The Jac is Back

The re­turn of a Sani­bel land­mark, with a twist

RSWLiving - - Contents - BY GINA BIRCH

It’s fun to watch the faces of peo­ple when they walk through the doors of the Jac. There’s a mo­ment of con­fu­sion, re­mem­ber­ing what the old restau­rant looked like, an air of cau­tion as to what is in store, and fi­nally big smiles when they leave, re­al­iz­ing the his­toric place has been re­turned to the stature it once had as one of the most pop­u­lar places to dine on Sani­bel.

While the for­mer Jacaranda had loyal fol­low­ers, much time has passed since the glory days of the land­mark is­land spot. Lo­cal restau­ra­teur Eve Alves saw it as “a di­a­mond in the rough” and came in with a vi­sion.

She short­ened the name, not only be­cause that’s what reg­u­lars used to call it, but also, “I wanted to keep the bones. It had a won­der­ful rep­u­ta­tion with lots of good mem­o­ries. I want to build on that, cre­ate new mem­o­ries, cre­ate a com­fort­able place for fam­i­lies to come.”

Fam­ily is im­por­tant to the first-gen­er­a­tion Amer­i­can. Her par­ents op­er­ated res­tau­rants in Mi­ami, so Alves grew up in the busi­ness. “My mom and dad were im­mi­grants from Cyprus. They didn’t speak or write English but be­lieved in the Amer­i­can dream,” she says. “They died with huge suc­cess and no debt, but the big­gest thing was fam­ily and din­ner­time were sa­cred.”

Alves’s hus­band, Alex, who has worked on Sani­bel for some 15 years at Congress Jewel­ers, comes in to dine al­most nightly with their daugh­ter, Ari­anna. Ni­cholas, the cou­ple’s son, is the gen­eral man­ager of the Jac, and Alves’s sis­ter, Har­ri­ette Matt­son, is the pas­try chef. It truly is a fam­ily af­fair.

Matt­son re­cently sold her pop­u­lar Key Largo restau­rant, Har­ri­ette’s, where her homemade muffins were le­gendary. Miss­ing dessert at the Jac would be a tragedy, in­deed. The co­conut cake has great tex­ture and fla­vor, while the rum cake is so dense with rum you can al­most squeeze it out.

Each ta­ble has a drink menu ti­tled, The Jac Gives Back. Fifty per­cent of the pro­ceeds from these spe­cialty cock­tails is do­nated to the or­ga­ni­za­tion listed.

Alves didn’t just put a fresh coat of paint on the restau­rant; she com­pletely gut­ted it, opened it up and matched the dé­cor to her food con­cept—nau­ti­cal farm to ta­ble.

It has rus­tic touches such as barn doors, cool earth tones and a beau­ti­ful gran­ite bar.

When she in­ter­viewed Philipe Schroeder for the ex­ec­u­tive chef po­si­tion, Alves says, “He talked about fresh, hand cut, hand­made, and that was the stuff I was raised with.” Schroeder got the job and free­dom to de­sign the menu.

He buys ev­ery­thing fresh, makes sauces, bread and pasta from scratch, and fil­lets the fish he cooks nightly. There is no freezer in the restau­rant, a smoker out­side, and a small gar­den of mi­cro­greens.

One of the chef’s fa­vorite dishes is a Thai-in­spired pan-seared snap­per. The fish is topped with a mix of citrus seg­ments, house-made ponzu, cilantro, mint, pars­ley and basil. Served with jas­mine rice and stir-fry veg­eta­bles, each el­e­ment com­ple­ments the other for a light and fla­vor­ful dish.

Schroeder says, “When some­one no­tices the ex­tra ef­fort we take, it means the world to us.”

Alves also owns Luna Rossa Ital­ian Grill at Miro­mar Out­lets, where for years she has flown un­der the radar with char­ity work, play­ing a big role in feed­ing the un­der­priv­i­leged in Southwest Florida.

On Sani­bel, each ta­ble has a drink menu ti­tled, The Jac Gives Back. Fifty per­cent of the pro­ceeds from these spe­cialty cock­tails is do­nated to the or­ga­ni­za­tion listed.

Alves says, “My daddy would al­ways say if you give, you’ll never have to worry about any­thing.” He was known for open­ing his res­tau­rants in Mi­ami to feed chil­dren in a lo­cal or­phan­age.

It was par­tially the mem­ory of his char­i­ta­ble restau­ra­teur grand­fa­ther that lured Ni­cholas back to work with his mother af­ter go­ing away to col­lege. He had a near-per­fect SAT score and could have cho­sen any ca­reer, but says, “I come to work, and it’s not re­ally work. I get a great sense of grat­i­fi­ca­tion here. When you come here, it’s like you are com­ing into our house to dine with us as one big fam­ily.” If you’re won­der­ing what hap­pened to the old Jacaranda’s screened-in pa­tio lead­ing to the out­door bar, it was in such dis­re­pair that it was no longer deemed safe by the city, ac­cord­ing to Alves. Plans are in the works to re­model and re­open the fa­mous is­land party bar as soon as pos­si­ble.

But for now, the fo­cus is on the restau­rant—feed­ing long­time res­i­dents and vis­i­tors with qual­ity food and a side dish of fam­ily.

Plans are in the works to re­model and re­open the fa­mous is­land party bar as soon as pos­si­ble.

The kitchen’s farm-to-ta­ble theme is re­flected in The Jac’s new dé­cor . Above from left: Happy hour fea­tures smaller por­tions of fa­vorites such as Cap­tain’s Spicy Shrimp en­joyed with a Pineap­ple U pside Down Cake Mar­tini, one of sev­eral col­or­ful cock­tails served at the restau­rant; the chili-rubbed yel­low­tail snap­per is a house fa­vorite.

The Jac’s new own­ers: Eve Alves; her hus­band Alex; and son Ni­cholas, who is the restau­rant’s gen­eral man­ager

Below, clock­wise from top left: The Jac’s pas­try chef Har­ri­ette Matt­son with the restau­rant’s GM Ni­cholas Alves and owner Eve Alves; Tur­key Club; Pan-Roasted Cau­li­flower Steak with quinoa cake; Spiced Pork Belly with apri­cot gas­trique; Grilled Oc­to­pus with ji­cama and green ap­ple slaw. In­set: Key Lime tart.

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