in small batches, so it is really fresh.
“The menu has a south of the Mason-Dixon Line spin but also border cuisine and healthful food. And we wanted to kill it with the pancakes and house-made jellies and jams.”
Our selections ranged from the Cowboy Continental (eggs and steak) and a build-your-own omelet to pineapple-bourbon pancakes and children’s chocolate chip pancakes. We also ordered a side of biscuits and gravy to share.
The Cowboy Continental ($15.75) included three eggs (we chose over-medium), a 6-ounce strip steak, toast and choice of breakfast potatoes or hash browns (we substituted black beans for the potatoes).
Everyone likes his or her steaks cooked to a certain doneness. None is right or wrong. We like medium-rare, and 99% of the time if it arrives something other than medium-rare, it is overcooked. This one was rare and chewy.
To err on the side of undercooked is OK. We took it home, cooked it just a touch more, and it was more tender and flavorful than a strip steak ought to be. All’s well that ends well.
The omelet ($11.75) included mushrooms, cheddar cheese, bacon and jalapenos and was topped with a dark, slightly spicy salsa. It came with golden brown and tender hash browns.
The pineapple-bourbon pancakes ($9) included three thick and light buttermilk pancakes. It’s a good thing they were light because these babies were topped with caramelized pineapple chunks, pineapple-bourbon sauce and bourbon butter with a lemon cream swirl and caramel drizzle. I normally wouldn’t make it all the way through such a rich dish, but I downed every bite.
The children’s chocolate chip pancakes ($6) were sweet things, too. They were topped with chocolate chips, whipped cream and warm maple syrup. Children’s serving platters have compartments, like TV dinners. Adult plates and platters were of different sizes and colors.
The biscuits were slightly crumbly but held together pretty well and had a nice texture. They came with an aromatic black pepper-sausage gravy. Most tables also have bottles of jalapeno-peach jam. Ours had raspberry, and it was quite tasty.
“We just got the OK to do Oklahoma sand plum jam,” Johnson said. “It should be available soon.”
I would like to give any number of the other selections a try. It has a variety of Benedicts (crab cake to green chile pulled pork), sandwiches (Reuben and Cuban to egg salad), omelets, burritos, tacos and dishes such as avocado toast, acai bowl, quinoa power bowl and corned beef hash.
“There are so many things you can do with breakfast,” Johnson said. “We still have things like cinnamon rolls and quiches on our to-do list.”
Neighborhood JA.M. has full bar service, including six wines, nine beers and lots of cocktails. Coffee is custom-roasted by Tulsa’s Topeca Coffee Roasters. Teas and smoothies also are available
Despite the pace, our server, Dylan, was attentive and efficient.
The décor included a curvy banquette down the middle of the room, wall banquettes, tables and chairs, bar stools, industrial metal lamp shades, large ceiling fans and huge, exposed duct work. A bicycle attached to one wall has neon wheels, which make the “Os” in FOOD.
The first Neighborhood JA.M. restaurant opened two years ago in Edmond, followed by one in Norman (site of the former Denco Café for you OU grads). Michael Kraft came up with the concept while studying hospitality management at the University of Mississippi. He is the son of Hank Kraft III, COO of Hal Smith Restaurants.
“Michael really pushed it,” Johnson said. “He persuaded his dad it was a great thing to do. He drove the concept. Michael really stepped up, and he deserves the success it has had.”