Divot Dilemma 

Down the Flavor Hole at Jáce Gáce

Jáce Gáce is the kind of ridiculous Portland mash-up that causes tourists to use words like "artsy," "unique," and "bizarre" when describing our city: The waffle stand/gallery/pub is going the distance to keep Portland weird. The problem is, weird isn't always flavorful, even if it looks fantastic.

The first difficulty Jáce Gáce presents is how to pronounce its name (I was told "yaw-say gay-say"). Therefore, it has garnered a variety of nicknames. Patrons are encouraged to create their own—"Fancy Flavor Hole," anyone?

Once you've found "that waffle joint on Belmont," there is a certain wow factor upon entering. Part Tube, part Doug Fir, and part Pacific Northwest College of Art, Jáce Gáce is slick, modernist, curvy, and woodsy. It's a lovely space, and the wafting scents of cinnamon, sugar, and syrup are absolutely intoxicating.

A chalkboard presents Jáce Gáce's diminutive menu of sweet and savory waffles. Unique combinations of toppings—asparagus and curry cranberry cream sauce, in one instance—are piled atop a "Brussels style" (AKA Belgian) waffle made of either traditional or cornmeal batter.

I was pleased to note the selection of savory waffles. A waffle's characteristic divots (which increase surface area, allowing faster cooking times and fluffy crispness) seem perfect for creating tasty pools of savory goodness: Such reasoning led me to the grilled cheese waffle, topped with tomato slices, honey mustard, and melted provolone and Swiss cheeses. While waiting for my waffle, I wandered the gallery space. I'll leave it to my colleagues to critique the art, but it seemed like a bunch of pretty stuff with very little flavor. This is fine for art, being a subjective experience and all, but was unexpected for my meal.

Wonderfully presented, the grilled cheese waffle lacked any real flavor. The problem is that Swiss and provolone are two very subtle and mutable cheeses. They melt and fill a waffle divot well, but they do not have enough zest to stand up to the low flavor of the cornmeal base. I'm sure the honey mustard was meant to counteract this, but it was lost in the milieu, as were the tomatoes.

Another savory waffle experience at Jáce Gáce, the huevos rancheros, was not much better. Again, the eggs, rancheros sauce, and black beans looked beautiful, accompanied by a dollop of sour cream and a fan of avocado. Again, there was little flavor. I had a sense that the folks here just wanted the ingredients to speak for themselves. Mine were saying, "Season me."

Luckily, Jáce Gáce does excel with sweet waffles. The tiramisu waffle is lovely, with light and creamy mascarpone custard layered between traditional waffles and soaked in rum-espresso syrup for a top-notch presentation and dynamic flavor.

The Three Sides, another sweet offering, is a traditional waffle garnished with honey and walnuts, accompanied by Brie, apples, and prosciutto. The flavors here work exceptionally well, and the choose-your-own-adventure aesthetic of the dish is quite pleasing.

By applying an artsy twist to the waffle house with creative waffle styles, Jáce Gáce ultimately winds up being a bizarre experience, though not necessarily an unpleasant one. But until they spice up their savory options, it's best to stay on the sweet side of the fancy flavor hole.

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