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At Jake’s in Northampton: Taking the grease out of the spoon and adding a little bit of kale

  • The Pork Belly Benedict dish at Jake's in Northampton consists of two poached eggs with crispy pork belly, sauteed greens, shaved shallots, roasted garlic and Cheddar cheese. It is topped with hollandaise on toasted sourdough bread with a side of dressed greens. Gazette Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Cook Oscar Rosado cuts potatoes in the restaurant's prep kitchen. Gazette Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Yuri Klypka-Simpson, a cook at Jake's in Northampton, slices pork in the downtown restaurant's prep kitchen. Gazette Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Jake’s cook Yuri Klypka-Simpson slices pork. Gazette Staff/Andy Castillo

  • The kitchen at Jake's in Northampton Gazette Staff/Andy Castillo

  • A breakfast dish of avocado, sourdough toast and eggs, served with home fries at Jake's. Gazette Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Christopher Ware, left, and Alexander Washut, right, co-owners of Jake's in Northampton, are about to open a second Jake’s in Amherst. Gazette Staff/Andy Castillo—



@AndyCCastillo
Friday, July 20, 2018

With each bite of the Pork Belly Benedict that’s served at Jake’s restaurant in downtown Northampton there’s a hint of maple and roasted garlic in the dish’s two poached eggs, which are topped with cheddar cheese and seasoned with shaved shallots.

And when the eggs break, the hot yoke pours down over a crispy slab of pork and sourdough toast, mingling mellow flavor with the plate’s briny saltiness. It’s a classic breakfast dish, but Jake’s fine dining approach to traditional fare makes it special.

“We make the most of simple ingredients,” says Christopher Ware, 35, who purchased Jake’s seven years ago with his childhood best friend, Alexander Washut, 34. The two grew up in Northampton and frequented the popular King Street eatery, which opened in 1976, when they were kids. Back then, Ware says, Jake’s standard breakfast and lunch dishes served a devoted clientele.

Today, those standards — scrambled eggs, pancakes, hash and burgers — share the menu with dishes with haute cuisine flair like the Bay State Burro with Monterey Jack cheese, spinach, kale, crumbled jalapeno corn bread, herb roasted potatoes and house-made black beans. Or the Kale Salad with avocado, roasted walnuts, chickpeas, tomatoes, carrots, radishes, sourdough croutons and lemon tahini vinaigrette.

At Jake’s, “you can get more than bacon and eggs,” says Victoria Kozera of Hatfield. She’s sitting at a sunny table near the front entrance while waiting for her car to be repaired at Ernie’s Garage on King Street. She used the errand as an “excuse to come to Jake’s for a really good breakfast.”

The changes Washut and Ware made when they took over clearly have kept customers enthused. On weekend mornings the line stretches down the sidewalk to the corner of King and Main Streets. Sitting at a table next to Kozera, Sally Crowther of Northampton says she’s a been a loyal customer for decades.

“We’ve known it as a Northampton fixture,” she says.

Such continued success has Ware and Washut setting their sights across the river. A second Jake’s will open on Cowls Road in North Amherst by September.

Attention to detail

It’s a quiet Tuesday morning, and the restaurant is filled with customers like Kozera and Crowther who are reading newspapers and chatting quietly over coffee. In a small kitchen near the back, a half dozen line cooks and waitstaff quickly fill orders. Downstairs, a team of prep cooks slice potatoes and cure meats, preparing ingredients that will be served in coming weeks.

All the food at Jake’s is made with techniques aimed at enhancing flavor, say Ware and Washut. The pork is brined in a house-made spice mixture for 17 days, tomatoes are roasted slowly in fresh herbs and olive oil at 275 degrees for 24 hours, and shaved butter is frozen so that it evenly disperses into batter. 

“That’s why, when we bake our biscuits, they explode — they’re light and fluffy, and have all these layers,” Washut says. He learned that recipe, and many others, while cooking at Brigtsen’s Restaurant in New Orleans. 

Neither Ware nor Washut attended culinary school. Instead they acquired their skills working in restaurants throughout Massachusetts, New York, and New Orleans.

“Across the board, if you were going to characterize (the menu) as one thing, it’s just good, honest, scratch made cooking,” Washut says.

Ware attributes Jake’s breakfast menu’s flavor palette to attention to detail.

“We look for ways to elevate the food, so people eat it and say ‘this is really good, but I don’t really know why,’” he says. “When it comes to the cooking process, we think about stocks and evaporation, and how sometimes the salt molecules are still in the water molecules as they evaporate, so you might lose some sodium in that dish, perhaps.”

