The tortilla machine is live. When customers enter the soon-to-open Jackalope in Columbia City, the staff can dispatch a handful of flour tortilla dough balls into this device, which spits them out freshly baked.
“The tortillas that come to your table are 20 seconds old,” says owner Jack Timmons. He remembers being enthralled by a similar device at the Blue Goose Cantina when he was growing up in Dallas.
Timmons, of course, is the guy behind Jack’s BBQ. In 2014, his SoDo roadhouse ended those tiresome conversations about how Seattle had no good barbecue. Now Jack’s is four locations strong (with another in the works in Bellingham) and Timmons is ready to channel another facet of his Texas upbringing.
He and his (similarly Texan) partners will open a Tex-Mex restaurant called Jackalope at 4868 Rainier Avenue South this month. The former home of El Sombrero will soon serve brisket tacos, fajita nachos, and enchiladas with chili gravy—the dish Timmons considers a benchmark for all Tex-Mex menus.
Plans for Jackalope have been in the works for a while. As Timmons grew his business, he acquired a few managers with Texas roots; what started as a “semi-promise” of a Tex-Mex restaurant maybe five years ago to GM (and Columbia City denizen) Graham Ayers finally coalesces into reality later this month.
Jackalope’s menu is split between Tex-Mex canon and other Mexican influences, like enchiladas con mole, or a ceviche of fresh local rockfish atop a tostada. Fans of San Antonio’s puffy tacos can determine whether the version on Jackalope’s menu meets their Lone Star standards. And, of course, the kitchen borrows liberally from the pair of offset meat smokers Jack’s runs at its SoDo flagship.
Smoked brisket might fill tacos and top enchiladas (and did you get a load of that beef rib fajita platter?), but barbecue doesn’t define Jackalope’s menu. Timmons has as much scholar-geek energy around Tex-Mex origins as he does around Central Texas barbecue traditions; he can connect the all-important cumin in chili gravy to Spain’s early attempts to colonize Texas by relocating Canary Island residents with Berber roots here in the eighteenth century.
Much like barbecue, “it’s one of those things that’s slightly different on the West Coast,” says Timmons of Tex-Mex. He recalls his disappointed befuddlement upon sampling cumin-less fare when he lived in San Diego after college.
Jackalope will be open later than Jack’s, since the space has more of a bar vibe. Stew Navarre—the company’s Houston-raised operations VP—oversaw Jackalope’s menu. Ayers installed a significant lineup of tequila and mezcal. After the restaurant finds its rhythm with lunch and dinner service, Jackalope will add breakfast service, including a morningtime taco that’s different from the popular version over at Jack’s.
The overall menu benefits from intensive research undertaken by Timmons, Navarre, Ayers, and kitchen manager Josh Carpenter. “We went to 35 Tex-Mex restaurants in three and a half days,” Timmons recalls. “Until we hit a tequila wall in Austin.”
A tequila wall of a very different sort will soon beckon from the carved back bar. Jackalope is aiming for a December 17 open; see a sample menu online and keep tabs on the restaurant’s Instagram for updates.