Black Jack

1612 14th Street
Washington, DC  20009
Black Jack on Urbanspoon

This post is more of an observation than a review since I went to a specific event to Black Jack and I think most of the food originated from Pearl Dive Oyster Palace which is located right under Black Jack.  On this particular Sunday, Black Jack was hosting a Chicken Fried Steak Competition (I seriously considered making this post a Food We Love post about Chicken Fried Steak which to me stand atop the pantheon of comfort foods).  The owner/chef of Black Jack and the rest of the Black Restaurant Group restaurants including BlackSalt challenged several chefs from DC restaurants, that are on my wish list, including Birch & Barley, the Source, and Bourbon Steak.  The competition was hosted by Nycci and David Nellis who have a weekly radio show on Federal News Radio called Foodie & the Beast along with running TheListAreYouOnIt which is a food and wine event website.  Proceeds from the competition were to be donated to the Washington Nationals Juvenile Diabetes Wing at the Children's National Medical Center.  More specifically, the funds were going to go towards building the kitchen for the wing.   So, it was a cause that is near and dear to me considering my recent diagnoses.

I admit that I watch Food Network and I get engrossed in Top Chef but I guess I didn't know how prevalent the Celebrity of the Chef is these days.  The event definitely felt a lot more rock and roll than Julia Child.  The chefs (except for Jeff Black who was in a traditional chef's coat and apron but coolly wearing his Pearl Dive baseball cap backwards) were all dressed in designer jeans and ironic t-shirts and looked more like they were about to play a set rather than cook and batter some steak.  They also had two brothers who were mixologists making drinks for the whole crowd.  I paid $35 for the event mainly because I believed in the cause so I wasn't expecting massive amounts of food and drink.  My expectations couldn't have been more wrong.  The amount of food and free alcohol that the restaurant could not have possibly been covered by the $35 donations across the crowd.  There were quite a few people the but the space isn't so big that there were hundreds of people.  I really do have commend the chefs and Black Jack for providing such great hospitality.

I only got a chance to sample two of the drinks since it was a bit of a hassle getting to the bar and getting a free drink not to mention that they were awfully strong and I ordered a beer to start.  I tried out the Sasparilla which was bourbon I believe with smoked ice cubes and some other stuff.  It had a slice of lemon and cucumber in it with a basil leaf.  I'm usually not a whiskey or bourbon fan but I really enjoyed the smokiness of this drink and the strong woody flavor.  The other drink I got to sample was a frozen mango margarita  and again, I'm not a big fan of margaritas (I just don't like the strong tequila flavor and aftertaste from the drink) but this drink made me reconsider that.  The mango muted the tequila enough that the drink was a nice blend of sweetness and bite from the alcohol.  It was probably a good thing I didn't try more since this thing started at 10:30a and I still had to drive home.

The food was everywhere in the venue.  There was a small buffet serving in the back by the bocce ball court and servers waded through the crowd delivering little bites.  Throughout the day, I got a chance to have some spicy eggs benedict but with crab, a small cornbread muffin with chocolate, a homemade plain doughnut, a heaping of gumbo over plain white rice, a bite of an oyster po'boy, some thin crust pizza, and a sample of chicken fried steak (which I'll get to later).  The food was definitely southern comfort food which went along nicely with the theme of the competition.  I can't say anything was a mind blowing but everything I ate hit all the right notes.  The crab in the eggs benedict was pleasantly spicy which gave it a welcome break from all the richness of the egg yolk and hollandaise.  The chocolate chips in the cornbread gave it more flavor complexity than usual and who doesn't like doughnuts? I love oyster po'boys as much as I love chicken fried steak so I was excited to see them passing some out.  It was light, crispy and had no over-bearing greasiness so it was a winner in my book.  Finally, I tried a piece of thin crust margherita pizza and a piece of mushroom pizza and I probably could've had more if I wasn't getting so full.

This being a chicken fried steak competition, I probably should write a little about it.  One of the things that surprised me is that, beyond the host Jeff Black, most of the chefs were not familiar with what chicken fried steak is and generally compared it to schnitzel and while I see the preparations are the same, I've never ever thought these two foods were in the same universe.  Schnitzel, at least to me, always seemed dry and flavorless while chicken fried steak is such a juicy, crispy guilty pleasure that I never associate it with any other breaded and fried concoction.  Chicken fried steak is traditionally a lesser cut of beef like a chuck or skirt steak that's pounded, breaded and fried up.  You heap some black pepper gravy on top of it and serve it with some vegetables and mashed potatoes.  One of the highlights of the event was meeting an elderly couple from Texas who participate in competitive chili and barbecue contests and were a font of knowledge about all things southern comfort food.  They pointed out correctly that each chef (as they described it on their radio interview) was using a higher cut of beef such as ribeye or even kobe for their recipe and deviated from what chicken friend steak was supposed to be.  With all due respect to the Bauers, I didn't really care since the one piece of steak I had (Jeff Black's ribeye) was fantastic.  It was juicy and fatty on the inside with a nice crisp and flavorful coating.  The gravy was just enough to complement the steak and the best part of the dish was that he managed to make the steak the star of the dish.  Unfortunately (or fortunately since I was stuffed) this was the only one I got to try.  I, either missed some of the other chef's steaks or it was just taking an awful long time for each to come out.

At the end of the day, I didn't mind that I only sampled one.  The other simple beauty of chicken fried steak is that you really can't do too much to it and the flavor profile will always be consistently the same.  Also, the event was  less about food and more about just enjoying yourselves on a Sunday morning/afternoon.  Besides, the drinks were relatively free, there was enough food beyond the steak to go around., and it was for a good cause.  I can't see how anyone could leave with any feelings of disappointment.


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