Juice Joint Cafe

Deli
$$$$ ($14 and under)
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Editorial Review

With the economy in a rut, more workers report that they are bringing their lunch from home. But you wouldn't know it from the lines at Juice Joint Cafe, a bustling takeout that specializes in healthful smoothies, sandwiches and salads. On a slow day, the 11-year-old eatery fills nearly 450 breakfast and lunch orders; on a busy one, it handles 600.

Fresh, natural food is a draw in a downtown area full of sandwich chains where a quick bite can total more than 700 calories. But this is healthful food that tastes good, too. Juice Joint co-owners Tom and Jim Holland hired chef and partner Adrien Marsoni, formerly of Bistrot du Coin and Montsouris, last summer. Trained in classical French cooking, Marsoni didn't add butter and cream to Juice Joint's repertoire.

But he did add finesse. From salmon wraps to soups and salads, the seasoning is more sure and consistent. He also has added a list of daily specials, which are often the most exciting things on the menu.

Take the roasted chicken Basquaise ($9.95). The half-chicken, even the breast, was juicy, and the roasted red pepper sauce had a subtle kick. Served atop brown rice, the portion was big enough for two.

Another impressive special was the grilled chicken and asparagus salad ($7.25). The asparagus (we would have liked a little more of it) was slightly charred and tasted great along with the salad's candied pecans and mustardy balsamic dressing. If that salad is not available, try Marsoni's eponymous smoked chicken salad ($8.25), which comes with pecans and chunks of blue cheese, on the regular menu.

There are also more than a dozen smoothies (try the seasonal cranberry-pear, 16 ounces, $4.50; 20 ounces, $5.25), juices and a variety of hot wraps, including one with shrimp with ginger, sesame seeds and brown rice ($8.50) and a mild jerk chicken ($6.95) with a sunny mango salsa. We liked the daily-special salmon Caesar wrap ($8.25) best. Its dressing has no cheese but is lemony and bright.

If the line is long, don't fret. We've never waited more than five minutes to order or pick up our food. The system works because the Hollands discourage substitutions. "I know I've been called the 'Juice Nazi,' " Tom says. "It's an issue of getting people in and out." Which they do. It's one more reason customers keep coming back.

-- Jane Black (January 14, 2009)