A gem on Hawthorne
The former Cafe Lena gets a new look complete with tantalizing breakfast and lunch options
In the case of new daytime nosh spot Jam on Hawthorne, the moniker refers both to the sweet spread you can slather on toast and to the genre of trippy, meandering music made famous by bands such as Phish and the Grateful Dead.
Homemade strawberry jam, band posters running the length of Jam's dining room and a tuna melt called Split Open & Melt (an apparent Phish reference, according to an observant friend) amply support this supposition.
But Jam on Hawthorne is not exclusively a hippie haven. The concert posters are neatly framed and hung, meat is on the menu, and servers are attentive and quick. Overall, it's a measurable improvement upon the restaurant's previous incarnation as Cafe Lena, as it existed under Karen Harding's stewardship.
It was only recently that the storefront at 2239 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd. began changing hands on a yearly basis. After a good, solid run as a poets' haunt and beloved breakfast joint, Cafe Lena founders Steve Sanders and Leanne Grable sold the little corner restaurant to Harding, who owns Cup & Saucer up the street.
Before long, the deed passed to Uri Kushner and Josh Parker, class of '97 Western Culinary Institute alums. The pair was wise to drop the restaurant's old name and create a fresh identity that goes beyond merely dressing up the place with a crisp coat of paint. Jam, like its predecessors, may function first and foremost as a cakes 'n' eggs slinger, but the cakes and eggs have a sunny new disposition.
The streamlined menu does you a favor by keeping options simple instead of overburdening your brain with oodles of choices first thing in the morning. There are a handful of three-egg scrambles, a couple of egg sandwiches, your basic eggs any-style plate with hash browns and toast, and various house specialties such as indulgent chocolate-cinnamon French toast.
Scrambles are a definite selling point at Jam Ñ the eggs have a pleasant, firm consistency that's difficult to achieve without overcooking. In Ryan's Scramble, moist egg nuggets mingle with onions, tomatoes, brie and an unexpected ingredient that ties the whole thing together: rough-ground mustard. The Nor'wester gives bagels and lox a run for their money, combining lush smoked salmon with generous dollops of melting cream cheese, tomatoes and peppery chives.
Whereas pancakes are often leaden, flavorless, or both, Jam's lemon-ricotta pancakes are some of the fluffiest flapjacks around. The citrus punch comes across buttery and smooth, not tart, and the cakes pair wonderfully with a thin berry sauce that is infinitely more delicate than syrupy compote.
A vegetarian tofu wrap, oozing liquid that turns the spinach tortilla soggy, is less successful. Packed with sautŽed tofu, garden sausage, mushrooms, spinach, pico de gallo, sprouts and cheddar, the outsize wrap is nonetheless bland and difficult to eat. The accompanying hash browns are a savior: slightly al dente, nongreasy and perfectly browned, they are crispy and light-tasting.
Jam caters equally to vegetarians, vegans and carnivores, offering garden or chicken sausage, applewood-smoked bacon and vegan baked goods ranging from banana bread to a supermoist peanut butter-fudge cookie.
Lunchtime brings a vegan hummus wrap but also a wrap stuffed with top-grade walnut chicken salad that would be the envy of any country club kitchen. Light on the mayo, the salad consists of tender chicken breast chunks, toasted walnuts, celery and onions Ñ very satisfying.
A house-recipe veggie burger made from black beans and grains rivals half-pound beef burgers in pure heft and heartiness. But the tuna melt needs a little help. Positively smothered with cheddar that's not fully melted, the watery tuna salad also leaves something to be desired. The 2 Outta 3 Ñ half-sandwich, cup of soup and side salad Ñ is a better choice.
But even if you're unhappy with your sandwich, much can be redeemed with one of Jam's Oreos dipped in milk chocolate. After devouring one of these treats, you're likely to be inspired to try making them at home Ñ or to revisit Jam on Hawthorne for a yummy second round.