The Jac is Back
The return of a Sanibel landmark, with a twist
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.