Wet and wild

Sea Jax Tavern sets sail

By Paula Johnson

Photo: Grouper Fingers at Sea Jax Tavern; photo: Paula Johnson

A name like Sea Jax has nautical theme written all over it, and nautical is what Kettering’s Sea Jax tavern delivers. A tavern-like interior with wood paneling, low lighting and booths, the walls are lined with nautical maps and sea-themed memorabilia. It’s the kind of place that says grab your matey and set sail yonder for some casual seafood dining and a good time. There’s a lot of sly wit going on at this place, from its tagline “A Neighborhood Joint Actually Owned By The Neighbors” to a blackboard with pithy observations chalked on daily. On its website, there are plenty of examples like “See What’s On the Menu – OK, It’s on the menu but we do serve it on plates!” or “Let Us Help You With Meal Pairing,” “With a burger, we highly recommend an ice cold crafted beer from our extensive collection. 99.99% of the time.”

Wagging on the waves 

So I got the sea part, but what about the Jax? Owner Ron Sweeney’s father was in the military, and according to letters he found in the attic, Jax was an abandoned dog that provided much needed companionship. The name Jax was in honor of a friend who gave his life in service. Sweeney’s father was distraught about leaving Jax behind. A perfect home was found for him as the mascot on a Navy ship, where hundreds loved him. “When it came to naming this joint, there was one image I couldn’t shake, a dog at sea, a SEA JAX,” is what Sweeney wrote on the Sea Jax website to explain the tavern’s name.

Already loving the decor, sassy attitude and the place’s backstory, I was ready to move on to the food. Joining me for lunch was lovely Leslie, ready to sample and assess. The menu’s focus is naturally fish and seafood, but we noticed a good selection of burgers as well and ribs, pulled pork and even meat loaf. Also of interest was the Jax Mac Mash ($12.99), macaroni and cheese topped with either pulled pork or fried buffalo chicken. Of note on the menu was Sea Jax’s commitment to choosing local vegetables, herbs, eggs, cream and butter, as well as selecting only local or naturally raised meats and responsibly farmed or wild-caught seafood. Now this is a neighborhood joint I can get behind, and I wish that more casual places would follow in its footsteps. Fresh, local and sustainable should not be the exclusive claim of higher end fine dining establishments—it’s the responsible, ethical and locally beneficial way to do business for any type of restaurant. As the menu says, “Our goal is to produce food that not only tastes good, but makes you feel good.”

Lovely Leslie and I started with a couple of fried bar appetizers, Sea Jax style: the Boom-Boom Shrimp ($10.99) and Grouper Fingers ($12.99) appetizers. The winner of the two was the fish, batter-fried with house-made tartar. The name boom-boom promised spice and heat, and while not unpleasant, this dish didn’t really pack the expected punch.

Clamming up

We stuck with the day’s sea theme for our lunches with a lunch special ($8.99) for Leslie and a combination plate ($9.99) for me, which allowed a choice of one item from a list in each of two boxes. I tried a blackened grouper sandwich and clam chowder, and Leslie the shrimp creole and rice with garlic toast. That’s where Sea Jax really hit its stride. Both our lunches were terrific. The savory chowder broth had lots of fresh thyme, with chunks of clam larger and more numerous than the cubes of potato and celery. Lunch could be a big bowl of this alone! Leslie’s New Orleans -style shrimp dish had a tasty spicy kick to it, with lots of shrimp and big chunks of celery, tomato and pepper. The rice was a great foil for sauce’s heat and the thick slab of garlic bread was perfect to mop up the remains.

As we ate, I found myself thinking about key lime pie, and how apropos a dessert it would be for this place. Turned out, the Sea Jax owners agree with me, because it’s the ONLY dessert they offer. Lovely Leslie and I split a piece and agreed they don’t need to offer anything else. Sea Jax is a casual fun place that offers food that’s nicely done and sourced, so you don’t feel like you should walk the plank after eating it. I will set sail for these not too distant shores on the Kettering coast again soon!

Sea Jax Tavern is located at 5900 Bigger Rd. in Kettering. For more information, please call 937.439.1664 or visit

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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Paula Johnson
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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