Sunday, December 8, 2019     Volume: 20, Issue: 40
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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Jack's Restaurant and Bakery in Old Orcutt serves the most important meal with creative twists and classic hits

NICK POWELL

As a person who loves sleep, my weekday mornings are usually a mad dash of toothbrushing, laundry digging, lunch prepping, and coffee swilling. I usually grab a banana for the road and call that breakfast. Sometimes I have a few minutes to spare for toasting bread, but morning meals are generally a luxury I just don’t have time to indulge in. Midweek, that is. 


Jack of all meals
Jack’s Restaurant and Bakery not only serves breakfast but lunch and dinner, too, with a lengthy menu full of sandwiches, salads, and steaks that will satisfy any kind of hankering—and they’ll cook up anything on the menu any time of day. Located at 156 South Broadway in Old Orcutt, they’re open every day from early morning to late evening. Call (805) 937-1871 to order ahead.

SWEET STACK O’ CHICKEN
I’ve wanted to like chicken and waffles for a long time, but at best I could only find joints with wonderful chicken and bland waffles, or crispy, fluff-filled waffles and rubbery garbage meat. Finally, Jack’s in Old Orcutt had the bright idea to put effort into both components and produce a deliciously addictive stack of perfectly fried chicken between waffle layers with bacon bits cooked right into the batter.
PHOTO BY NICK POWELL

Weekends are a different story. I’m all about big breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday. I’ve got a workweek’s worth of missed opportunities to set right, and the possibilities are endless. As far as I can tell, the only “rule” for breakfast is that the meal must include eggs. Aside from that, no limitations on ingredients or cultural heritage or portion size exist. 

The fine folks at Jack’s Restaurant and Bakery seem to understand that golden rule, and on a late-September Sunday, they served my family a meal that might’ve been the perfect breakfast. 

First, they’re located in Old Orcutt, which is a charming little neighborhood. I’ve loved every breakfast I’ve had in the area, so I wasn’t terribly surprised when Jack’s turned out to be fantastic. The place had more of a down-to-earth diner feel than its nearby competition, and some Sundays, that’s exactly what I’m wanting. 

The servers were immediately welcoming and quick to hook us up with a cup of coffee and some iced water while we perused a huge menu with a long list of specialty omelets, traditional American breakfasts, and plenty of south-of-the-border inspired fare. I was there because a co-worker recommended Jack’s chicken and waffles, but I couldn’t find the option anywhere on the menu. The rest of my family was hungry and ready to order, but I was so set on some sweet and savory goodness that nothing else sounded quite right. Finally, I asked the server if it was something they made, and she just winked and nodded.


MEGA ORTEGA FLAVA
I stole several bites of my daughter’s Vaquero Omelet because the juicy tri-tip, Ortega chiles, and sautéed onions folded into eggs and cheese tasted exactly like the quintessential Santa Maria breakfast. Jack’s served the delectable dish with salsa and sour cream to take it up another notch.
PHOTO BY NICK POWELL

“Sure thing,” she whispered. “That’s our secret menu.”

Well, color me intrigued.

My wife and daughter ordered off the regular menu, but I got to be a special boy with secret food on the way. Not gonna lie, it was a nice feeling. When the waffles arrived, I knew I was in for a real treat. The plate was visually stunning, with the waffles and chicken layered elegantly and skewered with a steak knife. I could hardly wait to drizzle that with syrup and dig in. So that’s what I did.

The chicken was juicy and tender with a crunchy outer layer, and the waffles were fluffy and lovely and nice. The first bites of the outer edges were fine, but when I got to the middle of the waffles, I found a completely unexpected, veritable gold mine of goodness: bacon! The discovery elevated the dish to a whole new level, making this the best plate of chicken and waffles I’d ever had by far. 

I later sat down with Chris and Terri Salazar, the relatively new owners of one of Orcutt’s oldest institutions of eating. They said they met and fell in love while Chris was working the kitchen and Terri ran the front of the house at Shaw’s Steakhouse. They’ve both been in the restaurant industry for most of their lives and dreamed of owning a place, even though they knew it would be difficult. They say they’ve mostly lucked out with a relatively smooth experience at Jack’s.

“It helps when you have a good crew of workers like ours,” Terri said.

