The barbecue baby back ribs at J. Alexander's in Raleigh, served with shoestring fries and Southern coleslaw.

J. Alexander’s in Raleigh: a chain above the rest

I’ll admit: J. Alexander’s in Raleigh surprised me—in a good way. I’m one of those diners that have an annoying, inherent bias against chain restaurants. The fare at chains is usually far from innovative, usually a symptom of trying to appeal to the masses. I entered with lowered expectations.

With a potpourri of sushi and new American favorites, the menu at “wood-fired” Nashville-based restaurant J. Alexander’s won’t regale you with too many surprises, despite a self-professed effort to distinguish itself as not a chain, but rather “a collection of restaurants” according to its site’s YouTube video. The tableside container of disposable chopsticks makes more sense as you narrow your eyes in the dim lighting to study the selection of sushi rolls alongside a selection of entrée salads, burgers, tacos, steaks and chicken sandwiches that hover between the $12 to $30 range.

Slow-roasted prime rib at J. Alexander’s served with au jus, mashed potatoes and roasted red peppers.

After you decide, you might decide to slink back into the black leather contemporary conch chair to observe the modern, sleek steakhouse-like ambiance and the constant din of nearby tables as servers and food runners clad in monochromatic black swoop from table to table. A bespectacled floor manager dressed like a “Men in Black” extra circulates around the floor with stern authority making sure all components operate like a fine-tuned machine and it might make you a little wary as you nosh on a Caesar salad made with housemade dressing and fried croutons.

The barbecue baby back ribs at J. Alexander’s in Raleigh, served with shoestring fries and Southern coleslaw.

The slow-roasted 10-ounce slab of prime rib is tender and succulent, accentuated by the side of au jus, creamy mashed potatoes, and a fan of roasted red peppers. It’s an ample portion for $22.95 as is my husband’s full slab of baby back ribs. The ribs are moist and tender, thickly coated in a Plum Creek barbecue sauce. J. Alexander’s does you the well-appreciated service of a bringing a separate towel and an extra plate to clean yourself off after you savagely polish off the rack and move on to the mound of shoestring fries and coleslaw. It’s these nuanced touches, along with good execution, that push J. Alexander’s into the echelon of upscale category of chain dining.

The towering ice cream cake dessert at J. Alexander’s in Raleigh.

The night’s biggest surprise comes in the form of a dessert. If you bypass the chocolate cake, the key lime pie, and  then head straight towards the ice cream cake, you might be in for a special treat. The cake, at $9, is a towering confection and looks like something the “Yodely Guy” from the Price is Right’s Cliffhanger game might fear ascending. The portion is enough for multiple people to share in the sweet, decadent layers of chocolate cookie bits, creamy ice cream, crunchy toffee and pool of caramel sauce.

In fact, at barely five bites in, my husband and I wave our hands up in defeat and, not willing to completely throw in the towel, we beg our server to box it up and we race home to place it in the freezer for the next day. That night J.Alexander’s beat us, with food, into submission and we were happy to slip into a food coma.

J.ALEXANDER’S | 4600 Crabtree Valley Ave. Raleigh NC 27612 | 984.200.4493

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