Downtown Naperville has definitely changed over the last 20 years. From an area with few nightspots, it's evolved into a lively late-night bar scene with a wide range of dining options.
Jumping into this throng is Jackson Ave. Pub, located at 7 W. Jackson just off Washington Street. While not the biggest in square footage, the bar offers a large dose of imaginative pub food and a plethora of top-notch craft beers.
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Motif: Open since June, Jackson Ave. Pub is a place for friends and families to meet for a great burger or singles to gather for late-night drinks. The spot features a simple contemporary bar design with seating near the bar and at high tables.
Service: We found service quick and friendly. The young staff seems to have a good knowledge of menu items and drinks.
Liquid consumption: Jackson Ave. boasts an excellent selection of craft beers including local and hard-to-find choices. Fifteen beers are available on tap, including Solemn Oath's Kidnapper by Vikings, Founder's Red Rye, Goose Island Matilda, Smuttynose Old Brown Dog and Firestone Walker Double Jack. Bottled brews give beer lovers even more choices -- from Miller, Bud and Coors to Two Brother's Ebel's Weiss, Wells Banana Bread Beer, New Belgium Fat Tire and Young's Double Chocolate Stout. Prices ($5.50 to $7.50) are a little at the high end for pints here, but the quality makes it worthwhile. And if you want to shave a bit off the tab, come on Tuesdays for $4 craft beer pints.
There is also a nice selection of wines, whiskeys and mixed drinks.
Food: The menu offers an imaginative selection of appetizers and burgers.
It would be easy to sate your hunger by just ordering pub staples like chicken wings, jalapeņo bites and quesadillas, However, Jackson Ave. adds a few not-to-miss appetizer selections like sumptuous pork pot stickers, blue cheese smothered fries, and mac and cheese (with or without bacon). We decided on two opposite palate-pleasers -- the sweet and salty bacon-wrapped dates and the spicy Snake Bites, and both hit the spot. The dates were baked perfectly while the Snake Bites -- fried wontons stuffed with a mixture of cheese, black beans and habanero peppers -- offered just the right amount of heat.
The stars of the menu are the 17 different burger combinations -- with the added twist of each coming with your choice of either Angus beef or grass-fed beef patties. You can also go for a chicken breast instead. Each burger comes with a heap of fresh-cut house fries and your choice of a house bun or pretzel bun. All the selections looked like winners -- except one: the PB&J. A burger topped with peanut butter and grape jelly is something I'll maybe leave for my 6-year-old goddaughter to try.
After a long perusal, we pared our choices down to three burgers -- the Smokey, topped with pepper jack cheese, arugula, tomato and chipotle aioli; the Prime, topped with horseradish cream and sweet caramelized onions; and the Caesar, which included romaine lettuce, parmesan cheese, garlic aioli and a fried egg.
Each burger patty was thick yet perfectly cooked, and even the leaner grass-fed patty was juicy. Not one of us had the need to use the mustard or ketchup on the table; the flavor combinations provided did not need any extra support.
Sounds: Medium-level music is played at most times, though the bar can get extremely noisy with the late-night younger drinking crowd.
Crowd: Like most of the downtown Naperville restaurant and bar crowd, patronage changes from older adults and families at meal times to 20- and 30-somethings later.
Parking: You can find parking along Jackson Street and municipal parking garages within two blocks.
Overall: Jackson Ave. is a worthy addition to the downtown Naperville scene, offering high-quality pub food and beer selections.