With its low self-esteem and high urban blight, Hartford is the ultimate underdog city. Sad City Hartford documents the joys, sorrows and eccentricities of New England's Rising Star.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hartford Food Guy Reviews: J's Restaurant/Bar

Image courtesy of menusearch.net

The Hartford Food Guy returns to review J's Restaurant/Bar located on Washington Street, just down the road from the two abandoned buildings we discussed earlier this week

About ten years I asked a pretty young lady to go to lunch with me. I was somewhat surprised that she said yes and when she asked where I wanted to go, I blurted out “Pizza Plus on Washington Street.” She said nothing, which I took as a sign of great skepticism and likely regret for having agreed to lunch, but I assured her that she would not be disappointed.

When I met her outside Pizza Plus I could tell that her skepticism and regret was starting to turn to anger because Pizza Plus was an ordinary looking urban pizza place in a so-so area. I asked her to keep an open mind and to trust me, which reluctantly she agreed to do.

As she started to look at the menu I could see her whole demeanor change. Pizza Plus, you see, was no ordinary urban pizza joint. Its owner, Jordan Dikegros, who I understand had inherited the business from his parents, had a passion for cooking and had tacked onto the traditional pizza place menu a number of very nice entrees, including lobster ravioli, which I suggested she try. After she took her first bite her eyes lit up, she put her fork down, and she said with a smile “you were right.” :>

In fact, everyone I knew that went to Pizza Plus - myself included - had the same reaction when they had their first taste of Jordan Dikegros’ cooking. It was as if Dikegros had figured out how to turn the time/space/food continuum on its head and transform an ordinary pizza joint into a very good restaurant.

I went to Pizza Plus many, many times before I met my wife and after we started dating it quickly became a regular on our restaurant rotation. A few years ago, however, Dikegros gutted Pizza Plus, turning it into J Restaurant/Bar. In fact, all that remains of Pizza Plus is a small, light wood-paneled back room which had served as a small function room.

Gutting Pizza Plus was a huge risk, because Dikegros had a great thing going, but from what I am told, he had long dreamed of being a restaurateur and had finally decided to go all in to realize his dream. I think he made an excellent decision.

Our meal started with some complimentary focaccia and olive oil. The focaccia was very nice, with just a touch of salt. While the olive oil wasn’t up to the standard of Mennula (see below), it was very good.

Last night was miserable, freezing, and very rainy, so I decided to start with the cream of mushroom soup, which was one of the soups of the day ($7). It was delicious; nice and creamy with a good flavor that had a slight kick at the back end. It was well-complimented by a small piece of crispy bread which added some texture and some melted cheese, which added some flavor a bit more texture. I thought it was very, very good and Mrs. HFG gave it top marks.

My wife started with the J Signature Salad ($6). It consisted of mixed greens with pear, candied pecans, dried cranberries, and gorgonzola, dressed in a sweet balsamic. The salad was very good and perfectly dressed (a Mrs. HFG pet peeve), though the pear could had not yet reached its perfect stage of ripeness. Overall, my wife gave it a good grade and I also thought it was a very nice salad. I won’t lie, however, I was very pleased when Mrs. HFG said she liked her salad but wished she’d had the cream of mushroom soup. :>

For dinner I had the chicken, tomatoes, and goat cheese over fusilli ($18). The generous portion of chicken meshed well with the tomatoes and goat cheese. The fusilli was nice and fresh and soaked up the fresh olive oil in which the dish was cooked. Overall, it was delicious. :> x 5.

My wife had the Adriattic Brodetto ($28), which consisted of sea bass in a saffron broth and olive oil croutons, with mussels, clams, and shrimp. My wife’s only complaint was that there was a bit of grit on some of the shellfish. Otherwise, she thought it was excellent and I agreed. The balance of textures and flavors was well done and the portions of bass, shellfish, and shrimp were all very respectable.

My wife also had two glasses of a Bontera cab/sav ($8 each, $29 per bottle). I am not a big cab/sav drinker, but she thought it was very good.

With a generous tip for excellent service, our dinner came to $111.64. Not cheap (and certainly not as cheap as Pizza Plus!) but a perfectly fair price to pay for a very nice dinner.

The atmosphere at J is very nice; classy without being pretentious, with appropriate lighting and a very modern, Mediterranean decor with exposed brick. The background music was classic R&B (“Gladys Knight had a great voice” remarked Mrs. HFG), which is one of the few types of music my wife and I both like. As you can see from the picture, there is a small outdoor patio and J also has a very nice bar area.

I won’t lie, I really miss Pizza Plus and I don’t think I am alone. It was an almost magical place of urban legend. It was one of the hidden treasures of Hartford. That said, I am glad Jordan Dikegros was able to realize his dream and I am also glad that my wife and I went there last PM. We had a great meal at a very fair price and we will be going back again.


  1. uh.........finish the review b4 posting... you're glad he what?

  2. It's like the ending of the last episode of the Sopranos! haha

  3. You can still order a large Pizza Plus Special to go. Same Pie as always.

    You cannot order it in house; They only serve 'stone pies' in house.

    and it's the best greek style pizza in Hartford.

  4. "Last night was miserable, almost freezing, and very rainy, so I decided...."

    r u sure you were in HARTFORD CT????

  5. The Hartford Food GuyJuly 12, 2011 at 1:51 PM

    Anon, I wrote that review in late January/early February.

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