Jules Verne, the 19th century author of classic science fiction greats such as Around the World in 80 Days and Journey to the Center of the Earth, also gave us Captain Nemo: the brilliant and tormented captain of the Nautilus, a submarine written into the pages of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea before submarines were even a thing.
But Jamaica Plain has given us Captain Nemo’s, the restaurant. I have been to Captain Nemo’s for the blog before today, back when I lived in JP the first time. But for some reason I didn’t take notes about the experience. I think I got some sort of alfredo pasta bake. What I can tell you is that the place hasn’t changed at all. For being named after a famous captain from a classic nautical tale, you would think that the restaurant would be decorated in kind. Instead, there is a sparse and eclectic mix of orthodox Christian artwork and, well, random other artwork. And a pinball machine that uses gum instead of an actual pinball; it also doesn’t work, as Jackson and I learned the hard way after I ran out to the car to get some quarters.
Though I don’t remember the precise dish that was recommended the first time I came, I recall that the elderly woman with the thick Eastern European accent working there was very kind and helpful, willing to engage in conversation. Today, though she is not in any way rude, she doesn’t seem as talkative.
When I ask her, “What’s the best thing on the menu?” she gives the shrug that everyone gives and, “It’s all good.” I need to rethink my line of questioning. Asking for the best thing on the menu has an implication that everything else isn’t that good. It carries an implied offense.
I regroup and reply with, “What’s your favorite?”
Another shrug. Not much eye contact. She doesn’t want to be having this conversation. “I only like the pizza. The slice of cheese!”
I don’t know if she’s the owner, but if she is (and yes, it is the same woman I recall from my first visit back in 2015) this seems like a strange response. Out of the entire menu, she only likes the cheese pizza? Notice that she doesn’t say that that is her favorite. She says that it’s the only thing she even likes.
I know my rule is to go with whatever is recommended, but based on this response, I’m not too confident. I go with yet another tack.
“What’s the most popular thing on the menu?” I’m trying to be as polite and smiley as I can be. Maybe I’m giving off more of a creepy vibe?
Yet another shrug. “I don’t know. Chicken cutlet. Steak and cheese.”
“I’ll take the chicken cutlet.”
“Mayonnaise and cheese?”
Jackson ends up going the pizza route, opting for pepperoni rather than the woman’s favorite. When we pick out a place to sit, he tells me that he feels bad that I was being so pushy. I can’t help but agree with him on some level. I was definitely approaching a line of irritability with the woman, and I make a point to keep people in food service happy. They have too many bargaining chips. Plus they go through enough as it is.
As Jackson and I sit and wait for our food, I look around. There’s a paper at the front counter that says that they don’t accept credit card anymore. Important to know. Fortunately, I have enough cash.
We overhear an interaction between the Eastern European woman and a couple at a table nearby. She apparently has misunderstood their order, some kind of sandwich. “Okay, I’ll make another one,” she declares kindly. The customer objects, saying that she doesn’t have to do that, but the woman is resolute. Truly a very kind lady, even if I’m not her favorite customer tonight.
The food arrives and we tuck in. Of the pizza, Jackson observes, “It’s good. I like that it’s crunchy.” I assume he’s talking about a crisp crust. “I recommend it. Because it’s the perfect size. Maybe one slice is enough for you, but to me, it’s kinda small. With the pepperoni and the crunchy crust, it’s good.” That’s a thumbs up from Jackson.
As for the chicken cutlet, the strips of chicken are crispy, but the chicken is that processed nugget-meat kind of stuff. So probably frozen in the back. But I have to admit, the flavor is good. But that’s perhaps to be expected. Frozen food usually tastes good, but that’s not an indicator of quality. It’s certainly enjoyable, but it’s nothing special.
I once read an article about warning signs at food joints. It said that if the menu is huge, they’re probably not making anything fresh. You just can’t be good at making that many things. While I know of some notable exceptions, it’s a fair general rule and seems to apply to Captain Nemo’s. It tastes good because it’s super processed and made to be pleasing to broad audiences. Kinda like McDonald’s: everyone likes it, but no one has any illusions about the quality.
All told, the meal costs $17.78 (including a couple of bottled drinks), which isn’t bad.
Jackson’s bottom line assessment: “Good customer service. I give them 5 stars for customer service. The employees are really nice.”
And mine? Indeed, the staff are very kind. But the food is just nothing special. I’d come back simply because it’s cheap and tasty, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
Captain Nemo should have stuck with the submarine. Wait…submarine. Sub. Do they call the restaurant Captain Nemo’s because they sell sub sandwiches? Okay, goodbye. I need to go sit down…