I recently took a trip to Portland with some friends who have been raving for months about J's Oysters. They had been several times and were really looking forward to letting me experience some of the best food in Portland, as they claimed. Unfortunately, things at J's have apparently changed drastically since they were last there two years ago. J's is located on Commercial street in the tourist area of Portland, but it's anything but touristy. Upon walking in, it's evident that they cater more to a local crowd. A huge wraparound bar sits in the very middle of the restaurant, and unfortunately the bar is so big it leaves very little room to walk around. Possibly just due to poor design, but why the bartenders need that much room to themselves is beyond me. This place could really benefit from moving the bar in another 2 feet and giving diners more room to walk around. Other than that, the decor is very old fashioned and a bit run down. I'm perfectly okay with that as long as the food can make up for it.
Our party of six was seated in the corner, where three tables were pushed together to form one (all of the tables are two seaters, and they just move them around). The problem with that is that the tables were so small they had to combine two of them right in front of my girlfriend's seat. Since the tables are wobbly and don't align evenly, she had one table combined with another that was almost an inch lower, leaving an uneven ridge right in front of her. She had to eat with her plate sitting at an angle the entire time. Either that, or move it to the sides of her. Very annoying.
The person who seated us (not the hostess) took our drink orders and then disappeared, and a few minutes later a different woman came out who was our server and brought us half our drinks. She never brought our waters, and after ten minutes I ended up walking up to the bar and getting some there. Our server was terrible. She acted like she couldn't care less that we were there, and could never remember who ordered what. Ever single time she brought drinks or food she had to ask whose it was. EVERY time.
J's is known for their oysters so we started with some oysters rockefeller, baked stuffed oysters, and raw oysters. The raw oysters were decent, albeit a little on the small side. No real complaints there. The other two apps were ridiculous. If you look on urbanspoon at the picture someone uploaded of the oysters rockefeller, that is an accurate representation of the size of the oysters. They take up maybe 25% of the shell. If you can't get big oysters in Maine, I can understand that, but you need to adjust your prices accordingly, AND adjust your recipes to accommodate a smaller sized oyster. My baked and stuffed oysters were absurd. How can you stuff an oyster that is literally only slightly larger than a quarter? It looked great at first, until I realized that 80% of my food was breading. And not good breading either, but cheap-tasting mass produced bread crumbs. My oyster shell was piled high with mushy bread crumbs. My first bite was like chewing on a wad of chewed up saltines. Even though I love bread and bread crumbs, I took my fork and removed most of the appetizer (bread crumbs soaked in melted butter) and just ate the oyster. I never did see the cheese or lobster stuffing it was supposed to have. Completely disgusting appetizer. The oysters rockefeller looked equally bad and was just like it appears in the urbanspoon picture. The shrimp cocktail appetizer was fairly bland. Just boiled shrimp on a bed of lettuce with generic cocktail sauce. Steamed clams were next for an appetizer. They weren't terrible but weren't really anything special either. The last thing I had before my meal was the most old-fashioned salad I've ever seen. Some lettuce with shredded carrot on top and a couple tomato wedges. It's hard to get excited about a salad that looks like it came out of one of those ready-mixed Dole bags. Finally, we had two soups. The clam chowder wasn't seasoned and contained huge chunks of potato and a few small clams. It should have been labeled as potato soup. The lobster bisque also wasn't seasoned and was watered down. Take a look at my picture to see how watery this stuff was. It is the first time in my life I've gotten a soup and not finished it. It tasted like a combination of water and half and half rather than using a heavy cream base. There is no way this should have been labeled a "bisque."
