Some things in life are more than the sum of their parts. Like the 2018 Eagles, the cast of Wet Hot American Summer, and pretty much any impressionist painting. Jaxon in Northern Liberties is also in that camp. On the surface, it might look like any other casual BYOB - but this is one of the best restaurants in Philadelphia.
When you walk into Jaxon, you get the immediate sense this would be a great place for grabbing dinner on a Tuesday night with a few friends. There’s a small dining room inside with an open kitchen and about 10 or so tables, and on any given night there are only a few people on staff. In the summer, the space almost doubles in size by adding a bunch of two- and four-tops out on the sidewalk, which sit under some string lights. It’s also relatively inexpensive, and the menu - with items like mussels, hamachi crudo, and watermelon salad - seems to have something that everybody would like.
But what makes Jaxon different than other similar BYOBs across the city is how those dishes actually taste - so much better than what their short menu descriptions would have you believe. The menu includes an excellent list of whatever happens to be in season - from a super smooth chicken liver mousse with grilled bread fresh from The Kettle Black next door and some crunchy pickled vegetables, to a vegan “crab cake” on top of succotash that could rival even the best coastal crab shack in Maryland.
The menu is short, and you’re going to want to order everything. So come with a date prepared to eat, or with a group of six so you can divide and conquer. When everyone at the table lists their favorite thing from the night, there won’t be a single dish that isn’t part of the conversation. You’ll start out super confident with your answer of the rohan duck, which comes with what can only be described as the world’s best cornbread. But then someone will bring up the hamachi crudo in a cold coconut broth and suddenly you’ll feel like a Jeopardy contestant who just realized they were wrong immediately after answering the Daily Double.
Other restaurants that serve food like Jaxon’s are the kind you save for something important, like a medical school graduation or your daughter’s pet fish making it home from the fair. But the low-key atmosphere and BYOB policy make Jaxon a casual enough spot to have a weeknight dinner with a couple of friends that’s so good it’ll make you temporarily forget about all of the world’s injustices, without spending your entire paycheck. And that’s something almost as impressive as beating the Patriots in the Superbowl.
All we know is that we want every crudo we have from now on to be soaking in a bath of cold coconut broth.
The watermelon salad is only on the menu in the summer, but if you happen to be here in the warmer months, you should claim one of their outdoor tables and order yourself this light, refreshing salad with just a hint of jalapeno.
It’s easy for mac & cheese to be good, but it’s hard to find one that’s so good you can’t seem to let anyone else at the table get a bite, even though you promised you’d share it.
Everything from the crispy skin to the tangy sauce makes this seasonal fish completely delicious. It also comes on a huge pile of couscous that’s so good you’ll have to really think about whether or not to eat the few pearls that rolled off your plate and onto the table.
The crabs are fried whole, which makes meeting them for the first time kind of like greeting the statue of George Washington in Washington Square. But unlike the statue, they’re fresh, salty, and soft. Plus they come on top of a pasta in a creamy red sauce that’s not so bad either.
The rohan duck, which is a cross between a mallard and peking duck, is tender and delicious. But the real star of this dish is the cornbread that comes on the side. That’s the stuff we see in the clouds when everyone else is seeing cats and elephants.