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Cox: Fine pub dining at Jackson's Bar and Oven


Now that Santa Rosa restaurateur Josh Silvers has closed Syrah and its successor, Petite Syrah, and cut back service at Three Squares, his restaurant at 205 Fifth St., the question becomes: How is Jackson's Bar and Oven, his other eatery a block away on Fourth Street, doing?

And the answer is that it's doing great, just as it has since the day it opened on Nov. 27, 2009.

Any number of factors might be responsible for a restaurant's success, but three reasons for Jackson's popularity stand out.

First, the room is delightful be in and to look at. Attribute that to Neva Freeman of Neva B. Designs in Santa Rosa, who hit this assignment out of the ballpark.

Second, the drinks list carries 59 wines, 19 bottled beers and ciders, a slew of beers on tap, plus all the usual full-bar classic cocktails and eight artisanal inventions unique to Jackson's, such as the Ras-Barry White for $9 that contains Espolon reposado tequila, Kokomo verjus, lime juice, cilantro, raspberries, egg white and simple syrup. It won't give you Barry White's deep voice, but it will give you a mouthful of sugar.

Third, when the classic American dishes are good, as they almost always are, they're very good indeed. Do not end your dinner until you order up pastry chef Scott Noll's better-than-New-Orleans <b>Beignets</b> ($8.50, 4 stars).

Three of these doughnut-dough cylinders dusted with powdered sugar come with a trio of dipping sauces: rich chocolate, vanilla anglaise and fresh strawberry.

You'll notice this review started with dessert first. Jackson's is that kind of place, just right for a libation after work and as a spot to give yourself a treat or meet friends or family.

The staff is friendly and helpful. The only drawback is that as the room nears capacity, the sound level nears obnoxious. When things are going full blast, you likely won't be heard across the table.

Jackson's happy hours run from 3 to 6 p.m. on weekdays, and noon to 6 p.m. on weekends, when a glass of beer is $2, wine is $4 and cocktails are $5.

The happy hour food menu is noteworthy, with fish tacos for $5 Mondays through Wednesdays and two "Juicy Lucy Sliders" for $5 Thursdays and Fridays.

The daily happy hour menu includes wings for $5, raw oysters for $1.50 each, and a margherita pizza for $8. To take advantage of these prices, you need to sit at the bar.

The regular menu centers on wood-fired pizzas from the cooks who work the wood-burning oven under chef de cuisine Jason Denton's direction. <b>House-Made Italian Sausage Pizza</b> ($16, 3 stars) has a fine, puffy, chewy crust; caramelized onions; red bell peppers; fresh oregano; and tasty Italian sausage that contained enough hard, rubbery chunks of gristle to be annoying.

Still, this is as good an artisanal pizza as you'll find in Santa Rosa, as opposed to a New York-style pie like Mombo's.

Among the small bites, <b>Indian Spiced Lamb Meatballs</b> ($13, 2? stars) consist of three golfball-sized, hot meatballs covered with cold onion chutney richly flavored with Indian spices like cumin and cardamom, tomato sauce spiced to heat the mouth, and cucumber yogurt to cool it down.

A salad of <b>Mixed Lettuces with Chicken Breast</b> ($13, 2? stars) delivered more than it promised. Besides the lettuces, it contained baby beet greens, arugula, endive, dandelion, cucumbers and carrot shavings. A very oily herb vinaigrette, too lavishly tossed with the greens, detracted.

Now here's a <b>Hot Pastrami Sandwich</b> ($11, 3 stars) worthy of the name. High-quality pastrami is piled high on rye. Gruyere cheese melts seductively over the meat. It's topped with caramelized onions and mustard aioli, and served with house-made potato chips.

<b>Braised Short Ribs</b> ($22, 4 stars) approached perfection. Amazingly tender, the deeply browned meat, braised in veal stock, is covered with a succulent red-wine reduction sauce, then spooned over with nose-biting horseradish cream.

A fresh-tasting, perfectly cooked succotash of corn kernels, green beans and cherry tomatoes completes the plate.

<b>Ling Cod Fish Tacos</b> ($18, 2? stars) were short on flavor but came with excellent four-star black beans.

To sum up: Santa Rosa's No. 1 spot for chillin' covers a unique niche between pub grub and fine dining.

<i>Jeff Cox writes a weekly restaurant review column for the Sonoma Living section. You can reach him at jeffcox@sonic.net.</i>