For my entree, I got the seafood casserole. I don't know what I was expecting for $20, but it certainly wasn't what I got. The seafood all tasted fairly fresh and okay, but the casserole was very bland. It was very small, and the main problem is that it was LOADED with that same horrible breadcrumb mixture that was on my appetizer. Just covered in a mass of mushy breadcrumbs. I don't know if they were thrown on at the last minute or what, but I expect a casserole to have a nice crusty top. I've had Stouffer's casseroles that have better crusts than this one did. Inside it was basically just pieces of haddock, a couple shrimp, scallops, and meager portions of lobster. They didn't even bother to remove the tails from the shrimp. It's okay to leave the tails on in a stir fry or a pasta dish, but not a casserole. I couldn’t even eat more than about three bites. My girlfriend got the lobster dinner, which was a bit on the small side, but okay. It would have been better if they hadn't served everything was fake butter that looked congealed at the bottom. She told me her corn was pretty good. Oh yeah, everything comes with packaged sauces. The tartar sauce they give you comes in the tiniest packets I've ever seen. I'm not getting my food to go, how about putting it in a little side dish? Why don't they just buy a huge container of tartar sauce and serve it that way? If I'm eating at Captain D's, this would be okay, but not at a place where I'm spending $20 an entree. Another in our party was so disgusted by everything she actually got a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, and I have to say her dinner was probably the most edible food we got. Although the pickle that came with her meal actually tasted more like a cucumber and wasn't even pickled properly. Seriously though, how do you screw up a pickle?
I have never actually been to a restaurant which I've thought could use some help from Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares," but this would definitely be the first. I don't know what has happened to J's Oysters over the last two years to make such a drastic change in the opinion of my friends who recommended it to me, but for now, I would caution anyone to look somewhere else for a good meal. I just wish I had taken more pictures to prove how absolutely unappetizing their food is.
August 26, 2009 first and only visit.
DISGUSTING is the word. The food was O.K. but the bar was DIRTY. When you make the mistake of trying to use the men's room you will NEVER, EVER finish your meal. The overwhelming stench of urine coupled with the sticky floor says it all. Try to wash your hands and you find there is no running hot water. When you mention the condition to the staff they laugh and say "not my job" and "there is nothing I can do about it". They insisted there was no manager on duty and then tried to blame the customers for the filth. If they let an area of the restaurant the public sees get this disgusting, what is going on behind the closed doors of the Kitchen? If you are reading this, do yourself a favor and STAY AWAY!!!
Favorite Dish: The lobster was good until I tried to wash my hands. Could not finish eating after seeing the most disgusting restroom I have ever encountered.
The environment is the reason to go hear beside the price and good seafood. It is cramped inside with tables ringing around the bar. Only 40-50 can sit at a table. The bar takes 1/2 the space. TAp beer selections are few.
Favorite Dish: I only had some oysters. I belive they tasted fresh and were on ice behind the bar. Cost was around $12 for a dozen-$8 for six. They had a variety of choices.
If the weather is nice and you want a table outside: be ready to sit down for ever withut being noticed... IF they decide to serve you, it will not be with a smile... I think the servers think that you owe them something and they are doing you a favor by serving you...
This is one of the original places in the old port, and people keep going there witout a real reason... I guess it's the location... The food is not good, the place looks realy bad and the service is absolutly horrendous... save your time and skip this place
J's Oyster Bar is a small, would be smokey (if you could still smoke in public in this state), very "local" seafood bar and restaurant. It's a great place to go for a bucket of Steamer clams and beer. In the summer it is one of the only restaurants with outside seating on the water. Because Portland has a working waterfront there are not many places to enjoy a water view with a beer and a bite. Good food, Nice location, and local flavor make J's worth checking out.
Favorite Dish: Even though they are not from this ocean, the Alaskan King Crab Legs are my favorite thing to order at J's. You can't get them anywhere else out here.
J's Oyster Bar is the only restaurant that I tried, but it was good!
Inside the building is just a large wooden bar which was crowded with locals and fisherman. Outside (where we sat) are some patio seats and a nice view of the water.
Favorite Dish: I had lobster stew, which was full of giant pieces of tender lobster, and I washed it down with a local beer called Allagash (Belgian wheat style).
This restaurant is right on the wharf, with a diner like atmosphere to it. I myself didn't care much for it, but I think that was largely due to the amount of cigarette smoke in the air. I'm sure the experience would have been much better in the summer with out door seating.
Favorite Dish: The lobster pernod was my favored dish. Though they also have all things seafood, steamers, lobsters, and a good seafood cassarole.
The people are friendly, Fun, and Hungry!
Favorite Dish: The Lobster...nice size, plenty of clams.
Nice peppery coleslaw.
One leaves full!
But there's plenty of room for BEER!!!
Here I am at J's Oyster sucking down some great lobster stew with a Allagash beer to chase it down. You can sit outside and enjoy the view of the port, the boats and the fishing life.