Restaurant Reviews

Last Dish Effort

A heralded, old-fashioned ice cream parlor, general store, and "country kitchen," Jaxson's opened in 1956 on South Federal Highway in Dania Beach. The specialty of the house can be taken quite literally. It is the "kitchen sink," an actual basin complete with plumbing attachments and filled with dozens of scoops of ice cream and toppings. At least four people have to order it and choose what to put in it. The cost: $8.95 each.

Garnished with sparklers and accompanied by sirens, the kitchen sink is such a signature item that semiretired owner Monroe Udell (son of Jack, hence the name) has trademarked the name and design of it. He has gathered so many framed accolades from newspapers and magazines that they virtually wallpaper the place.

More of those tributes continue to be earned with every crank of the ice cream churn. The 200 or so flavors at Jaxson's, which can range up to 65 daily including yogurts and sorbets, are handcrafted in small batches. All ingredients are separately added; then the mix is packed in ten-gallon tubs. Though the flavors might not seem innovative to the Ben and Jerry's generation, some of them, like Oreo Cookie or Death by Chocolate, were visionary back when Jaxson's catered to the Dania Beach antiques trade, and they continue to offer creative satiation of the sweet tooth.

There are more than 55 versions of ice cream sundaes, sodas, malts, and shakes named things like "dusty road" (three scoops of vanilla ice cream dusted with malt, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream) or "snowball" (three scoops of vanilla topped with marshmallow, coconut, and whipped cream in honor of the seasonal snowbirds).

And the ice cream is terrific, just the right amount of rich cream and sweet sugar spun into a version of nirvana shared by epicures and Philistines alike. Topped with real whipped cream, scoops are enormous, as big as oven mitts and weighing about half a pound each; the full-pound pints (for take-away) dwarf the ones you find in the supermarket's freezer section. Our one complaint, aside from the fact that we couldn't finish it all, was that the bubble gum ice cream didn't have any actual gumballs in it -- or, at least, our mountainous scoop didn't yield any such nuggets of gold.

Of course, you can purchase a veritable yard of gum (no, really, it's a yardstick) in the store portion of the place, along with novelty candies like wax lips or gummies in the shapes of hot dogs and hamburgers. You can lodge a second grievance here, though -- a lot of the candy looked old or manhandled, like the crushed candy corn, and some boxes of things appeared to have been retaped. I suppose with the number of grubby fingers groping around here, wear and tear can't be helped. But replacement is the price of business.

Jaxson's isn't limited to ice cream, nor are the huge portions restricted to the cold, slowly melting stuff. Excess applies to every item on the menu, which offers a nice assortment of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and variations on the dog-and-burger theme. The old wooden tables can barely hold the platters, which are also oversized. Even the kids portions -- "Jaxson's for Juniors" -- are larger than the competition's; they include fries, a drink, and an overly generous sundae that, depending on what time of day or night it is, you might want to confiscate. Not that places like Swensen's or Friendly's should be placed in the same category.

Another plus is that everything from batter-dipped onion rings to the braided egg roll that encases a mound of thinly sliced, lean barbecued beef looks, smells, and tastes homemade. There's also some authenticity here, despite the fact that dishes come from all over the culinary map: A spectacularly good Reuben offers a heap of tender corned beef and sauerkraut on rye bread marbled with pumpernickel; it's enhanced by a dripping layer of Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing (a.k.a. Russian, as it was called before WWI and we became gastronomically patriotic). Buffalo "drummers" were doused with an appropriate amount of hot sauce, though the accompanying dip, a blend of blue cheese and honey mustard, was unappealing. Fried mozzarella sticks were served with an herb-inflected marinara so bona fide, it could pass muster with the Mob. And a New England-style clam roll astonished us with its genuine quality. The toasted hot dog bun was filled with meaty fried clams quite unlike the Howard Johnson's frozen strips we somehow expected.

Editor's note: Karetnick, who has been this newspaper's food critic since its inception six years ago, will move full-time to our sister paper in Miami. We wish her well.

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Jen Karetnick is an award-winning dining critic, food-travel writer, and author of the books Ice Cube Tray Recipes, Mango, and The 500 Hidden Secrets of Miami.
Contact: Jen Karetnick