Before I really get into the “heart” of this post I guess I mention that this review/write-up/whatever will have no pictures. I still feel uncomfortable bringing a regular camera inside a restaurant and blatantly taking pictures. It’s weird and I don’t like to draw that kind of attention while Alli and I are having a meal.
Normally my iPhone 3gs works great with taking pictures of food, the touch focus is awesome for getting detail (look at the difference in pictures from pre-March 2010 to post March 2010), unfortunately, though, it sucks in low light situations. Papa Jakes isn’t even that “dark” of a bar/restaurant but I realized early into our meal that I wouldn’t be able to take any photos.
Anyways, Papa Jake’s first came to our attention because of soccer. During this year’s FIFA World Cup I started seeing facebook invites for US National Team Viewing Parties. I never made it to any of those soccer viewing parties, nor did I make it for any post game parties for FC Buffalo’s home games (although I read/heard it was awesome by many accounts), but it sounded like a good place to grab a beer. So on a night when Alli and I were trying to think of a new place to grab dinner, we thought of Papa Jake’s and took the short drive down Elmwood.
This was a Friday night and the place was packed, which I guess can be expected. There wasn’t a seat available at the bar and a crowd had formed around the “Please Wait to Be Seated” sign. We put our names in and waited to be called. Now, normally, I don’t have a big problem with waiting around to get a table; in fact, after eating at 100′s of restaurants in Buffalo I think I’ve become quite patient. However, on this night that patience was tested.
Before I go on, let me just preface this and say that the food was really good. They have a really nice beer selection and the location as a whole is friendly and casual; definitely has that “lets drink some beer and hang out” vibe. I could honestly see myself going back (maybe during a week night) and having some drinks and eating at the bar and watching a Sabres game. But I have to comment on the entire experience, and in doing so I have to comment on the lackluster service/management going on.
Before we left our house, Alli looked up Papa Jakes online and found a ton of glowing reviews, especially regarding the service, so we were not expecting a problem. Now, when we walked in I was told the wait would be 25 minutes. I have no problem with the time going over, obviously on a busy Friday it’s hard to figure out an exact wait time, but the actual time we waited was closer to 75-80 minutes…way over what we were originally told. What annoyed me even more was the under staffed waiters and lack of any direction by management. We watched table after table empty up and no one going over to clean them off. Even the host, who seemed like a nice guy and even complimented me on my hat, seemed more preoccupied with drinking his beer and talking to people at the bar than with the people waiting for a table. Honestly, the table we eventually sat at was empty for a good 20 minutes before they cleaned it off and we finally were asked if we would like to sit down. While the host was off enjoying himself, the 3 servers working that night were left to run around, take orders, get their own drinks at the bar, clean off tables and then check the list to find the next waiting customer on the list. With such good food at really good prices (more on that coming soon), it is a real shame that poor management can really turn off some potential new customers. For the record, we had no issue with our waitress, she seemed attentive and did not mess up our orders or really leave us without a check up for long periods of time. There was a longer wait for a check, but with her work load I think I can give that a pass.
On a lighter note, the food was great. They have a pretty decent menu; a lot of seafood options (at really fantastic prices) and your typical bar menu staples. I decided to try out their “famous” Meatloaf sandwich, which I saw was recommended on the comments of a Buffalo Rising article. The sandwich ($8.00) was pretty huge; a nice thick slice of meatloaf between two thick slices of bread with some cheese, BBQ sauce, and onions on top. The sandwich was good but not great, maybe not living up to the praise I met online, but it was definitely filling. While I think the meatloaf itself could have benefited from some more seasoning and flavor, the hand cut french fries we ordered were flawless. Above the French Fry description on the menu was a quote from Janice Okun basically praising the fries as some of the best in Buffalo. They lived up to the hype and served with a side of gravy, we devoured the plate, a huge portion for a reasonable four dollars.
Seeing plate after plate of crab legs walk by as we were waiting for our table, Alli quickly was sold on ordering some for herself. For 15 bucks she ordered a pound of Alaskan King Crab Legs, pre-cracked and with a large cup of butter. I could tell just by watching her tear into the crab that they were fantastic. The pre-cracking made the meat easy to get to and the portion was just right. Her meal was served with a surprisingly nice salad, loaded with olives, tomatoes, croutons and field greens instead of crappy lettuce.
So after all of that, would I recommend Papa Jake’s? Absolutely. The food, the atmosphere and the prices make this place a really good stop. But you need to have some patience if you are going on a weekend night because boy do they get busy. This isn’t the first time we’ve gone out and had fabulous food but had to go through a nightmare of service to get to it (cough … Bar Bill Tavern … The Aud … Tantalus). All of those places really don’t have issues with the actual servers, what it really seems to be is poor management and when things get really busy everything goes to hell and the wait takes much longer then it should. I’m hoping that we went on a night that was unusual for the restaurant and they actually run a smoother operation than we experienced. However, for the time being I’ll be a repeat customer, but just on Monday through Thursday.