In most places, back alleys can be dark and unpleasant.
But in alleys of the Grosse Pointes, smelly garbage cans are nowhere to be seen or whiffed, a stray dog out for a stroll is likely purebred, and restaurants frame their “back” entrances with planters and awnings.
In just such a back alley off Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Farms sits a delightful neighborhood restaurant, Jumps — our choice for this month.
And, while much of the restaurant scene today is dominated by sleek hostesses in slinky dresses, catchy themed menus, and interiors that have more to do with soaring architecture than what you will eat, Jumps is a refreshing breather. It has an almost overly casual, chummy atmosphere, but with very good food.
The first thing we noticed on two visits was its decidedly low-key entry and waiting area. There are benches for waiting and a host stand, but no host. The stand had been turned into a coat rack for an overflow of outerwear.
Dump your coat, proceed into the dining room, forget the reservation you made by phone, and wait for one of the servers to notice you’re there and seat you.
Short-staffed? Well, no, it didn’t seem that way, it just was. Yet there’s something pleasantly old-fashioned about a restaurant where you toss your coat so cavalierly, rather like going to a Rotary or Lions Club luncheon. It certainly adds up to a casual, local feel.
Jumps is also, in many other ways, very Grosse Pointe-y. It has the look and feel of a traditional living room. The chairs and a long banquette that runs along one wall are decked in rich reds and golds that spill over to tall, rounded booths at the rear of the room. The clever use of black-framed mirrors on the back and side walls makes the room feel wider and more open. Earth-toned carpeting lends warmth.
Dominating one side of the restaurant is a six-stool bar, in back of which is an open kitchen. Fully visible from much of the dining room, the kitchen provides an entertaining view of the chef and his staff at work.
In atmosphere and in the level of its food, Jumps is an eastside version of the terrific Beverly Hills Grill on Southfield Road. Jumps’ evolution as a restaurant is quite similar. Both began as breakfast spots — popular with business people and their respective social elites, and grew slowly into lunch and then dinner — upgrading the menu step by step.
Jumps falls into that top-notch of second-tier restaurants, just a step back from the luxury and power-service and style of white-linen places. Where Jumps does come close to fine dining is in its menu and cooking — at a much lower price.
Husband-and-wife team Chad and Mo Stewart own the restaurant. He runs the kitchen; she takes care of the front of the house and often waits tables. Chad is assisted by Drew Shipley, the chef de cuisine and a veteran of Tribute, and also by Stewart’s stepson, Brandon Kokoszki, who makes the desserts.
Above left: Brandon Kokoszki is the day sous-chef and also makes desserts. Center: Chef and co-owner Chad Stewart. Right: Co-owner Mo Stewart often waits tables.
As seems to be the trend these days, Jumps’ menu is brief: six first courses, 10 main dishes, salads, and desserts. Likewise, the wine list is short but well priced. Most bottles range between $22 and $38.
Of the six first courses, which range from $7 to $9, we tried five. Two were superb, while two others left us neither loving nor disliking them.
A single crab cake in a rémoulade sauce served with cucumber and a tomato confit was nothing out of the ordinary. The “crazy hair” shrimp, so named for the fine-thread-like phyllo dough in which it had been wrapped and deep fried, was super-fresh, plump, and sweet. But the accompanying Jumps cocktail sauce did nothing much for us.
The two exceptional dishes, which elicited wows and swoons, were the plump, stuffed beef wontons of braised rib meat with shiitake mushrooms that seemed to have been cooked in wine and aromatics. They arrived at the table barely golden brown, moist, savory, and flavorful, with a delightfully zesty and tangy sauce of soy and sweet orange.
The other favorite was a chicken, black-bean, and chipotle-pepper quesadilla with jack cheese and a mango salsa.
Since one of our group was vegetarian, we ordered the fifth appetizer as a main course: a moist, flavorful risotto of peas, morel mushrooms, and leeks — exceptional in both the preparation and delicacy of its combined flavors.
Occasionally, simple and common dishes become outstanding in the hands of a good chef. So it was with Jumps’ porcini-dusted beef tenderloin with a Bordelaise sauce, mashed potatoes with Boursin cheese, and thin, snappy green beans.
Also very well prepared and balanced was a veal scaloppini with mushrooms in a Marsala-wine sauce. A pasta of creamy fettuccini with chicken and Italian sausage, yellow squash, and sun-dried tomatoes also impressed us.
Jumps also offers a good range of fish dishes, including a sautéed salmon served with couscous, and basil pesto with seasonal vegetables and balsamic reduction sauce; pecan-crusted whitefish with a sweet-potato gratin, caramelized cauliflower, and a reduced fig-and-vinegar sauce; sautéed perch, meunière-style, and a dish of angel-hair pasta with lobster and scallops in a mascarpone-cream sauce.
Above: A grilled Tuna Cheddar sandwich in the making. It’s a Jumps favorite, Chad Stewart says.
On our second visit, we decided to try what Jumps was originally known for: breakfast. At a Sunday brunch, the standout was the house-made eggs Benedict on a not-too-spicy chorizo. So many times we’ve been served eggs Benedict with poached eggs that are so hard they don’t run. At Jumps, they’re lusciously runny and the hollandaise is smooth and a touch tangy. Just right.
Also excellent for brunch are any number of the omelets, and a ridiculously thick cinnamon-swirl French toast, about the size of a slice of a cake.
Not too often do places such as Jumps turn out to be the delights worth finding. For the most part, when you find a couple or a family committing themselves and their fortunes to a restaurant such as this, it’s done with so much heart and emotion. Every day, they lay themselves out to either succeed or fail very publicly. That takes courage and heart. The Stewarts have the courage, and Jumps has the heart.
63 Kercheval, Suite 105, Grosse Pointe Farms; 313-882-9555.
B, L, D Tue.-Sun.
Cook is the chief restaurant critic for Hour Detroit.
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