Numerical ratings have their uses, but they don’t tell stories. In a recent post, I rated Boulder’s Arugula Bar e Ristorante a 3 (“Solid”) for delivering what I considered to be a perfectly lovely meal. Here, I’m giving the Evans Ave. outpost of beloved Capitol Hill daytime joint Jelly a 3 for a meal that I had some issues with. What gives? In a word, context. When it comes to upmarket Italian restaurants, you’ve got everything from incompetent ripoffs to unforgettable representatives of one of the world’s greatest cuisines (taking its regional variants collectively, that is); overlay such a wide spectrum atop a scale of 1 to 5, & it turns out a 3 is pretty damn admirable. By contrast, the distance between the worst American diner & the best is hardly so vast; just by using fresh ingredients & cooking from scratch, you’re halfway to the top. In that sense, casual, homestyle eateries have a bit of an advantage.

Then again—not to blow your mind, but lower expectations are, in a way, also higher ones, or at least firmer ones. The less I’m asking for, the more I expect to get it. Jelly’s flagship, in my experience, tends to see those expectations & raise them some retro-pop flair (as I assume it will continue to do post-current renovations); take the adorable little goat cheese-frittata sliders with bacon & spinach-walnut pesto—simple fun, done well.

The new branch at the edge of the DU campus shares its siblings’ jazzy sensibilities—same juicy colors & vintage cereal-box display; same what’s-not-to-love selection of tricked-out classics: pancakes festooned with Frosted Flakes & bananas, 7-veggie hash, deviled egg-salad sandwiches. What it still needs, based on my recent visit, is a tad more quality control in order to earn its inherited reputation.

These doughnut bites, for instance, were almost a slam (coffee) dunk.

Of the 8 types on offer, I chose the Thai with peanut butter, Sriracha & powdered sugar; that I expected them to be filled rather than topped was my problem—the menu didn’t indicate as much—but still, using less peanut butter on the outside when you could use more on the inside spells “missed opportunity” for junkies like me, especially considering that the dough was, well, a little too doughy, rather than airy/springy. Big points for the inspired flavor combo; small deduction for the too-dense texture.

Though the roasted-turkey hash didn’t look terribly appealing—not so much actual hash as scattered pieces of beige—it came together well, the white meat moist & complemented by red potatoes, apple, onion & a touch of tarragon. Rather, it was the biscuit that was on the dry side, & the poached egg rubbery (it usually comes with 2; I requested only one).

By contrast, the Molly Hot Brown—served at breakfast as well as lunch—sure looked like bunches of fun, piled with more turkey, tomatoes, chopped bacon & green chiles, & a bucket of Mornay sauce (cheese-enriched white sauce). A vibrant mess indeed, but the damper was stale French toast—& I don’t mean fittingly day-old, I mean kinda tough.

But how hard can it be to fix what ain’t broken at the other branch? The concept’s proven solid, the vibe’s a kick, the menu’s a smart start, & I’m confident these guys can straighten the kinks out in good time—enough so that I’ll head back soon.

Jelly U Cafe on Urbanspoon