I sat in the dimly lit booth at a table covered in white butcher paper with a small bowl of crayons enticing me to color some sort of ridiculous art work where my entree would later be placed. I was tempted to write “Feasting Fort Collins Was Here” but had better judgement than that in the middle of a review. We were next to a large window that gave me the perfect view out onto Old Town, watching people walk by on the beautiful warm autumn night. I tried to be engaged in the conversation, but the loud chatter of a very full restaurant echoed off of the exposed brick walls, making it difficult to keep up with the details of the story. For a moment, I forgot I was in Fort Collins and felt like I was in Denver.
That is exactly what Jax Fish House brings to the Fort Collins food scene – the hip, fun, luscious, and spendy flavor of Denver.
Jax Fish House has been a long time coming to Fort Collins. Dave Query, owner of Big Red F restaurant group (which includes Zolo Grill, LoLa, Jax Fish House, West End Tavern, Centro, and The Bitter Bar), has had his eye on our city since 1996. It took many years of patience to finally snag a great location right on the main drag of College in Old Town when Rustic Oven closed their doors. On June 23, 2011, Jax Fish House became the newest restaurant in Fort Collins.
Jax Fish House (not to be confused with Jax Mercantile, Co.) brings us fresh seafood with a special knack for oysters and cocktails. Executive Chef, Sheila Lucero has an impressive culinary resume and an even more impressive dedication to quality. This is one of the few (if the only) kitchen staff that I know of taking a field trip to small Fort Collins farms to become familiar with our farmers, produce, community, and incorporating that in an ever changing seasonal menu. You want to support local food? Eat at Jax Fish House.
On Thursday night I had the pleasure of dining with them for dinner. Knowing that it was going to be busy, I made a reservation for 6:30. My trusty review companion and friend, Jessica and I decided to sit at the bar for a cocktail while we waited for our table. She had the Jax Strawberry Lemonade – strawberry infused vodka and house lemonade. I had the Cucumber Lemon Press – cucumber infused vodka, house lemonade, and a splash of soda.
Both were incredibly refreshing – perfect for soaking up the summer sun on their patio, or in our case, preparing our taste buds for a fantastic dinner. 30 minutes past our reservation time, a table finally opened up for us.
We were quickly served a basket of bread from Fiddletown Bakery, and our server swiftly put in our appetizer order of Smoked Rocky Mountain Trout Pâté, with pickled salad, watercress, and crackers.
The trout pâté was phenomenal! It had a very compelling soft smokiness that was so delicious. We mixed the top layer of waxy fat together, spreading it over our crackers and devouring the house-made sweet pickles. I loved this dish so much – it was the essence of Colorado right on our plate.
Time seemed to pass slowly without an entree in sight. Our server was very apologetic about it all, and his service was top notch, but after an hour of waiting, our patience was wearing thin. I wasn’t prepared for an epic wait. Had I known that it would take that long before hand, I wouldn’t have felt rushed to eat my dinner to be on time for after-dinner plans.
Once our entrees arrived, we immediately put in our order for dessert. Jessica enjoyed the Colorado Catfish with hush puppies, creamed corn, local collard greens, and pepper jelly. She was very complimentary of the meal, and especially of the jelly.
I ordered the Colorado Striped Bass with spaetzle, basil pesto cream, and macerated cherry tomatoes. The crispy skin of the Bass, the soft creamy pesto and chewy spaetzle were fantastic. It was a subtlety flavored dinner, but one that satisfied my palate and patience.
For dessert, Jessica ordered the Warm Sticky Chocolate Cake – salted chicory caramel, knob creek ice cream, and a pecan crumble. As the case with most restaurants, dessert was not their shining moment. The cake was dry and the caramel actually needed more salt. We shrugged our shoulders in discontent after a few bites.
I ordered the Jax Key Lime Pie, which was equally as disappointing. It lacked a tart flavor and dense creamy texture. A few bites of that, and I didn’t wish to have any more.
I came back again on Sunday morning with a friend for brunch. This time, the restaurant was practically empty, which was a shocker considering the ridiculous line at Snooze. We were immediately seated and our orders of oyster shooters and Bloody Mary’s came to us with lightning speed.
The oyster shooter – vodka, house-made Bloody Mary mix, and East Coast oyster was enormous and stiff for a shooter. It was certainly a drink that woke you up in the morning!
The Jax Bloody Mary was garnished with peel-and-eat shrimp, lime, and cucumber slices. It was a wonderful mix, with an acidic freshness and spicy sip that had a good balance of vodka.
My friend placed her order for a Doughnut Sandwich – house-made glazed doughnut, swiss cheese, ham, fried egg, and watercress.
As shocking as a doughnut sandwich is, it was actually very good. It had a well rounded balance of sweet and salty, and my friend particularly liked the watercress side salad, which gave it a bit of peppery bite.
I ordered the Crab Cake Benedict – tomato, spinach, Jax mustard sauce, and circulated egg with two large crab cakes. I also ordered a side of House Cured Pork Belly.
This was an amazing dish. The crab cakes were hefty patties full of delicate crab – not just breading filler. The mustard sauce was gentle and made a perfect bedfellow to the crab cakes. And the pork belly? Indulgent, to say the least, but very delicious. Very thick slabs of fatty, salty, flavorful pork. It was quite a treat.
The food at Jax Fish House elevates the standard for the Fort Collins restaurant industry, making our first steps to being more competitive with the likes of Boulder and Denver. I’ve always felt that there is no good reason that Fort Collins can’t break free of the mediocre comfort zone and step it up. Jax is beginning to pave the way. It’s fine fare in a trendy atmosphere with a price tag to go along with it. I believe they fill a void in our community that was more like a gaping hole. It’s a fabulous place and I can’t wait to go back – despite the lengthy wait that I’ll be better prepared for next time.
Jax Fish House
123 North College Avenue
Kid-Friendly? Kids are welcome everywhere in Fort Collins, but I really didn’t think this was the best place for families. Brunch, sure, but dinner left more of a date night feeling where you’d want to enjoy some adult time.
Parking: Old Town street parking, or the garage on Mason.
Healthy Options? Sea food is inherently healthy.
Budget-Friendly? Not even close. Entrees range from $15-$26 a plate. I left $30 lighter after brunch. But it’s worth it!
Recent Health Inspection: unknown