It seems that recently, Hamilton has become a locus of excellent burgers. With offerings like Chuck’s Burger Bar, the Chef’s Wagon, and The Works, it’s hard to complain about the local burger world. This week, we’re reviewing one of the lesser-known burger (and breakfast) joints on James St. North, Jack & Lois. Despite being open for over two years, I only found out about Jack & Lois last fall when some visiting friends, back from a year of travelling, chose it as a meet up spot for some beers. I only had drinks on that particular visit, but the menu was exciting enough that I made a note to get back there and try the food as soon as possible. Well, it took longer than I was planning, but Nicole and I finally made it out recently for my birthday dinner, and we weren’t disappointed.
Ambiance & Decor
Jack & Lois is a quaint little restaurant on the inside, with only about eight, brightly colored tables. The feel is sort of a diner/50’s mix, with colorful walls and food served up on checkered paper. Each table also sports a script of a play/movie for your reading pleasure. And while we didn’t know about this during our visit, the website suggests that if you bring your favorite record, they’ll put the music on for you during your visit. And just to round out the movie/music fun, the website claims that Jack & Lois does a “walk in” cinema on their back patio during the summer months. Sounds fun! Our only (very small) complaint was that our table was a bit of an awkward size – just a little too long for two people to sit and chat without noticing the extra distance between them. Certainly not a big deal though.
Food & Drink
Drinks at Jack & Lois are fairly simple. During our visit, there were 3 beers on top (an interesting pale pilsner, an amber, and a lager), a cider (Thurnbury), 4 wines, standard bar rail, and their caesar. I think it’s a solid core, but you might be left wanting if you were in the mood for something like a dark beer. Nicole and I tried the Old Credit (a Mississauga-based brewery) Pale Pilsner and the Old Credit Amber, both of which were pleasant. The drinks are reasonably priced, with everything but the caesar ($8) sitting around $6. While J&L has an excellent breakfast selection, we went for dinner and only sampled their “classics” section of the menu, which includes burgers of all sorts (beef, black bean, portobello), grilled cheeses, and other sandwiches. They also have a section of Parmesan sandwiches that sounded excellent. All of their mains come with their unique slaw and a soup, so let’s start with those. Nicole opted for their potato cheddar ale soup, and I got the spicy thai soup. The potato cheddar had a nice flavor, but I was hard pressed to pick out the ale, and even the cheddar was pretty subtle. It was also a little thin for my liking, but I think that’s more of a preference. The spicy thai soup also had a nice red curry flavor with bits of red pepper and rice in the mix. I’m not the biggest fan of rice in my soups, so I wasn’t blown away, though it was still a nice side. Unlike most restaurants, J&L opts to serve their dishes with their unique slaw rather than fries. The slaw is pretty good – rather than a creamy base, it has a sesame oil base and added nuts for an oriental feel. I enjoyed it, but again, I wouldn’t write home about it. As a note, the menu doesn’t list fries at all, which I feel is a bit odd. It’s one thing not to serve it with your burgers by default,
but it’s another to not even sell them (edit: We’ve since visited for breakfast, where both homefries and regular fries were offered. Just wanted to clear that up!). I feel like this might be frustrating for some people who just want a classic burger and fries. Now we’re at the exciting bit – the burgers. And they are certainly exciting. Nicole ordered the vegetarian-friendly Replicant – a stack of lightly fried portobello mushrooms with excellent pesto mayo and cheddar on a garlic toasted bun. It was absolutely delicious – the inside was nice and tender, the outside was slightly cripsy, the pesto mayo was delicious, and the cheddar rounded it out. All around an awesome burger that even meat eaters should put on their list. I decided to go with one of the specials, the King Clancy. The Clancy was a normal beef patty topped with lettuce, tomato, cheddar, avocado, bacon, and onion rings, all between a beer and cheddar bun. The beef was well seasoned and the toppings were fresh and tasty. Unfortunately the kitchen had run out of bacon, so this King Clancy was the baconless version. It was still delicious, but would have been much improved (to be honest, what isn’t?) with bacon. One aspect of J&L that I really liked was that they appreciate really good buns. A lot of restaurants seem to see buns as a formality – just something to buffer your hands from the innards of the actual burger. Totally unacceptable! Just ask J&L – they know that if you want to make a good burger/sandwich, you need to start with good bread. J&L gets their buns from a Hamilton bakery called Cake & Loaf, and their baguettes from ACE Bakery. Nicole and I didn’t get dessert because they had run out of pie. If I understood the waitress right, it sounds like one of the other waitresses there actually bakes their pies? Very cool! Unfortunately, we can’t give any comments on dessert though.
Service was definitely good at J&L. There was only one server for roughly six tables, but she seemed able to keep up. She was very friendly, and had the good quality of also being very knowledgeable about the food. The table next to us asked about the thai soup and without hesitation, the waitress listed all of the ingredients. Way to go! Does this mean the soup is made in house? I’m not sure, but I’d be impressed if that was the case since most restaurants order in their soups. She was also prompt in taking our drink order, taking our food order, and checking in without being too overbearing. The wait between ordering and getting food was just a little longer than average, but not much. The very slightly longer wait to receive food and the fact that they were out of bacon and dessert were our only (small) complaints with regards to service.
The Final Word
We both loved our visit – the burgers were fantastic, the service was very good, and while the drink selection might be a little on the small side, it was definitely adequate. We can’t wait to go back and try all of the other exciting dishes on the menu. We give Jack & Lois four out of five hammers.