It's 9 on a Friday night, the second day Jackie's Restaurant and Lounge in Silver Spring has been open: Co-owner Patrick Higgins is just back from an emergency room visit because of an irregular heartbeat, part of the griddle isn't working, the kitchen ran out of its special artisan bread at 8:30, and there are problems with the way the computer is spitting out orders, which are backing up despite the helpful supervision of consulting chef Ann Cashion. Yet everyone in the converted auto repair garage seems to be having a great time.
The arrival of Jackie's, a few blocks away from the sea of chain restaurants that has swept over the Downtown Silver Spring shopping center, has sparked an onslaught of neighbors at the trendy New American restaurant. Co-owner Jackie Greenbaum, a real estate developer, tablehops in the packed dining room, which holds as many fifty-somethings as thirty-somethings.
Months after a banner announcing the coming of the restaurant was hoisted across a storefront on Georgia Avenue, and just hours after the trash dumpster was finally hauled away from the real Sligo Avenue entrance, the crowd mostly had simply walked in to have a look at this playful eatery in the midst of Silver Spring's automotive row.
Think poodle skirts and bubblegum pink meet low-tech sleek.
A theatrical scrim that separates the bar from the dining area serves as the screen for a projection television. Cult classics such as "The Day the Earth Stood Still" play in silence in black and white as soothing jazz and vocal standards waft from the sound system. A long, pink leatherette banquette is softened with fuzzy and geometric-pattern pillows. The chairs are molded plastic in white, pink and yellow. The booths that line the walls have pink seats and backs upholstered in a trio of complementary retro fabrics.
Halogen lights over the booths are held in place with bungee cords, and a couple dozen drop lights augment the other halogens in the dining area. The floor is concrete and the walls have been stripped to bare bricks, but, surprisingly, the noise level is low enough to carry on a civilized conversation.
But the best thing about Jackie's is the food. The preparations are basically simple and exacting. And time-consuming.
Whole rockfish cooked in salt must be skinned and filleted before it's served. Fried chicken, cooked to order in a cast iron skillet, takes 30 minutes, if prepared correctly. And it is, here. (The way the chicken is cut up is a little strange, though. I got two wings with portions of the breast attached -- something like a wing and half a wishbone.) Even the mini-Elvis burgers are cooked exquisitely, and alone are worth a visit. What sets them apart from all the other mini-burgers in town is the Elvis favorite -- pimento cheese -- that's smeared on as a topping. A pimento cheese sandwich is also served at lunch.
The Maryland crab soup is rich with crabmeat but would be a great vegetable soup without it. The wild rice and mushroom soup is as thick and earthy as mushroom risotto. The grilled calamari, shrimp and sea scallops are stunningly fresh tasting, and the roasted red, green and yellow chilies with rock salt are not only gorgeous on the plate but redolent of Spain, as well.
The roasted duck breast arrived cooked just a little more than rare, yet it was juicy and luscious. The spoon bread accompaniment was dry, but the spinach was perfectly sauteed. The flat iron steak, a cut from the shoulder of the chuck that is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, is tasty and tender. The french fries are exemplary. The star of the menu may be the Cuban sandwich, with ham, cheese, roast pork and pickles, served only on Fridays as a special. It's as good as any in the area. And the meatloaf is about as good as meatloaf gets.
There are no complicated desserts, but there is a killer brownie with ice cream and a special ice cream sandwich of waffles encasing a slice of Neapolitan ice cream, made specially for the restaurant by Great Falls Ice Cream.
While it's rarely smooth starting up a restaurant, especially one as anticipated as Jackie's, crowds on opening day made it even more difficult. It usually takes a few days -- or a few weeks -- to work out the kinks: so that orders are relayed quickly to those preparing the food, so servers get into a rhythm of placing and picking up orders and knowing where to deliver them, and so everyone becomes accustomed to working as a team.
All the kinks are amplified when the kitchen is in full view of almost everyone in the dining room.
For several days, the kitchen worked feverishly to smooth its line. The third day Jackie's was open, a Saturday, the crowds again overwhelmed the kitchen and the rest of the staff. By the following Wednesday, the major holdup was the lengthy time needed to cook the chicken. By lunch a week later, food was being delivered quickly and efficiently.
Greenbaum and Higgins had been thinking of opening a place in Silver Spring for a decade; he has spent decades in the restaurant business. Contemplation turned to action more than a year ago, when Greenbaum purchased the building where she had her real estate development office. About the same time, the couple's marriage ended, but not their business partnership. "We joke that we divorced before the restaurant opened," Greenbaum said.
One of Higgins's previous jobs was as the bartender at Cashion's Eat Place in Adams Morgan. Cashion agreed to be executive chef and consultant for the venture, "as long as she didn't have to open the restaurant," Greenbaum said. And Cashion agreed to find the chef; her choice was a former protege at Cashion's, Sam Adkins.
Remember the name. You're bound to hear it again. He, Greenbaum, Higgins and Cashion have brought Silver Spring a great neighborhood hangout.
Jackie's Restaurant and Lounge 8081 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, 301-565-9700. Reservations recommended. Appetizers at lunch, $2.50-$7.50; entrees at lunch, $8.50-$15. Appetizers at dinner, $2.50-$7.50; entrees at dinner, $11-$19. Hours: lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; dinner, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Accessible for handicapped individuals. www.jackiesrestaurant.com.
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