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J-Mike's Flavor Station

  By  Johanna Wilson Jones
fries and hot dogs

J-Mike's Flavor Station: "My food is like a song"

Jaesen Moore is an experience for the eyes and ears. He cooks. He sings. The man is not your typical chef. He is an anomaly orbiting in a space few others occupy. His culinary aesthetic is fun, forward, and deep in delivering fresh, finessed flavors on menu items folks definitely won’t find anywhere else.

The owner and operator of J-Mike’s Flavor Station – sequestered inside the Holiday Sands South Hotel in Myrtle Beach – is an amalgam of creative whim, personal convictions, dogged determination, and unflinching compromise.

To know Moore is to gain the acquaintance of a community fixture known just as well for his singing as he is for his cooking – if not more so. Since 1993, he has been a regional presence that gifts folks with his robust and rapturous baritone singing the National Anthem at sporting venues, occasions honoring veterans, political stumps, and other events drawing crowds. “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life,’’ Moore sang as he made a beef jerky omelet for Will Pollack, a longtime customer. “I know you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky. But why, why, why can’t it be, why can’t it be mine.” He delivered “Black” by Pearl Jam with the same certitude and commitment he has to his food and his three-person staff. As good as he sounds, his food is the main draw to 2411 S. Ocean Blvd.

His food rocks as hard as he did when he was the front man for The Izm – his former band that masterfully mixed psychedelic slices of James Brown, Foo Fighters, Metallica, and Darius Rucker. “I just love his food,’’ said Pollack, an owner and certified pool operator at Clarity Pool Service and a customer at J-Mike’s since its inception. “The way he cooks his food and the seasonings he puts in there are great.”

Heaps of Flavor on High

Bland food is not what anyone will find at J-Mike’s Flavor Station. It is one place where I don’t automatically reach for the salt and pepper shakers. Moore, who has been cooking for more than 35 years, knows what he’s doing. He digs deep and cultivates culinary gems from his soul. For instance, you won’t find breakfast sausage like his anywhere because he makes his own sausage with a signature spice blend that he created. Few people arguably make their own sausage nowadays. Let’s keep it authentic. If we want sausage, beef, chicken, or pork, we buy it. Moore can’t get with that. “I make my sausage with 100 percent Boston butts,’’ Moore said as he pulled patties from the refrigerator. “No snouts, no ears, no knuckles.” His breakfast sausage is one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Actually, it is only second to the homemade pork sausage my grandmama made that came directly from the pigs we raised. Just like my grandmama, Moore seasons his sausage to perfection. It has a spicy kick that perks up the flavor. What I liked most about his take on pork sausage is that the patty is tender and not greasy at all. The flavors met my mouth with full force and blew me away. The meat was an ideal companion to Moore’s rendition of French toast. Made with Texas toast, he drenches it with his secret blend of spices and liquid goodness while the toast lays on a hot grill. I watched with delight as the toast became fatter as Moore grilled it to a glistening golden brown. To round off my breakfast, Moore made me two perfect over-easy eggs. The meal was an exceptional delight punctuated by those elevated sausage patties that are now one of my favorite things to eat.

I didn’t try Moore’s award-winning beef-jerky and chicken bog tacos – menu mainstays rivaling that of more popular, distinguished chefs – I thoroughly relished his ahi tuna taco. Moore garnishes each taco with finely chopped green lettuce, his award-winning Southwest Ranch dressing, and his made-in-house pico de gallo. The bonanza of flavors was the right mix of fresh and funky goods. The French fries, sprinkled with one of Moore’s seasonings blends, were the perfect side and made for a fantastic, filling lunch.

 Certainly, J-Mike’s Flavor Station is worthy of its moniker.

Inside his 84-seat restaurant, graced with shiny wood tables, pics of cute toddlers enjoying his food, and an unobstructed view of the Atlantic Ocean, he has a cabin with his spice blends for sale. The motto on each bottle is “flavor under any circumstance.”

The X3 J-Spice is a hot all-purpose seasoning. The Blackening represents Cajun style. The Bird Spice is for “anything with wings.” He created Ol’ Swamp Spice for ‘’anything out of the water or mud.” Finally, the Body Rub is for “low and slow’’ barbecue.  “I like creating my own flavors and making my own food because I know what’s in it,’’ Moore said between bites of a sandwich made with his breakfast sausage, pico de gallo, and Southwest Ranch dressing. “It’s fun to do. It’s cost-effective, and I know it’s done right. I know that no one else will serve it.”

Originality is his friend. Carbon copies are not welcome in his flavor utopia. “What’s the point of buying a pre-made sausage off the same truck that everybody else does and then trying to separate yourself?’’ Moore honestly inquired while raising his bushy eyebrows. Unsurprisingly, he equates his food to the uniqueness and power of music. “My food is like a song,’’ Moore said. “When you hear that one song you like and get goosebumps, you can’t control yourself. Every time you hear it, you're taken back to that moment. You’re taken back to that emotion. So, when you eat my food, your body is going to remember it – whether you liked it or not. Before too long, your body is going to remember it because you are eating the same crap everybody else serves instead of having J-Mike’s made from scratch, made to order.”

His House Rules

If a lion could talk, it might sound like Moore. His speech is bold and brash. His laughter is hearty and happy. Although extremely serious about his craft and the rule of his kingdom, he is fair and focused on always thinking outside whatever boxes people may build for him.He tears those boxes down with flavor. He likes people. He likes community. People on the Grand Strand and beyond its borders know Moore because of his vocal acrobatics and gifts proclaimed in a rich, velvety baritone voice that can soothe souls and rock them out.

Depending on who you are and what you do, it is quite possible that you witnessed Moore sing the National Anthem at a Myrtle Beach Pelicans game, at the Volvo Open in Charleston, or at River Oaks Golf Club for its annual Special Operation Wounded Warrior Benefit Golf Tournament – an occasion Moore has participated in for about 20 years.

He will sing the National Anthem wherever invited. Until his next gig, customers can hear him singing from the kitchen. He enjoys singing in the kitchen and at tables if time allows. Since he is the sole cook, Moore's tableside entertainment depends on how busy he is in the kitchen. Moore works with a close-knit crew of three – Suzi Owens, Matthew “Matty” Valentine, and Jammie Collins. Each gets a kick out of his responses to their less-than-stellar Google reviews, which are hilarious. Please do not misunderstand, however. Most folks love Moore, his singing, and his staff. The 4.7 Google reviews are proof of that.

Yet, there are some guests who forget he serves food that is intentionally flavorful. So, know what you are getting before you get it. If unsure, ask – this is from the Book of Jaesen. “Don’t tell me you’re not going to pay for your food because I don’t make scrambled eggs for you how you make them for yourself at home. OK,’’ Moore said. “That’s not right, and that doesn’t fly here.” He smiled then and chuckled, but you better believe Moore is serious about his beliefs on and off plates. “I don’t play,’’ he said. “I’m the black Gordon Ramsey.”Indeed, his food gives him bragging rights his skills certainly back up bite by bite.

Johanna Wilson Jones

Johanna Wilson Jones has traveled up and down the Grand Strand tasting the foods that make Myrtle Beach restaurants hum with diners, becoming an expert on the region’s flavors. Johanna is also the host of the Finding our Flavor YouTube show where she highlights the ingredients, foods and dishes that make Myrtle Beach unique.