Chris said that when they took over in 2015, they brought all the good tactics (and a lot of good people) they encountered in their years at other eateries and put them to work at their new place. While Jack’s had a built-in following of local regulars, a lot of the food that was served came frozen and pre-packaged. Not anymore. 

“We make everything from scratch … . A lot of people that were regulars before tell us all the time that they appreciate the changes,” Chris said. “And they let us know real quick if they don’t like it.” 

One thing customers made sure didn’t change is Jack’s propensity for epic portions. The plates are huge, and my family had breakfast leftovers for lunch and dinner that day. 

The place also retains its ol’ timey, right neighborly atmosphere. Terri said that getting to know the regular customers has been her favorite part of owning the restaurant. She’s gotten to watch families grow and add members one meal at a time, and friends that started as customers were recently invited as guests to her daughter’s wedding. 


A COUNTRY CLASSIC
Country fried steak is a staple of my family’s Sunday breakfast outings. Someone orders it almost every time, so I’ve had my fair share of gravy-smothered iterations. This one from Jack’s was among the best. The crispy coating on the meat held up under the gravy without turning soggy. The meat itself was tender and flavorful, and the gravy had a peppery little kick that kept things interesting. Add all the hash browns, toast, and eggs that came with it, and we had enough food to feed us for the rest of the day.
PHOTO BY NICK POWELL

“Our customers feel like family, and I love that,” Terri said.

For Chris, the joy of owning a restaurant comes from the unfettered freedom he gets to exercise in the kitchen. His “secret” menu is really just a collection of daily specials that he’s happy to whip up anytime a customer wants to eat it again. He also takes requests, and he created his jalapeño pancakes when a customer wanted something spicier than the average short stack. 

“I like when people want to do weird, off-the-wall stuff,” Chris said. “I get to use my creativity and do something different.”

It looks like his creativity in the kitchen is nigh endless. My family didn’t stray from the breakfast offerings, but there was a long list of salads, sandwiches, steaks, and fish entrees to choose from (including, apparently, a backlog of every lunch or dinner special Chris has ever offered). 

From what I’ve seen, Jack’s seems like the kind of place that people can go to again and again for satisfying meals without ever getting bored. 

Contributor Nick Powell’s favorite Sunday routine is waking up early for a big breakfast and then going directly back to bed for nap time. He’ll be dreaming of food adventures to come at npowell@santamariasun.com. 

Powell’s Picks

• You know my top pick for this weekend’s activities has got to be the fourth annual Santa Maria Beer Fest, right? General admission tickets cost $45, but it sounds worth every penny. More than 30 breweries will be serving unlimited samples from 12:30 to 4 p.m.; DJ Slick and local reggae heroes Resination will bring the jams; and there will be plenty of opportunities for hijinks between drinks. I’m talking about axe throwing, mechanical bull riding, paintball shooting, cornhole tossing, and beer ponging. It all takes place outdoors at the Elks Field in Santa Maria, 622 S. McClelland St. on Saturday, Oct. 5. 

• Prefer a more refined experience? Consider celebrating local Lane Tanner’s nomination as Winemaker of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine with a custom-crafted, three-course dinner at Pico Restaurant in Los Alamos on Oct. 4, from 6 to 9 p.m. Chef Drew has designed the evening’s meal to pair with wines made by Tanner, who will be in attendance as the guest of honor. A place at the table costs $95, and tickets are available at eventbrite.com.

Cailloux Cheese Shop in Solvang is offering an entire class about cheese on Oct. 4, at 6 p.m., focused exclusively on Italian formaggio—from mozzarella and provolone to parmesan and asiago. The folks at Cailloux will explain all the complexities and show participants how to pair the cheeses with beverages and accoutrements. Classes cost $25 per person, and tickets (and a list of future classes) can be found at caillouxcheeseshop.com. 

Contributing writer Nick Powell says, ‘More cheese, please.’ Send fresh food recommendations to npowell@santamariasun.com.




Weekly Poll
Guadalupe is in the midst of new development, but is that a good thing?

No. The new homes will expand the town too much and run the small-town vibe.
No. Commercial development will follow and destroy all the local businesses.
Yes. The town can't survive another economic downturn without more business and residents in town.
Yes, but the town has to steer development toward tourism and the hospitality industry.

| Poll Results