As much as I wanted to skip the fish fry, my loyal readers were hounding me for a new review... so, I took one for the team and set the fish finder sights on Jacs of Madison.
Jacs is located on Monroe Street, just a few blocks south of Camp Randall and the old Field House. Monroe Street is a cool little section of town - it features a lot of local mom-n-pop stores, and it also plays host to Trader Joe's grocery store. There are also a ton of little restaurants and coffee shops - it's more or less its own little city within a city. The architecture is also pretty cool - it's very "old school" which I fully appreciate. Here's Jacs as seen from Monroe Street:
It's not a terribly huge establishment - I'd say it might seat about 60-70 people at the most. It features tall ceilings, a velvety red wall color, a large cracked-copper-top bar, and a handful of cozy 4-seat tables. Two large windows provide a nice influx of ambient light.
Upon entry, I was greeted by a hostess who asked if I might like to sit at the bar, as I was dining solo. I obliged and took a seat at the far end of the bar, where I had a decent view of the establishment (and also had an opportunity to see all of the various food plates as they left the kitchen). Here's a blurry shot of the interior:
Jacs definitely has character - it's a comfortable and inviting place that you wouldn't mind spending time at on a regular basis. I could easily see myself meeting coworkers at Jacs for afterwork beverages...
The menu is expansive and varied - from asparagus risotto to pheasant flatbread pizza to filets and burgers with frites - there's likely something for everyone. But, alas, I was here for the fish fry. And as much as I wanted to try the frites or the curds, I went with a "safer" option of tomato basil soup, which arrived promptly and featured two nice little pieces of baguette.
The soup had a nice consistency and texture, but didn't deliver big flavor. I expected a bit more basil punch, but for the most part, the soup tasted a lot like a standard tomato soup... Bummer, for certain.
The fish fry offering is limited to beer-battered cod and is served exclusively with potato pancakes. There were no options for baked fish, perch, shrimp, or any other types of fish. When my plate arrived, I was a bit underwhelmed.
Why so underwhelmed? A couple of reasons... The plating seemed to be quite confused - Jacs uses some really cool plates, cups, and utensils, yet they dump their apple sauce and tartar sauce in some cheesy plastic "to-go" cups? The portions were also quite disappointing, especially given the $12 price tag. Two smallish pieces of fish and two tiny potato pancakes shouldn't cost $12... The cup of soup also ran $3 or $4... a bit "proud" for my tastes.
I sampled the potato pancake first - it was obviously homemade and had a texture that leaned more toward the pancake side than the hashbrown side. Onion flavor was very subtle, and despite having a bunch of chives mixed in, I didn't detect any chive flavor. For the most part, the potato pancakes were quite plain and unexciting. They weren't bad, but they didn't hold a candle to the potato pancakes that we've had at places like the Nite Cap in Palmyra or The Wayside in Jefferson.
I dug-in to the fish, which featured a semi-heavy, dark beer batter, and was actually quite tasty. The batter had a clear and easily identifiable yeasty beer taste, and it clung nicely to the moist and tender cod. The cod flaked apart when cut with my fork and the flavor was fresh and mild. I'd say it may have been a bit light on fish flavor, but I much prefer that to the alternative.
The fish stayed crisp and grease-free throughout the meal - a sign that it was cooked perfectly.
After finishing the plate of fish, I was offered a dessert but took a pass. In hindsight, I should've ordered dessert, because I found myself starving about an hour later... the portions of fish and sides were simply miniscule.
Jacs = FAIL
Service = 4.5 stars
Food = 2.75 stars
Value = 1 star
MISC = 4.5 stars
I hate giving Jacs a "Fail" rating, because the service was stellar - really top notch, and I loved the interior (and overall vibe of the place). The menu looked incredible as well, but everything that I sampled failed to deliver on numerous fronts... the flavors were lacking, the portions were tiny, and the prices were simply too high. My total dinner bill with one New Glarus beer, soup, fish, and tip was $25.33. That's too much, especially for two smallish pieces of average cod.
I'll go back to Jacs to sample the other menu items, but I probably won't return for fish.