Jam | 3057 W. Logan Blvd, Chicago | 773-292-6011 | Hours: Every day 7 am – 9 pm
“The potato bacon foam, a shock of airy white studded with orbs of black caviar mimicking a complicated salt with delicate bursts of crunch, spills over a ledge of what will be simultaneously the creamiest and yet most textured scrambled eggs I have ever feasted on. All this drama obscures hefty sheets of crisped-yet-meaty bacon underneath. Lastly, evoking what would be a parable if only the Bible were to have included such things, an in-house made english muffin that, like the rock upon which the house was built, secures such food art with a freshly baked finish providing a pleasant surprise.”
— The Soft Scramble
Jam has moved to Logan Square. It has also changed a little. What hasn’t changed is that the food is still incredibly inexpensive and that the food is incredibly conceived, two elements that are watershed to Jam’s business model. And by “incredibly,” I mean to truly invoke Latin root incredibilis. Quite simply, I just can’t believe that, for example, the Soft Scramble is only $6! The incredulity intensifies as you make your way through the menu.
Jam’s Corned Beef (and Hash) is made in-house. Whenever I hear a restaurant does this, I melt a little. Truly, corned beef is almost always very good, but when done right, it seems like a new thing.
Part-owner and Executive Chef Jeffrey Mauro also decided on a playful approach to the hash with a hash of root vegetables sans potatoes. And then there’s the parsnip puree and a poached egg specked with large crystals of smoked salt.
There’s something wonderful that happens when traditional entrees are amended, improvised, improved, even. The brain snaps out of the reflexive cruise control, and like the holy state de Caussade spoke of, I feel an access to the food that usually doesn’t present itself. Such is the power of creativity and exquisite competency in the kitchen.
The beef doesn’t really need a lot of description. Its infused flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture force you to take a moment. The “hash” glows an electric pink of beets, carrots, celery root and onions that have been prepared in a way to take on a traditional hash quality…with a twist. The poached egg spills umami-yolk loveliness.
When I was talking with Chef about what to order that would give me a good idea of what Jam is all about, we both agreed that I need to have one of the entrees that has been getting all the attention: the Malted Custard French Toast, the only french toast I’ve ever heard prepared sous-vide. What hasn’t been talked enough about and is, coincidentally, Chef’s favorite, is the quiche. When asked why, Chef quickly started his response with, “Well, it takes six hours to prepare.” Yes, please.
Sitting atop a brambly mix of spring greens, bagel crisps, meaty smithereens of pink-hued picked onions, exploded buds of briny and crispy capers, and delicate chunks of salted, white fish, the quiche looks like a wedge of earth pushed up from down below. You can see a strata of fish mingled against the creamy egg — all walled in by a crust of quiche pastry that looks like it might be too dry or too much “crust” flavor. This small fear pivoted against the pressure of eating the chef’s favorite entree right in front of him might have made things seem more dramatic. Nonetheless, there was drama.
The first fork full yielded the most creamy, luxuriant quiche innards I’ve known. And the fish with its quicksilver flicker of saltiness worked as apt foil against the richness of the egg. The crust, thankfully, was something that I would not be eating around, for it acted a bit like a palate cleanser. After these first few bites, I realized that the greens mix seemed to evoke the quiche deconstructed. It was a clever way of getting the most out of one dish that made me take yet another moment.
As for the french toast, all I’ll say is it’s something that I’ve not yet come across and that seems worthy of “You oughta know” status. When I asked about it, Chef was quick to explain that his idea behind it was to celebrate what is usually given short shrift: the bread.
To make sure the bread adequately absorbs the custard and malt, Chef utilized the magic behind the sous vide. Right before they serve it, they heat it up just a bit to caramelize the sugars. Each bite — and I wish you could calibrate the analytics of toothiness, absorption rate of toppings, etc, so I could say more than…was yummy. This intuited, ahem, yummy (the correspondingly sweet version of umami) was, as Chef intended, distributed evenly in the fiber of the brioche bread. I’d like to think that changes happened at the subatomic level, and that is why it seemed like a new experience. Icing on the cake were the minuscule wisps of lime zest, the sparkly kernels of pink peppercorns, the heft of macerated tart cherries and pears and a bit of foamed and whipped cream.
Washing it all down was a great coffee made especially for Jam by Metropolis. I didn’t get to ask if they wait to grind their beans right before they brew, but I imagine they do. Such care in their kitchen seems to find itself all over the front of the house. And if coffee or freshly squeezed juices aren’t your thing, no worries; Jam is a BYOB establishment.
I love to ask chefs and really, anyone who’s got the food crazy, what they’re currently obsessing over. At first, Chef passed on the question. About a minute or so later, he interrupted our conversation with mention of something curious: oils.
Minutes later, we were in the basement looking at handsomely packaged bottles of different types of oils, replete with the Jam logo. Macadamia nut oil. Sunflower oil. Soybean oil. Many more oils I didn’t get a chance to catalog. They’re all there and like an alchemist in the night, Chef has eliminated the use of transfats at Jam and is now toying with getting as close as he can to eliminating the saturated fats still on the menu while exploring the flavor potentials unique to each oil. I’m reminded of the new documentary on el Bulli, El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, during several scenes where Ferran Adrià and his team play around with oil and water in a cocktail. Such a simple thing — the silky quality of oil skidding across the surface tension of the water as it kisses the soft pucker of your lips. When it happens unintentionally, it’s usually unworthy of any sort of brain RAM. But when lofted to the status of cocktail where the point is the texture experience as primary to the flavor, magic happens.
This type of magic is happening at Jam as well. And lucky for all of us, they are branching out into the realm of dinner. They’re sure to be as iconoclastic as their already proven breakfast menu.