Dining In A New Restaurant Is A Treat, But Launching A New Restaurant? That’s notoriously hard – beyond good cooking, it takes a combination of hard work, savvy marketing, design, location, a trained staff … and even finding all the ingredients for that recipe is no guarantee of lasting success.
Consider the space that had long hosted Harold’s Outlet in Norman: within the last six years, restaurants offering cuisine from sushi to barbecue to burgers have come and gone from under its roof. Good Life Dining has established a lasting local favorite in one side of the building with the excellent gastropub Blackbird; now they’re hoping to replicate that feat on the structure’s southern end with a taste of the deep South, in the form of Jax Soul Kitchen.
The space in which they do their delicious work is a striking one: the entrance wall on the west of the building is the short side, and the main room feels all the larger thanks to the high ceilings and massive, lengthy wooden bar. There’s also a separate area in back with leather love seats and a more lounge-like ambience, but both times I’ve been, I sat at a smaller table by the window to get a better view of the bar. With its tall chairs, underside lighting and stained glass accents overhead, it makes a beautiful showpiece that emphasizes the room’s depth. After a bare handful of months, the space is still too new to feel authentic, but it should age well; a slight patina of time will do wonders for the vibe. A lived-in, slightly shabby feel often benefits soul food, after all.
And speaking of the food: start with the Seafood Fondue, which gets you a freshly toasted and sliced baguette to dip into a dish of rich, savory, cheesy goodness, laden with hunks of shrimp, crab and scallops. If there are enough people in your party to keep you from eating it all yourself (and by the way, more toast is as easy as asking), it’s a delectable lead-in to one of the platters built around the protein of your choice.
Fried catfish, shrimp or chicken, pork ribs, pulled chicken or pork are all possibilities, as are several combos – though if I may offer a brief reminder while speaking as a friend, gnawing on an enormous hunk of Andouille sausage is one of the true pleasures available to us here on this mortal coil. Throw some in there somehow.
For side dishes, I would especially recommend the spice-laden dirty rice, with tiny flecks of sausage and pork, and the deviled egg potato salad, but there’s plenty of variety on tap, from cheesy grits to slow-cooked collard greens.
If you’re in the market for a lighter setup or lunch, the chicken/sausage/pork jambalaya is a reasonable choice, though you can’t go wrong with a po’ boy. The pulled chicken, smoked and slathered in a barbeque sauce that pops with vinegar, is especially good, as is the lightly breaded and deliciously plump smoked fried shrimp. I’d never had coleslaw on a sandwich before, but it complements the shrimp perfectly … almost as well as a slice of sweet potato pie complements anything on the menu.
Are you going to close your eyes and believe yourself transported to New Orleans? Not really – for one thing, they’re more likely to be playing a Thunder game than Dixieland jazz. But it does bring that delta diner’s delight a bit closer. Mardi Gras is on the horizon, and Cajun food is a perennial pleasure. Hopefully, Jax will be around a while.
Jax Soul Kitchen
575 S. University Ave., Norman
405.801.2828 | gldining.com/jax
Kitchen open daily 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Bar open daily until 2 a.m.