By Barbara Collier, Sun News

Once John Updyke found the spot for his new restaurant and pub in Aurora, he had to come up with a name. Scores of names were considered, but his fishing buddy came up with the name Mad Jack’s, after John and wife Terri’s two children, Maddie and Jack.

John liked it, and the restaurant became Mad Jack’s Grill & Pub. He opened Dec. 26 with Terri as hostess.

Updyke was with Gamekeepers Tavern in Chagrin Falls for more than 30 years and was the general manager there for the last 21 years.

Longtime friend and chef Erik Gaizutis joined Mad Jack’s. He has been chef at Gamekeepers and Bass Lake Taverne in Chardon.

Everything in Gaizutis’ kitchen is fresh, and he buys local when possible.

For starters, we opted for the hummus of the day ($7.95), which turned out to be fresh cucumber hummus topped with queso fresca served with roasted-red-pepper-sesame sauce. Crisp, grained flatbread is served on the side. Hummus flavors change several times during the week.

The crab tater tots ($7.95) turned out to be miniature crab cakes made with marinated crab, mashed potatoes, sour cream and a touch of lemon zest for a nice zip. The mounds are dipped in panko crumbs and fried until golden. The tasty cakes are served with a side of smoked paprika aioli.

One in our group went for the soup of the day, gumbo ($3.95 cup). Almost a classic New Orleans gumbo, but without the okra, it was superb, dark and thick with bits of chicken and shrimp and chorizo.

Several of the daily specials sparked interest. One was walleye with pappardelle ($21.95). The light, pan-seared walleye fillets were served with pappardelle pasta seasoned with lemon butter, tomatoes and bits of sausage. It was terrific and had tons of flavor.

Trendy slow-braised short ribs ($18.95) are a signature entree. The juicy, tender slices of pork are roasted forever and dripping with the special house black-vinegar sauce. They are the best I’ve tasted — rich, yes, but not overly so. They are served with fresh green beans and chunky, cheddar-bacon mashed potatoes. The plate is topped with a ring of crispy onions.

Another daily special was chargrilled tuna ($22.95). Our great server, Jamie, told us ahead of time the tuna would be served rare. It was so attractive that it was hard to dismantle the plate. The marinated, grilled tuna was seated on crispy polenta with roasted red pepper coulis then topped with wakame salad. Fresh white asparagus was served on the side. My friend raved about it.

There are sandwiches, burgers and pizza, too. The grilled cheese sandwich ($9.95) is stacked with crisp bacon, tomato and cheddar, brie and young Romano cheeses. It was golden brown and satisfying. Fresh-cut house chips are served on the side.

We didn’t leave without tasting the layered, spiced bread pudding ($5.95), which was large enough to share with several people. Gaizutis soaks the raisins in bourbon sauce. The two-inch high bread pudding is topped with vanilla bean ice cream and bourbon-caramel sauce and finally drizzled with fudge sauce and whipped cream. It was incredibly good.

Two attractive patios are now open.

Mad Jack’s is at 204 S. Chillicothe Road, Aurora. Call (330) 348-0058 or log onto Reservation are suggested, especially on weekends. Lunch is from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Dinner hours are 4-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, closed on Sunday.