February 24, 2013

Dine Out Maine: J's Oyster upholds its authentic seafood street cred

By SHONNA MILLIKEN HUMPHREY

(Continued from page 1)

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Sitting just feet from the harbor on Portland Pier, J’s is a “sleeves rolled up, slurp some oysters” kind of joint. And make no mistake: It is a joint.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

DINING REVIEW

J'S OYSTER

5 Portland Pier, Portland

772-4828; tinyurl.com/JsOyster

HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday; noon to 10:30 p.m. Sunday

****

PRICE RANGE: $3.50 to market price, with seafood dinner entrees in the $20 range. Raw oysters cost $12.50 for a baker's dozen, and most sandwiches are $4.50 to $7.50.

BAR: Full

CREDIT CARDS: All major

VEGETARIAN: Those who eat shellfish will leave satisfied.

KIDS: No children's menu

RESERVATIONS: No

OUTSIDE SEATING: Seasonal tables

WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes

BOTTOM LINE: The beer is cold, the chowder is hot, the bar is dark and oysters are ample and cheap. On a cold, dreary winter day, J's is an excellent Hemingway-style option to ride out (or hide out from) the storm. Definitely order the steamers and some chowder. If you go in the summer, expect a wait. Always follow the rules, be polite and never mess with the wait staff.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value:

*Poor  **Fair  ***Good ****Excellent *****Extraordinary.

The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory. The reviewer dines anonymously.

Of the raw offerings, I recommend the Scallop Cocktail ($9). Six thick, massive scallops on a diner-style saucer with the signature lemon, cocktail sauce and red plastic pitchfork. Or if you are feeling indecisive, try the Combo Cocktail ($13) for two shrimp, scallops, oysters and a mound each of crab and lobster meat.

Pasta plays a large role in the dinner menu, and choices include linguine or angel hair (shells for the Bouillabaise). Scampi, pesto and marinara sauces dominate the options, but there is also Lobster Pernod ($21). This licorice-flavored cream sauce and full-lobster's worth of meat over linguine tasted delicious, but I advise sticking to the simpler preparations.

I felt the same about the eponymous Crabby Janice Casserole ($16.50). Janice "J" Noyes was the founder of the restaurant, and this signature oblong dish of layered spinach and crab with Rockefeller and Mornay toppings tasted lovely. There was nothing wrong, but after the experience of unadorned shellfish, it felt like a reach.

Dessert? There is a single option, and it is Portland-based Izzy's Cheesecake. Flavors rotate, but expect some of the smoothest, most flavorful cheesecake ever created. (Cheesecake lovers should visit Izzy's website, izzyscheesecake.com, if only to get the Louis Armstrong song stuck in their heads for the rest of the day.)

Remember that J's is a joint. Entrees are ample and tasty, and diners won't leave hungry, but it's not fine dining. It's a sleeves rolled up, slurp some oysters with basic horseradish and shoot the (expletive deleted) over a few beers locale. Placemats are paper, and house rules are clearly stated on cards at each table.

And that's part of J's charm.

If you want a sort of authenticity that places less emphasis on local sourcing and more emphasis on serving the needs (and budgets) of seafood-loving locals, J's delivers.

Shonna Milliken Humphrey is a Maine freelance writer and author of the novel "Show Me Good Land."

 

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