By Suzanne Parker
We had been circling, watching attentively for signs of life, ever since their sign went up in midsummer. The sign with simple white all-cap lettering on a black background announcing Jack & Nellie’s implied the aesthetic of either a steak joint, or a traditional pub. We were wrong on both counts. Aaarrr, begorra, ‘tis a wine bar. A tapas bar. An ooneria. An enoteca. A gastropub. It’s all of those things, owned and run by Cyril Burke, a nice Irish boy from County Wicklow.
Jack & Nellie’s serves a conglomeration of small plates — some with real heft to them — along with a selection of well-chosen wines and craft brews. The noshes are mostly of Continental provenance and all eminently shareable.
Mr. Burke, by his own admission, does not have a master chef in the kitchen. His genius lies in his expertly sourced artisanal components finished or just plated in his kitchen. The cheeseboard is a perfect example. A choice of three is offered from a list of artisanal European cheeses mostly cave-aged from raw milks. Try the Amarelo da Beira Baixa, a name-protected semi-soft raw sheep and goat milk cheese from Portugal, or the Idiazábal is a robust and sharp cheese, from the Basque region of Spain. Top those off with a mild, buttery Fromager d’Affinois, similar to a very rich Brie. All are served with herbed crostini, made of baguettes from La Boulangerie, the wonderful Forest Hills bakery considered by many to make the best baguettes in the city.
The charcuterie board is intense. Duck liver mousse with port wine, wild boar pâté with chestnuts and raisins, Sopressata, Proscuitto and cornichons, pickled onions, wholegrain mustard and fig jam to delight a cured meat lover.
If you’re there more to sip than munch but just want a little something, Spicy Marcona Almonds, served warm, are perfect. Known in Spain as “Queen’s Almonds”, they are softer and sweeter than their California counterparts.
For something more substantial, there’s a trio of sliders — grilled Angus beef with bleu cheese, braised beef short ribs with caramelized onions, and fried oyster po’boy with peppered slaw and pickles. The po’boy was the most arresting of the lot, but all were well executed. These just cry out for one of the great craft beers on the list.
Roasted garlic and artichoke dip is luscious but very rich. Be forewarned that if you are ordering other cheesy dishes, this may be over the top. The artichokes will also affect the flavor of the wine for serious wine tasters.
We broke our own rule arriving within their opening week. Usually we wait a few weeks for things to sort themselves out, so we were prepared to cut them some slack for birthing pains, but there was no need. Everything moved flawlessly.
The Bottom Line
The menu at this newborn establishment is still a work in progress. Mr. Burke intends to begin serving brunch in the not-too-distant. The bartender, he confided, is a wizard with desserts which will also be debuting soon. He may also be adding some favorites from the Emerald Isles like mini-shepherd’s pies made the real way with lamb not beef. They could use a few more of the lighter nibbles in the veggie camp, but we’re sure more good things are on the way.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jack & Nellie’s
108-25 Ascan Ave
Forest Hills, New York 11375
Price Range: Small plates $4-17
Cuisine: Pan European noshes and nibbles
Setting: Small, pubbish.
Service: Efficient, professional
Hours: From 4 pm daily, brunch on the way soon.
Reservations: Weekdays only
Alcohol: Wine and beer
Parking: Street, good luck.
Children: Bar scene, but not unwelcome.
Credit cards: The usual
Noise level: Noisy
Handicap accessible: Yes