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Jack’s Family Restaurant
A Portuguese-inspired feast
By Bill Rodriguez

jack’s family restaurant

jack’s family restaurant
294 child street, warren
open mon-thurs, 11 am-10 pm; fri-sat, 11 am-11 pm; sun, 12-10 pm

major credit cards
full bar
sidewalk-level access

Jack’s is a family restaurant in both senses. In addition to being inexpensive and amiably informal enough for families — candy canes and wreaths on the plastic tablecloths after Thanksgiving, for example — Jack’s is a family-run enterprise.

Jack Gomes started in the restaurant business in Bristol when he came from Portugal with his family in 1963. Nine years later, he was ready to open his own place next door in Warren, with him and his two sons cooking, and daughter Maria as hostess. Son Joseph is now head chef and general manager, with his brother, Victor, as his lieutenant in the kitchen, working religiously from their dad’s recipes. If you liked the marinated smelts here when the place opened in 1972, the popular appetizer still tastes the same today.

When I visited, the big dining area was decorated like a family rec room, with Christmas stockings, Nutcracker dolls and other tchotchkes festooning the red walls, with strings of lights twinkling above them. The bentwood chairs are padded and comfortable.

Having enjoyed meals here on more than one occasion, a friend and I met at Jack’s for lunch, intending to just snack and save our appetites for a real meal that evening. Fat chance.

My foodie friend Jerry hadn’t ever had shrimp Mozambique ($8.95), so I couldn’t in good conscience let that travesty go uncorrected. The version here included beer in the garlicky, spicy, and copious sauce that the eight tail-on medium shrimp were swimming in. The malty addition added heft to the sauce, which we sopped up with the provided garlic bread and auxiliary breadbasket.

The stuff in the basket, spongy and as lightly crusted as Wonder Bread — Jerry described it as "Chinese restaurant bread" — is actually a traditional Portuguese version. A carrier rather than a culinary delight, it was ideal not only for the Mozambique sauce, but also the one in the next dish. The Portuguese are big on sauces, and generous with them.

Though he was newly returned from Spain, my friend’s unfamiliarity with Western Iberian cuisine made me feel as responsible as Ignatius of Loyola with an un-baptized pagan. We both tried the Portuguese soup ($1.95/$3.25). That proved rather uneventful, with no chorizo and little shredded pork mixed in with the kale and potatoes. Like a conductor who drops his baton, I recovered and continued brightly on.

"You never had carne Alentejana?" I’d heard myself starting to sound pitying, so I checked myself and by the end of the inquiry sounded only appalled. This is a dish that sounds like it was prepared on a bet. A half-dozen in-shell littleneck clams combined with chunks of pork and fried potatoes ($13.95) in a drippings-rich brown sauce? What kind of a joke is this? Quite a delicious one, Jerry agreed. Here the garlic was sliced, providing a different character than the chopped garlic with the shrimp, he observed. Again the bread, designed to absorb as much as possible, didn’t need to taste any better than a household sponge, since it was merely a vehicle for the wonderful sauce.

As for me, I took a cue from our friendly waitress, Jennifer, who revealed how people come for miles for "Jack’s ‘famous’ seafood special," a red or white sauce pasta dish. My lunchtime portion was only $6.75, and plenty came home, so I can’t imagine the size of the dinnertime half and full orders at $10.50 and $16.95. Enough about cost — this dish is priceless. It was chock-full of chopped clams, plus baby shrimp, mushrooms, and a sprinkling of scallops and langostinos, all contributing to the richness of the tomato sauce.

Jack’s is not a strictly Portuguese restaurant, having only nine such items in that section on the menu, with others among the appetizers. There are twice that many non-ethnic seafood choices. So we had to have something else from the other ethnicity represented here. We chose the Godfather platter, which is billed as serving two for $15.50. (An all-veggie Godmother platter is $13.50.) Joe later described this section as: "Some Italian recipes with a little Portuguese twist." That twist must be bounteous excess. It had both a veal and a chicken cutlet, meatballs, sausages, eggplant, and roasted peppers over al dente spaghetti, mixed with a perfectly acceptable tomato sauce that even the fussiest Italian grandmother wouldn’t likely grab a colander to rinse off the strands.

Obviously, we were too full for dessert. They’re not kitchen-made, but varied and numerous. Maybe next time.

Bill Rodriguez can be reached at bill@billrod.com

Issue Date: December 30, 2005 - January 5, 2006
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