Expectations were high for the debut of St. Jack’s new Sunday brunch. Chef Trent Pierce’s seafood-anchored menu promised to be a different take on Portland’s standard put-an-egg-on-it brunch. To that end, the talented chef’s first notable showing since the lamentable closing of SE Hawthorne’s FIN in February did not disappoint. Dish after dish, the presentation was flawless – a perfect marriage of Pierce’s modern sophistication and St. Jack’s rustic French sweetness (think perfectly-spaced slices of pickled mackerel and radish on a Quebecois grandmother’s well-worn floral china) – and the metal buckets of ice, oysters, and Dungeness crab on the bar highlighted the aquatic focus of the occasion.
If St. Jack pulses with warmth and energy at night, the welcoming, country-chic feeling is increased five fold on a sunny Sunday morning. The brunch is an all-day affair (the special menu is offered from 10 am to 7 pm) but we had reservations for the first seating of the morning and had our pick of the sunniest table in the restaurant – perfect for checking out the parade of Clinton neighborhood dogs and taking photos of the menu selections (check out the slideshow for the full crave-worthy experience).
The long menu – split into raw selections, small plates ($5-$13), pastries ($2-$4), and warm entrees ($7-$15) – could use some paring down, and wouldn’t be remiss to leave off the expected Portlandbrunch™ dishes. A seafood brunch doesn’t need yet another bistro hamburger with bacon, and the over-salted and over-cooked eggs en cocotte (baked eggs with cream and fines herbs, $8) and gruyere omelette with pommes frites ($9) were unfortunate casualties of the rush of the first service of the morning. Unsurprisingly, the most memorable bites were found in the raw and small plate selections, where Pierce’s creative pairings and insistence on only the best seafood truly stood out. Favorite plates included the pickled mackerel with charred ramps, buttermilk, and aged sherry ($5), the potted, oil cured albacore with a frisee, orange, and olive salad and anchovy mayonnaise ($7) and the local prawns ($8 for a half dozen) served with chunky sauce vierge, a perfectly sparkling mignonette, and some lick-the-plate-worthy crab mayo (which was so delicious we ordered more to go with our pommes frites).
Once the kitchen hits its stride, St. Jack’s seafood Sunday is sure to become a go-to spot for a new take on brunch. Here’s hoping they dive in head first and embrace the full potential of Pierce’s seafood expertise, because Portland is more than willing to swim along.