Jacknife has a contemporary, graphically sophisticated look that says “franchise-ready.” It’s easy to imagine multiple Jacknifes popping up in Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and across Chicagoland, with its personalized takeout containers sized perfectly for its sushi rolls and bowls.

And much about its efficient setup says “pandemic-friendly.” A dedicated pickup lane, food lockers in the foyer so takeout customers can log in and take their bags without ever going inside, and customization check boxes built into the online ordering system makes Jacknife feel very of-the-moment.

Because Jacknife is the fast-casual sibling of Red, one of the more innovative Japanese restaurants in town, expectations were high when it opened in March. The menu mixes elements from sushi bars, bowl-and-salad spots and poke places — it makes sense, as these dishes tend to share ingredients. But trying to be all these things doesn’t always work as well as it should.

Jacknife does sushi rolls well. They are fresh, made to order, and enjoyable. Most are reasonably priced, somewhere between grocery store sushi and a table service restaurant. I would head for the Jalapeno Biz, nicely balanced bites of salmon and avocado (even though mine seemed to be missing the jalapeno); or the Pear Pressure, which pairs the sweet fruit with two layers of salmon, both inside the roll and outside as a wrap. The kitchen could skip the decorative but otherwise not alluring hemp seeds.

The XOXO roll pairs yellowtail with a wisp of lemon zest, avocado and XO sauce (less a sauce than a funky seafood-based paste). It’s not just the yellowtail that makes the XOXO easy to love, it’s the jolt of citrus and the XO.

The King Kong roll pairs black tiger shrimp with cream cheese and the inevitable avocado — but as with every roll I ordered that listed a spicy ingredient (here, spicy aioli), that ingredient was either missing or so sparingly applied that it was indiscernible.

The rad tuna roll was out of balance, tuna overwhelmed by sweet oshinko. Conversely the vegan roll called “Squash the Haters” (butternut squash, asparagus and red pepper) needed an exclamation point of some kind — maybe more of the unagi sauce. That said, I’m happy enough to go back to Jacknife for rolls.

I liked the crunch salad, with an asterisk — its base green, kale, needs to be massaged to be tender. This is unmassaged kale, which is not crunchy; it’s chewy. The salad also sports mint and cilantro leaves left nearly whole; nibbling through this one can make the diner feel a bit like a rabbit. Red pepper, mango, a generous sprinkling of peanuts, and a peanut-ginger dressing makes the salad taste pleasantly like a deconstructed spring roll. But I’m not sure the kale is working.

There’s no create-your-own option at Jacknife, unlike a bowl-specific eatery like Forage or the typical poke assembly line. Diners can request that the kitchen omit ingredients, and can choose a base (brown rice, sushi rice, quinoa or greens). Proteins can be added or subbed out (tofu, skirt steak, chicken or shrimp).

The roasted Vegeta-Bowl had mostly under-roasted veg (sweet potato, brussels sprouts and cauliflower) but the lightly sauteed mushrooms were excellent and had me searching through the quinoa to get every last one.

The pretty Baja Bowl, with a stab at southwestern flavors, may seem bland at first, in part due to a weirdly non-spicy cayenne vinaigrette. However, assembling forkfuls carefully with some of each ingredient, including the dressing and avocado, black beans, corn and especially cotija cheese and pepitas, is tasty, if not very southwestern. The marquee ingredient, New York strip steak, is tender but doesn’t bring a lot of flavor.

Housemade dumplings (pork, shrimp or vegetable) are diminutive but good: The pork version is gingery and not greasy. Even so, six small dumplings for $10 made me wish I had ordered another roll instead.

Dining in is pleasant, and there’s a patio to the side, buffering — slightly — noise from East Wash. The drinks menu is expansive, with sake, beer, wine and interesting NA options.

Online ordering was glitchy at first but seems to have smoothed out; if the app defaults to “delivery” when you want takeout, ignore the requests for your address and click the arrow on the right side of the gray box with Jacknife’s address. And voilà — you’ll be pulling your dinner out of a locker in 15 minutes. 


1046 E. Washington Ave.

608-255-5225; getjacknife.com

11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 4-9 p.m. Sun.


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