Pal Jacob

Jacob's 101

101 N.E. Broadway, Mpls.

379-2508

DID YOU EVER see the movie Pal Joey with Frank Sinatra? Well, you've got this slick ape with a tin heart, no class at all, a big womanizing fink: sleazy beyond redemption. He wants to open this club, a real classy nightclub, and you just don't understand where this schmuck (and all of the women who fall for him) ever stumbled upon the idea that he was sophisticated. But then he sings his first number and you completely understand why Grace Kelly would follow this moony turkey to the ends of the earth. I recently experienced a similarly involuntary swoon on my first visit to Jacobs 101.

The main dining room looks a little like an unremarkable rec room in someone's suburban basement with its low cork ceilings and partially sunken floor. But give it a minute and you'll start noticing the little touches that give it an odd beauty--the vases filled with monstrous, carnival-esque dried flower arrangements; the brass stags and cranes that seem to leer from every corner; the glassed-in kitchen with its display of clay camels, garlic and pepper strings, copper pots and utensils, and a gigantic copper hashish hookah (unused of course).

The menu also appears ordinary at first glance, with your standard chef and Caesar salads, burgers, and deli sandwiches. But a closer read reveals a number of Lebanese specialties, and also makes you realize that even the standards are distinctive. Meals are served with big baskets of fresh, thin pita and soft dinner rolls; between these starters and the novel drink selection (I recommend the arak razzouk, a drink from Beirut that's made of distilled grape juice flavored with anis, $3.50; or a Northeast Old Fashioned, an old Minneapolis recipe that works wonders with ginger ale, bitters, sugar, whiskey, and club soda, $3.75), there's plenty to enjoy before you've even picked an entrée. The appetizers are tasty as well; they include an elegant plate of Lebanese cheese and olives, featuring Jacob's own mild milk cheese ($4.95); kibbeh nayya for the adventurous--that's raw, lean beef seasoned with cracked wheat, onion, fresh mint and spices ($6.95); baba ghannoug ($4.95); and a silky, garlicky hummus ($4.50).

If you be a soup-lover, I will warn you that Friday is clam chowder day, and Jacob's clam chowder is not their best work, to put it mildly. My friend found the stuff "earthy"; myself, I just thought it had too much flour. But that was our only complaint with the entire menu. The lemon and garlic-laden tabbouleh salad she ordered was insanely delicious, with one of the most generous parsley-to-cracked wheat ratios I've seen in town, all beautifully arranged on a clear glass plate on leaves of lettuce. The lunch I ordered, a Lebanese special called loubia ($6.95), was a bit more, ah, rustic-looking. But it too was delicious, a spicy, stewy concoction made of fresh green beans tossed in tomato sauce with onions and lean cubes of beef.

My lunch also featured a fair-sized house salad spiked with purple cabbage and a garlic dressing that left me ready to ward off vampires for about a week afterward.

Dinner is a more showy affair. If you're looking for a couple of tips, here goes: First, order the garlic-roasted chicken, my fine fellow, and you'll need nothing else. For $8.95 you get a rotisserie-roasted half-chicken marinated in Jacob's deservedly famous creamy garlic sauce and served with a delicate rice pilaf, fresh steamed broccoli, and your choice of soup or salad. A special mention is also in order for the lahm meshwi ($13.95), lean cubes of spring leg of lamb marinated and charbroiled on a skewer with red pepper, tomato, and mushrooms. Maybe mushrooms don't quite do it for you, but my friend and I tussled over the two mammoth specimens served to us with this dish; fat and meaty, they issued a veritable fountain of buttery juice when we bit into them. Served with a nice pine nut rice pilaf, it made for a perfect meal.

If you manage to save room for a piece of pie, more's the better. Dessert selections are made on the premises, including a lemon white tart ($3.50), chocolate cheesecake ($3.25), baklava ($3.95), and chocolate fudge layer cake, three sour cream cocoa layers filled and topped with rich fudge icing ($3.50). We settled for a serving of the less daunting créme caramel, Jacob's own vanilla custard with a caramel sauce rendered a little exotic with a hint of orange-water syrup.

If you're too late or early to be seated in the dining room, there's plenty of roomy booths in the bar area; the small crowd at the bar is friendly and cozy. The barroom is an especially good place to come in the morning, when you can linger over a pot of strong coffee, a nippy Bloody Mary, and a large plate of breakfast food. Three-egg omelets are the specialty, served with thick slices of Texas toast and a choice of hash browns or American fries. Our waiter, the very picture of dignity at 10 a.m. on a Sunday in his tuxedo, was exceedingly polite and attentive; I sort of felt like we should be waiting on him. The Italian sausage omelet ($6.25) unfortunately reminded me of pizza, its eggy shell hiding a mess of slightly greasy ground Italian sausage, green pepper, onion, mushrooms, and mozzarella. Next time maybe I'll stick with the simple two-eggs and two-pancakes deal ($4.25) that kept my friend so happy. Those who like sweets in the morning will have no complaint with the Belgian waffle ($4.95), sauced over with your choice of blueberry, apple, strawberry, or pecan topping.

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