JCT Kitchen just donkey punched me… alright, just had to get that out of the way.
I’ve been all up and over the Westside recently. In that spirit, it’s no surprise then that I found myself dining at JCT Kitchen yet again. It’s time to throw some more stars out, and so JCT gets the nod.
It’s a restaurant I’ve dined at a number of times over the last couple of years; early on, I felt the food drifted toward decent and solid. The unfortunate fact is that the more I visit JCT, the less I like it. In fact, elements of my last couple of meals have ping ponged back and forth between passable and horrendously terribly unforgivably bad (take that senior English teacher!). Alright peeps, no pictures for this one (crushing I know), but plenty of things to discuss.
Over the past year or so, the restaurant has expanded. They now occupy a larger portion of the ground floor and have taken over the bar area upstairs (creatively called JCT Bar). The drinks are heavy on the price tag and light on the liquor. Their specialty cocktails run around $9-11; unfortunately, your basic mixer+liquor will run you about $11 a highball. Top shelf comes in a bit more, and the well drinks a tad less. Meanwhile, the Bar is somewhat unimpressive. Though the space is airy, it doesn’t evoke any unique or standout qualities sans the silo just off the reservation. JCT themselves thinks this a “low-key rooftop environment.” One story up and next to several stores – I’d say they need to rework their marketing ploy. Toss that aside, you’re left with a nice space and comfortable seating. The crowd upstairs is in training to join the socialites that frequent downstairs. Go with good company, and you’ll be fine, but out a Benjamin if you’re not watchful.
Work your way downstairs to find floor-to-ceiling curtains, white on white table themes, and plenty of space. While the half-booth tables are pretty close together, the free standing tables are well spaced. That’s much appreciated. There is some unwritten law that Southern folk like to have their space. It seems JCT has gotten wind of that, as there used to be more seating (or maybe it was the same amount – just in a smaller space). Ultimately, modern, stylish, and “Suth-un” come to mind. I, along with everyone else it seems, dig it.
Service here has always been under developed. While it drifts much closer to prompt, from time to time, there are some naps. The wait staff itself is hit or miss. Sometimes you end up with someone who feels they are at the second coming of the Inn at Little Washington. Other times, we find ourselves the victim of Phuong-ian antics. Though never rude, gruffness does abound in these folk.
Unfortunately, the patrons here turn the ambiance due South, straight on ‘til stuffy. Many say “yes please” and “thank you ma’am” while taking a swirl of their Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a crowd I grew up around, and one that I have a soft spot for. Unfortunately, as JCT teeters back and forth between laid back extemporaneity and oligarchian (spelling???) pretense, this only helps to muddle my take away. There’s a time and a place for it, but is JCT the ideal location? Who’s to say?
Alas we arrive at the cuisine, which strikes me as a shell of its ideal. Only a handful of dishes here really make your palate work, and most of them do so in a prohibitive manner. The angry mussels drift toward satisfactory. I suppose the reference to anger is due to the inclusion of Serrano chiles. If you want to make a statement about the intensity of a dish, you better bring it. This squeaks by meekly.
I’m a self-described clam whore (especially when fried). JCT’s Ipswich clams should be dropkicked right back into the fryer they come out of. Overdone, under-seasoned, and totally aggravating. Pork belly shows up a couple of times on the menu; it shouldn’t. I’ve had it overcooked, undercooked, over-sweetened, and everything in between. One delivery (sliders) leaves the pork looking like David and the bread like Goliath.
The runt of the litter is definitely the duck and dumplings. The dish offers no single redeemable quality. The meatballs, ricotta dumplings, and duck leg confit came together in harmonious barf. The menu describes the dish as crispy. Huh? The mishmash of flavors, be it sweet or savory (a red wine reduction perhaps?) leaves me squirming in my seat. The preparation of the ingredients seems poor. The two others to sample the dish had a disappointing experience with it as well.
The presumed star of the show, the dish they pride themselves on, is the fried chicken. I’ve now had that fried chicken two and a half times (tasted once). It’s a failure. Let’s leave the ridiculous price point aside ($16.00) and focus on the food at hand. It’s not surprising the chicken arrives warm at best (a fault not uncommon at JCT). Still, strong flavor would have saved this. Not here, the batter is bland, the chicken lacks any direction, and the composite is just a failure. The fact that it’s moist can’t save it from itself. For perspective, look at Carver’s. Though I don’t love that place, the price point is much lower and the flavor is more pronounced. The only thing the fried chicken here has on C’s is that it’s available at dinner (Carver’s is closed).
I do find solace in the shrimp and grits. The red mule grits are consistently creamy while the touch of truffle oil and properly cooked shrimp makes this a dish worthy of its price point. You’ll find an egg there (sometimes they ask, sometimes it just shows up). It’s a distinct choice that I respect and enjoy. Others find it unnerving.
Meanwhile, the macaroni and cheese that comes with Mr. Clucky is one of the best things on the menu. That’s a sad statement. Based around white cheddar, its a dish that has grown up during the past couple of years. Now, it drifts toward creamy without killing you. Come to think of it, the m&c is only available as a side to the fried chicken. I supposed you could order it as a regular supplement, but I’ve never tried. In addition, I know a foodie or two who find their home in the salads.
Lunch offers little reprieve other than the absence of disasters. The burgers here are rarely cooked properly and don’t offer a successful flavor (aka Holeman & Finch) or successful inspiration (see Abattoir). At lunch, you can get an egg on top, and that helps with the inspiration part … but not much.
I appreciate chef Ford Fry’s twist on Southern cuisine; but ultimately, the inspiration just comes up short. Part of my ire is a consequence of the exorbitant price point. However, it’s furthered by JCT’s reliance on the overused. I’m fed up with Benton’s this and that. We got it… you’re a southern kitchen, you want high quality ingredients … but do you have to throw down with Benton’s every chance you get? Meanwhile, enough with the mouse and livers. It’s not bad here, but with Abattoir throwing down a seriously impressive take, Paces 88 blowing my britches straight up and out, and H&F doing their thang – get something different. You don’t do it as well, so take it off the menu (even if it was at JCT first).
For a restaurant lauded by the dining community, I am pretty underwhelmed – even when JCT is at their best. I feel bad that I keep going back time and time again. Maybe it’s time to call it a day and move on. The price point is shamefully high and while it’s justified by the sourcing, the execution leaves me feeling fleeced. Dinner for two (app+main+couple of drinks/per) will run you around $100.
The restaurant seems to spend too much time trying to up-sell itself with a descriptive menu and fluffy talk; meanwhile, they don’t take enough time to focus on great, let alone good, food.
Ratings (Explained Here)
Atlanta Foodies On JCT Kitchen & Bar
- First Bite On JCT Kitchen (05.20.09)
- Adventurous Tastes On JCT Kitchen (10.24.08)
- Chow Down Atlanta On JCT Kitchen (10.21.08)
- Tasty Blog Soup On JCT Kitchen (07.20.08)
- Amy On Food On JCT Kitchen (04.20.08)