There’s something about a steakhouse that implies to me “no kids allowed” — maybe it’s the sky-high prices or the elegant, dimly lit interiors. Even though I’ve seen plenty of children at high-end steakhouses, including a Morton’s in Seattle just three weeks ago, I’ve been reluctant to take my own kids to one. Sure, they love their red meat (their father is so proud), but if I’m going to spend upward of $40 on a steak, I’d rather enjoy it at a leisurely pace with a bottle of red wine rather than some apple juice. But when Jax Cafe offered a Groupon recently, I thought, what the hell? We’d never been, and since I noticed a “Jax Junior” menu on the restaurant’s website, I knew we wouldn’t be treading on uncharted territory. Little did I know that it would turn out to be an excellent choice.
Since my youngest is in bed no later than 7pm, we tend to dine on the early side, so we made a 5pm reservation for a recent Sunday night. The upside to this kid-friendly dining hour is that is often coincides with happy hour, and Jax Cafe is no exception if you sit in the bar or on the beautiful patio. We wisely chose the patio over the bar and not only enjoyed discounted drinks and fries, but also got to experience one of a child’s favorite distractions — water. Jax’s lush, fragrant outdoor dining space is divided by a delicate stream that flows into a small pond, complete with a small water wheel and a stock of rainbow trout. There’s no better way to amuse a small child than to let him watch the fish and marvel at the water wheel. The water’s entertainment value isn’t limited to the preschool set, though. We also witnessed a party of tweens grab nets and valiantly try to scoop up their rainbow trout dinner.
Dining on a Sunday offers another water-themed bonus — the lobster tank. Jax boasts a $30 lobster special that night, and watching the tank full of crustaceans is also a highlight. It’s on the way to the restrooms, so it’s a good incentive to get your fidgety kid to use the facilities — or wash her hands — before dinner.
Beyond all things agua, though, Jax makes family dining a pleasure in numerous ways — particularly on the patio. The tables are generously spaced, so your neighbors won’t be subjected to endless readings of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? The bread basket arrives promptly to help little mouths stay full, and coloring books make sure their hands are busy, too. Plastic cups for kid-sized beverages alleviate the nervousness parents feel whenever a full-size glass is handed to a slippery-fingered child. And it’s always nice to see a children’s menu that goes beyond the standard grilled cheese sandwich to include healthier choices like a grilled chicken breast or a turkey sandwich. Your kid still may demand a bowl of mac and cheese, but you may be able to convince him to order the grilled chicken with the promise of ice cream for dessert (included in the price of a kid’s entree, $6-$8).
Not every element of the evening was spot-on, however. The relaxed pace of service, while not exceedingly slow, made it difficult to wrap up our meal before the pre-bedtime fussiness reared its head. In particular, the wait to get and pay the bill could have been cut in half. And the comfortable, wrought-iron, heavy patio chairs didn’t make it easy to scoot out from the table, which, if you have a 1-year-old who likes to drop his sippy cup, you’re doing quite often. But those are small blips in an otherwise enjoyable meal, and there’s no reason why we wouldn’t return to Jax Cafe again. Hopefully, a mild fall will keep the patio open for several months to come.