Last weekend, after attending a memorial and thoroughly depressing wake for my grandpa, I drank a whole bunch of free red wine on an empty stomach. This provoked an impromptu vomiting eulogy in the men's room, complete with long, trailing stories, foggily affiliated with memories of my grandfather, as messy as scattering ashes in a strong headwind.

Tonight, I'm shivering at the bar of Jack's Roadhouse, and not really feeling up to listening to the Cult blasting overhead while inhaling one of Jack's gut-busting breakfasts. I had been looking forward to calming my shaky, brutalized stomach lining with their encyclopedic comfort-food menu the night before. After a careful study of their extremely confusing hours, I showed up, hung over, a Sunday evening at around 10, primed and ready for biscuits 'n' gravy... only to find myself staring forlornly at a decidedly closed restaurant. I mention this sad story because it is pertinent to Jack's role on Capitol Hill.

Housed in what used to be that hoary, fun nightclub Foxes, Jack's gang transformed the space into an open, big-windowed, um, roadhouse-type place. The hardwood floors look rough-hewn; the bare plywood walls and bar are plastered with, yes, road signs, which remind me of my ideal bedroom as a teenager. It's a comfortable joint, with appropriately dim lighting, stuffed with cozy booths and an unobtrusive TV. There is good air flow here--great feng shui or something. Whatever it is, it is not too smoky nor too loud nor too pick-uppy. And the waitstaff is exceedingly nice and personable. And they serve breakfast, etc., until FOUR A.M. Or so they say.

As Capitol Hill's only wee-hours-drunky-food establishment, Jack's Roadhouse must take its hours seriously. Promising late-night comfort food is practically a civic duty. On the Sunday evening in question, this covenant was broken. Defeated and desperate for bacon, hamburger meat, and starch, I headed over to My Favorite Piroshky on Broadway. My nose pressed up against the darkened glass of the bakery, the gravity of Capitol Hill's late-night dining situation settling into my already-chilled being. I believe I shed a tiny, dry, hangover tear. (After some research, I discovered that this was a fluke: Jack's was in the midst of changing business hours, and they assure me that they will never be closed on a Sunday night again.)

So tonight, I find myself studying Jack's menu at long last, a seed of resentment in my cold chest. But I am hungry and this is no Cafe Minnie's, with their measly portions and beaten-down servers. Our server is sprightly, and tells me that the blueberry pie ($3.50) is housemade, and that, no, they do not reheat it in the microwave. Music to my ears. While the crust is flaky and good, the berries are unmistakably from a can (October is not blueberry season). He diligently keeps my coffee cup brimming. I get so high, I order the massive chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and sausage gravy ($8.75) and three bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon. While the beer relaxes me, it cannot cover for my chicken fried. Never the most tender piece of meat, mine is rubbery. I get tired of sawing at it and stick to the butterylicious mashed potatoes and tasty, thyme-rich gravy. I am pretty content until I taste my friend's Blackened Catfish Sandwich special ($8.50), which is just plain weird. No sandwich, just a diminutive piece of mushy fish squatting next to blank rice and unrealized "Cajun" red beans.

But regardless of some blunders, Jack's Roadhouse provides an invaluable public service: Besides the usual burgers with curly fries ($6) and magnificently cheap breakfasts ($5-ish), marinated grilled tofu and veggies are available, as well as decent vegetarian mushroom gravy, all served at ungodly hours. The words of their anonymous bathroom-stall poet seem particularly true, inked precisely in tiny letters: "I am so happy to be here with you now."

Jack's Roadhouse

1501 E Olive Way, 324-7000. Mon-Fri 11 am-4 am, Sat-Sun 2 pm-4 am. $$.

Price Scale (per entrée)

$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-20; $$$ = $20 and up.

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