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Coming Back to Jax Grill

You know how it is with old favorites. All too often, they get shoved to the back of the line as newer, sexier restaurants beckon like pork-belly laden sirens. Soon enough, you realize it's been half a decade since you visited that laidback, reliable, good-but-not-great little place that once featured heavily in your dining rotation. Every once in a while, you need to dust off those old classics, and give 'em another spin.

Such was the case last night, as my wife and I emerged from an all-afternoon event with our kids, a bit stressed, a lot hungry, and in need of a place with good enough food, where we could have a beer and relax, even if the brood didn't feel like sitting totally still.

Enter Jax Grill, the Shepherd location. I've been going to Jax somewhat religiously since middle school. The casual atmosphere and good homestyle food are a big draw for families, which is probably what landed my family of four boys there so often. I went to high school just down the road, and Jax was a popular destination for senior year lunches spent off campus, as the prices were low and the portions large.

I introduced my wife to Jax, and it became a regular for my own family.

I think I stopped going sometime around the birth of my second daughter, not quite five years ago. Can't remember why, exactly; it just fell out of the rotation. We'd been so many times, I suppose, that it just didn't hold the charm, anymore. We were just starting to explore the vast reaches of Houston's dining scene and were more likely to try something new than something time-tested. There were many occasions on which, in hindsight, Jax would have been the better choice.

I laid out the criteria for last night's restaurant selection

1. Close 2. Fast 3. Inexpensive 4. Tasty 5. Outdoor seating 6. Beer

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My wife began rattling off a list of our current regulars, but nothing seemed to fit. Out of nowhere, I suggested Jax Grill. With no objections, we headed north on Shepherd. The place hasn't changed much in the years since we last visited. Same mix of clientele, running the gamut from young families to older singles to bikers; same laidback vibe; same counter service setup. The one difference that stood out was that you now have to order beer at the bar in the center of the space, instead of at the counter with your food.

I'd long ago come to the realization that Jax is best for grilled and fried, and I waffled between the seafood platter (a filet of catfish and six Gulf shrimp, served with fries) and one of Jax's extra large burgers. The burger won out, and I ordered a Double Jax, with jalapenos on the side, and a Fry Stack (think baked potato toppings on a mound of fries) for the table. My wife got grilled chicken (meh), and the kids split a grilled cheese with grilled vegetables subbed in for fries to make me feel better about myself, and a baked potato.

The burger was juicy and properly cooked to the requested medium-rare. The mesquite smoke flavor permeated the meat, which was properly seasoned throughout. Under-seasoned meat is a pet peeve of mine in burger cookery. The fries were good enough, though the extra toppings didn't add much. The house-made ranch dressing, however, was excellent.

The kids ate, and pretended to play the Off-Road Challenge video game a dozen feet from our table, and ate some more. Nobody batted an eyelash as they flitted back and forth, giggling. We downed a Negra Modelo each, and got out the door for less than $40. That's a winner, in my book, and proof that Jax is one to throw back into the rotation.

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