It’s out with the old and in with the new for the Jac Island Bar & Grille, the restaurant on Sanibel Island replacing the Jacaranda.
“I don’t know anything about the old Jac,” said new owner Eve Alves.
Alves bought the restaurant with her husband, Alex, in November without ever setting a foot inside to taste its menu. Instead, Alves worked with chef Phillipe Schroeder, from Austin, Texas, to design a new palate.
“I think the one thing that people have a hard time seeing here is change,” Schroeder said about the culinary scene on Sanibel. “Here, you can do the same macadamia nut crusted grouper for 15 years.”
If you’re a die-hard fan of the old Jacaranda, your blood may be boiling at this point.
But don’t judge the new Jac just yet. If you’re a person with disabilities, you can finally use the newly renovated bathrooms. If you enjoy eating fresher ingredients, the menu is chock-full of them.
What’s new at The Jac
1. The owners
The Jac was previously owned by Dr. Darayes Mobed, who bought the Jacaranda in 2005. The new owner, Eve Alves, grew up in the restaurant business and owns Luna Rossa Italian Grille at Miromar Outlets in Estero.
Alves said Mobed’s family was vacationing on the island and wandered into the restaurant because it was one of the only ones on Sanibel open on Christmas Eve.
“He fell in love at first sight,” Alves said of the previous owner’s first impression.
Alves said Mobed never urged her to keep anything the same, but she decided to keep a piece of the old Jac alive in the shortened name. The restaurant will still be open on Christmas Eve, and the Jac is working on booking the group Renata for live music.
2. The “bones”
Alves realized the place needed extreme remodeling after she bought it and started working with the City of Sanibel on permits to renovate.
“At that time, I was told I needed to rewire, replumb, reroof, and make the bathrooms ADA,” Alves said.
The Jac’s opening was delayed from December to late May.
The back bar, where many Islanders have memories of late nights and live bands, has yet to undergo renovations. Look for changes on the outside bar in later months.
3. The decor
When Alves reached the decorating stage, she wanted the Jac to have a sleek, neutral look. Now, the walls are gray and the floor is wooded. A granite bar sits in the interior, and farm doors give the restaurant a more updated look.
“I plead the Fifth,” Alves said of the old Jacaranda’s decor.
Chef Schroeder said the carpeted dining room was old and outdated, with a fish tank that “hadn’t been changed since the beginning of time.”
“It was like you took two steps back in time into 1978,” he said.
Produce and herbs used in the kitchen will be sourced locally.
“I want to bring the farm to the island,” Alves said.
4. The menu
If you’re a former patron waiting on the return of your favorite Jacaranda dish or cocktail, take a deep breath before reading.
“Customers (now) are asking me, ‘Bring this dessert back,’ or ‘Bring the (Jacaranda) drink back,'” Alves said, sighing.
The Jac has not adopted any of the old menu items, but the chef said he tried to find a middle ground with the menu to show the customers a fresh spin on seafood classics.
A steamed mussels appetizer cooked with smoked carrot broth on top of house-made focaccia bread is an alternative to the memorable mussels in marina dish at the old Jacaranda.
Chef Schroeder attended culinary school and worked in the restaurant business for five years before moving to Austin. He served as a line cook, and later, bread manager for a posh fine dining restaurant called Jeffrey’s.
Because of Schroeder’s baking background, all of the Jac’s pasta and bread is made fresh in-house. Gluten-free and vegetarian eaters have options at the Jac. Look for a baked Mahi-Mahi dish that has gluten-free, house-made gnocchi made with rice flour. The menu’s cauliflower steak has a meaty texture that meat eaters can still enjoy.
Schroeder highly encourages guests to take the “full bite,” meaning getting all the components of a dish on your fork for full flavor.
5. The feel of family
When it comes to Alves’ restaurants and employees, everyone is family. It’s something she learned from her father, who died 11 years ago.
“I was born and raised in the restaurant business, and I just mimicked everything my father did,” Alves said.
Alves’ father operated restaurants in Miami strip malls during her childhood and was active in charities, feeding orphans in the city weekly.
“He always made sure that everybody he knew never went without when it came to food,” Alves said.
Alves sits at the table in the Jac, tearing up thinking about her father’s lessons that transferred from the kitchen to life — how to run a business, how to give back, how to treat people.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him or think that he would be proud of this,” Alves said. “I think this was his dream, and I feel like I’m finally fulfilling it.”
Square footage: 9,000
Cool features: Brunch will be served from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Guests can enjoy bottomless mimosas and pick from ingredients of a Bloody Mary bar for a customized cocktail.
Most interesting drink item: The Jac’s Manhattan is a switched-up version of the Manhattan, served in a martini glass with fresh rosemary. Another favorite is a completely organic Cucumber Lemonade made from house-infused cucumber vodka.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily, happy hour served 3 p.m.- 6 p.m. daily
This article was originally published in the News-Press.