The Oregon’s Seafood Stalwart

C arving out history Jay’s Seafood Restaurant is a longtime pillar of the Oregon District dining scene. It’s steeped in lore and history, and boasts one of the most beautiful antique mahogany bars anywhere. In 1882, more than 5,400 pounds of wood were carved into intricate animal shapes, including dogs and birds, to embellish the […]

Longstanding reputation maintains with Jay’s Restaurant


Jay’s Poke appetizer, a Hawaiian treat of marinated yellow fin tuna.

By Paula Johnson

Carving out history
Jay’s Seafood Restaurant is a longtime pillar of the Oregon District dining scene. It’s steeped in lore and history, and boasts one of the most beautiful antique mahogany bars anywhere. In 1882, more than 5,400 pounds of wood were carved into intricate animal shapes, including dogs and birds, to embellish the bar. If you are seated in the dining room, it’s worth it to sidle over to the bar to inspect them. The bar can be seen from most tables in the dining area, which is lofty and open with brick walls and antique lighting fixtures. There’s a railing from the Old Xenia Hotel and a plaque in the vestibule from the original gates of the Montgomery County Fair Grounds dated 1901. In its prior incarnation as The Pony House Restaurant, the likes of John Dillinger and Jack Dempsey were said to be regulars, and legend has it that Buffalo Bill Cody rode his horse right up to the bar. The interior is lovely, full of historic charm, and a comfortable dining space. So the question is, with so much going for it before food is even considered, does Jay’s Seafood rest on its historic laurels, or does the quality of their kitchen live up to the front of the house charm? That’s what PIP (Palate In Progress) and I set out to investigate. Read on to find out what my seafood sortie netted.

We were greeted immediately by our server Lisa, who PIP remembered from a previous visit, notably because she had provided excellent service, something often lacking on the Dayton dining scene. (She succeeded again throughout the evening, with prompt attention and good humor.) Lisa pointed out the evening’s specials and highlighted some of Jay’s most well-received offerings for us to consider. Sadly, that night no oysters were available (Jay’s has a separate oyster bar area and features Blue Points from Long Island Sound), but the extensive appetizer menu had plenty of options. The Scallops Andre ($15.00) was recommended, and proved to be delicious. Three large sea scallops, perfectly seared in a bubbling creamy white wine mushroom sauce made a strong beginning for Jays.

Tuna-tastic
Equally strong was Jay’s Poke ($15.00). Poke is Hawaii’s gift to the mainland, popping up everywhere and for good reason. It’s basically a mound of sliced or cubed marinated sushi grade yellow fin tuna. Jay’s uses a marinade vinaigrette of soy, yuzu, and wasabi over a bed of red peppers, scallions and cherry tomatoes. Fresh, citrusy, and just a little spicy, the poke was a polar opposite of the kind of rich dish the scallops were, and just as well received. I found the price for each of these to be perfectly in line. The portions in each case were generous, and the quality of ingredients, and what it took to prepare them easily justifies the charge.

Not quite so with the first of our entrees, a full order of swordfish. At $42.00, it seemed pricey, though not for the portion or quality of the fish. (A smaller potion is also available for a lower price.) It was served with a house salad—standard and uninspired with a few tomatoes and some shaved carrots, though the dressings are house made. I would love to see those tired carrot shavings give way to a little more variety in toppings, as well as to have the salad presented already dressed. A plastic cup full of dressing seemed a letdown after the nicely presented appetizers. This entree falls into the trap of all attention going to the center of the plate item, with not much care for the sides. Two halved red potatoes flanked the fish. The plate felt naked, with a slice of lemon attempting to add color. We found ourselves wishing for the option for a bit of sauce—maybe a chimichurri—to complement the fish and enliven the plain potatoes.

The other entree, Parmesan Crusted Halibut ($33.00), lacked as well, but for a different reason. Again, the fish itself was what it should be—flaky, mild, and substantial portion-wise. I expected a lighter coating of cheese crust, possibly combined with panko, but what arrived was more akin to a fried cheese-only layer. Parmesan is a salty, nutty, umami flavor bomb, and with nothing to moderate it, the delicate fish had no chance of not being overwhelmed. However, the accompanying vegetables in mild sauce were quite good, and again, so was the fish itself.

Dessert Dreams
We ended with something I was delighted by, a dessert platter. No need to decide or force my dining companions to order a dessert, which I will then eat. This was four dessert slices, Four Yums ($10.00), featuring house made slices of Key Lime Pie, Cheesecake, Bourbon Pecan Pie, and Flourless Chocolate Cake. All were wonderful, a dessert girl’s dream. Our meal was bookended by a strong start and finish, with what was in between needing a little attention. So while not all of what we ate lived up to what I’d hoped for, there is enough to recommend Jay’s. A meal could be easily made with appetizers, clearly a strong suit, and dessert of course.

Jay’s Seafood Restaurant
225 East Sixth Street
Dayton OH 45402
937-222-2892 • www.jays.com

Cuisine: 46/50
Value: 19/25
Service: 25/25
Total Rating: 90

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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