Ever since the newspaper relocated its main offices to South Portland last fall, my colleagues have been on high alert for good lunch spots in and around the area. None of us wants to drive far, we’re not particularly excited about dining at chains around the Maine Mall and we all have the same requirement: It has to be fast. Journalists are not people of leisure.
I’ve been hearing good things from others in the features department about Jack’s Thai in Westbrook, so I headed over there on a recent Thursday on the late side for lunch. It was after 2 p.m. when I arrived, parking just a few doors down from the Main Street location, and there were only a couple of other tables of diners still eating. I was seated right away at a four-top in the simple, bright dining room.
The menu is multi-paged and full of the classics you expect from Thai restaurants, along with a full sheet of daily specials. I wanted something light, so I ordered a bowl of Tom Kha, the coconut milk soup that typically includes mushrooms and lemongrass. Jack’s serves it with either chicken ($3.95) or shrimp ($4.95), which I got. I might have left lunch at a bowl of soup only, but the chive dumpling appetizer, with two to an order, caught my eye. I ordered them pan-fried ($4.95), secretly hoping that they’d be like the pan-fried garlic chive rice cakes I get at Long Grain in Camden every time I go.
Both dishes arrived within just a few minutes while I was still in the first few pages of a new book.
I’d asked for the soup with medium spice. Like half the people in Maine, I’m just getting over a cold (the other half are just catching it), and I wanted to give a jolt to my sinuses. The soup arrived blazing hot in the temperature sense and perfectly medium spice, enough for a kick but not a punch. It was light, plenty of coconut flavor but not overwhelmingly so. The two shrimp floating in it were good size and firm in texture.
While the soup cooled off I tried the dumplings, each big enough to make for four or five good-sized bites. They were nothing like the ones at Long Grain, but that was fine because they were their own special thing. Soft and pillowy, almost like the texture of a Chinese pork bun, but not nearly as dense. The chives inside were summer-lawn green, fresh and full of flavor. The sauce that accompanied the dumplings was mostly soy, but with a hit of ginger and some vinegar to brighten it. I dipped every forkful into it and happily polished off the dish. Both appetizers felt lovingly and thoughtfully prepared, and while they were plenty enough to make a lunch out of, they performed exactly their function: making me want more.
Jack’s Thai Cuisine
WHERE: 861 Main St., Westbrook. jacksthaicuisine.com, 591-0793
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 9 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday
WAIT: Less than five minutes
PARKING: Off-street parking
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes