When Jakob's Cabin owner Michael Jakob Weber chose the motto "Comfort Food For The Soul" for his 60-seat diner just south of Gulf View Square mall, he said it all.
The 15-month-old eatery in the former Wendy's offers food as comforting as grandma's porch swing and as authentic as that from Aunt Pearl's cookstove in Tennessee, Weber's native state.
With a menu that includes Mom's Meatloaf ($6.95); fried chicken livers ($6.75) that won the praise of a discerning New Orleans native who declared them the best he'd had since moving to Florida three years ago; "roast beast" ($7.65) that is one of Jakob's two best-sellers; and Uncle Jake's Famous Pan Fried Chicken ($6.45) that had a neighboring table of patrons oooo-ing and ahhhh-ing, Jakob has quietly built up a cadre of admirers.
These plates come with two choices from 16 "country fresh sides," including perfectly seasoned butter beans cooked soupy (just like I like 'em), black-eyed peas, seasoned fries with onions and parsley, baked beans and the frieds: okra, cabbage, corn and slightly sweet fried green tomatoes.
You also get a plate of sliced beefsteak tomatoes, sweet onion and — yup — a fried corn bread patty that's crispy around the edges and slightly sweet.
Each day has a special: roast turkey on Sunday, baked ham on Monday, liver and onions on Tuesday, chopped steak on Wednesday, smothered pork chop on Thursday, catfish filet on Friday and chicken-fried steak with country gravy on Saturday, with sides ($6.75).
Smaller appetites can order sandwiches (meatloaf, barbecue pork, pork chop, etc.) on soft bread ($4.75-$5.88), with sides at $1.39 apiece. Those afraid of all that fried stuff can go for the summertime sandwiches (tuna, chicken or egg salad, $3.95) or bounteous garden and chef salads ($5.45-$6.75).
Southern Sweet Tea or Yankee Unsweet Tea comes in jars for $1.85. Coffee with a meal is just 95 cents.
Breakfast goes from Tex Mex Burritos with fries ($3.95) to an 8 ounce rib eye with two eggs, grits (mine were a tad dry last Sunday), tasty sausage gravy, fried potatoes, biscuit or toast and real butter for $8.49, as well as most everything in between: French toast, a short stack, biscuits and gravy, oatmeal, omelets and just big ol' breakfasts.
Don't expect these plates to be picture perfect. This is not a homogenous, one-look-fits-all kind of place. One of my "once over easy" eggs, for example, had a slightly broken yolk and a little crispy egg white lace around the edges, which I adore, but some people don't.
Even so, what it lacked in visual perfection, it more than made up for in terrific taste, which is what counts.
Owner Weber, 56, bought his first restaurant at age 25, and he once owned a soul food place in Indianapolis. Jakob's is the eighth he has owned in his career, and he himself cooks about one-third of the dishes.
"Everything we do is made from scratch, and we make it right in house," Weber said. That includes the banana puddin' ($3.49), and sweet potato pie, peach cobbler, apple pie and cherry pie ($3.25 each).
His clientele runs to those ages 40 to 80, with the busiest times on Friday evenings and Sundays after church.
I put off going to Jakob's Cabin until recently because the faux log siding and small windows made it look claustrophobic. Inside, though, the light, faux wood paneling hung with a few antique farm implements, plus well-spaced solid-oak pedestal tables and glass doors give the place a surprisingly open feel, and the friendly owner and servers make everyone feel welcome.
A few changes — a sign pointing to the entrances, regular replacement of the easily smudged paper menus, creamier grits, for example — could attract still more people, especially Southerners homesick for a kitchen not afraid of bacon drippings, flat biscuits and red-eye gravy.