Jake’s BBQ joins Saigon’s growing American barbecue club, offering big portions and food made with passion. By Lorcan Lovett. Photos by Jonny Edbrooke.
Marinated, grilled meat bridges the culinary worlds of Vietnam and the US, which explains why fans of dishes such as bun thit nuong will happily cross over to pork shoulder cooked low and slow.
Bearing that broad appeal in mind, both expats and Vietnamese have driven Saigon’s American barbecue spots to wild success recently, and attracted the newest kid on the block, 36-year-old chef Jake Pulkrabek.
“I’m very honoured to be part of this community,” he says. “The reception has been very warm.”
Pulkrabak has renovated the former burger joint Mogambo’s into a tin-roofed slice of Americana, with a long bar dominating the first floor and a smoker outside on one of Saigon’s busiest streets.
Inhaling the bar’s smoky aroma, I take a bite out of The Jucy (sic) Lucy (VND270,000 plus a 5 percent service charge on all dishes). The burger was invented in Pulkrabak’s home state of Minnesota and he stays true to its roots by using US imported meat while stuffing the bun with sautéed onions and bacon cured and smoked in-house. There’s also a choice of blue cheese or cheddar for the burger as well as a side (fries, in this case).
The veteran chef asked me for candid feedback. It’s a project close to his heart, after running restaurants in the US, the Philippines and China, but never owning one until now.
Within the next two months he plans to expand upstairs, increasing the seating by 40, and add Tex-Mex to the menu.
Having opened in February, Jake’s is still finding its feet, although the food is consistently good and the portions hefty in typical US fashion.
Diners can test Jake’s slogan ‘falls off the bone good!’ with the St Louis Ribs (VND575,000 for half a rack and cooked for over eight hours) with two sides.
Lightly smoked, slow-cooked and basted in the kitchen’s signature sweet and tangy sauce, the meat was indeed fall-off-the-bone good, and tasted delicious too.
The spicy mustard dip, also homemade, pulls no punches, and a generous squeeze of the vinegary North Carolinian sauce is recommended for the Pulled Pork Sandwich (VND180,000).
Out of the sides, Grandma Lois’s Potato Salad stands above the rest. Hats off to Grandma, and to Pulkrabek’s for having the initiative to learn her recipes in his youth.
The buy-one-get-one-free happy hour runs everyday from 3pm to 6pm, with beers like Tiger draft at VND45,000 and spirits like Jim Bean at VND75,000.
Jake’s has the occasional musician for entertainment and a typically US range of desserts too, so you can leave with a sweet taste in your mouth.