‘Never breakfast ...’

Ware, who has a degree in biochemistry from Skidmore College, grew up on Drewsen Drive in Florence, and remembers eating dinners, high quality and of Italian influence, at Washut’s house on Florence Road. They met when they were 5 years old, went to Ryan Road School together, joined the same Cub Scout and Boy Scout troops, and frequented area breakfast joints like Florence Diner and Jake’s, which was a favorite because of it’s rustic atmosphere, Ware says. 

Of all the dishes served at Jake’s back then, Ware says, he most vividly recalls the restaurant’s house burger.

“It was that classic flat top with some American cheese and just the right amount of grease, on a small bun, Ware says. In high school, you could probably eat four of them, and you loved it. With a plate of chips and some pickles it was perfect. That’s all you wanted,” he says. “I love diners. I always have. I love the feel. I love the booths. I love the juke box. I love all of it.”

Sometimes, Ware says, he and Washut would joke that one day they’d own a restaurant together.

“We said ‘never breakfast. Never breakfast.’ Lo and behold, here we are, and it will be seven years this November.”

These days, Ware says “we joke and say ‘we loved Jake’s, we wanted to keep the feel of Jake’s, but we wanted to take the grease out of the spoon and add a little bit of kale.’”

Yes, they have recreated the foods they remember eating at Jake’s during high school, but now those burgers are served with house-made sauce and “big slabs of grilled onions” on brioche buns.

Seizing the moment

In high school, Ware got his start in cooking at a catering company in Florence working under Pengyew Chin, who currently owns Pengyew Catering, and later worked at Northampton Brewery with Washut. Later, after Washut had worked in New Orleans while Ware was at Skidmore, they cooked together again in restaurants in Martha’s Vineyard.

When Jake’s went up for sale in 2011, one phone call — from Washut’s mother reporting she’d seen an ad in the restaurant’s window — prompted Washut to leave a sous chef position at Riverpark restaurant in New York. Ware quit his job as head chef at Northampton Brewery.

“From when my mother called me to say that Jake’s was up for sale, which is embarrassing and hilarious, to when we actually signed the lease, it was like five days,” Washut said. “It was crazy, and I mean crazy.”

For the first few years, Washut noted, they routinely worked 20-plus hour days.

Over time, as the pair taught others their cooking process, they gradually moved out of the kitchen and into managerial roles, Washut says, gravitating away from day-to-day cooking operations.

In Amherst, where they’re hoping to open with the same menu — with the addition of French fries — and limited hours next month, Washut and Ware intend to return to the kitchen and work behind the grill once again. A grand opening, with hours from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., is scheduled for September.

Compared to Northampton, “the biggest difference is that the space looks different. It’s much more modern, and has an industrial look,” Ware says, noting they’ll have a bigger kitchen but a slightly smaller seating capacity.

They will be located in the mixed-use Trolley Barn building in the Mill District of North Amherst. Jake’s takes the place of Bread and Butter restaurant, which closed over the winter.

“We’re going to be there, backing the openers. The first six months will be interesting, finding that rhythm, and what works and what doesn’t for this space,” Washut says. “Getting the machine running again, it will be fun.”

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@gazettenet.com.

Jake’s Biscuits

2 cups all purpose flour

½ cup unsalted butter, frozen, grated on large hole of box grater

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons salt

2 1/2 tablespoons sugar (slightly more than)

¾ cup buttermilk

½ cup whole milk

Sift the dry ingredients together in large bowl (very important).

Add the frozen grated butter, milk, buttermilk into the dry ingredients and begin to mix by hand (Do not over mix. Be gentle.))

Roll out the dough to 1 inch thick, fold it over, turn and repeat 3 to 4 times to make layers in the biscuits.

Cut the dough into rounds using designated cutter.

Biscuits can either be cooked fresh or frozen for later. The measurements listed above are converted from the restaurant’s weight based measurement system and might not be exact.

To cook from fresh:

Pre heat oven to 325 degrees, place biscuits on parchment paper lined sheet tray and bake for about 20 minutes, rotated 180 degrees once half way through baking time. Check biscuit for doneness by gently breaking one apart and seeing if the inside is fully cooked. If not, continue cooking in 5 minute increments until done.

To cook from frozen:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place biscuits on parchment paper-lined sheet tray and bake for about 30 minutes, rotated 180 degrees once half way through cook time. Check biscuit for doneness by gently breaking one apart and seeing if the inside is fully cooked. If not, continue cooking in 5 minute increments until done.