Monday, August 23, 2004
If there's anything Jackson offers in spades it's a good lunch—particularly plate lunches and meat-and-veggie smorgasbords such as Collins' Dream Kitchen, Two Sisters, George Street Grocery, 930 Blues Café, Gloria's Kitchen, and many others. But what you may not be getting enough of are some of the city's best new sandwiches. In fact, returning students may not even know about some of these places as they've all opened their doors in the past year or less. And here's another odd fact—all three have opened within two miles of each other on State Street—biking distance for Millsaps, UMC and Belhaven students and only a short drive for Tougaloo's and JSU's sandwich fans.
Basil's (2906 North State St., 982-2100) is the venerable old guy in this article, having been open in Fondren Corner for all of about nine months. After flirting with a gourmet grocery concept, the owners of Rooster's switched to an Italian-style sandwich-and-pasta joint that has become one of the centers of the universe for the JFP staff, in particular (but not exclusively) the veggie set.
At issue is the panini. Say it with reverence.
A quick poll around the office lands a number of favorites—the XM3 ($4.95) is a powerful combination of turkey, mozzarella, roma tomatoes, olive salad and pesto mayo. You can taste that heavy, slippery olive oil mixing with the tanginess of the pesto mayo, soaking into the focaccia bread. It's the key ingredient in building a better Italian sandwich. The Ham with cream cheese ($3.50) was pronounced perfect by a New Yorker friend who not only knows her deli fare, but isn't afraid to be critical.
No one I know has yet sampled the Elvis ($3.25 with peanut butter, bananas, crushed peanuts), although we've had our share of the Veggie ($2.95) and declared it a winner, particularly with deviled eggs on the side. Or, order up two servings of one of the pasta salads, add bread, and you've got a light lunch to go with your iced tea; and note that two people almost always eat for less than $10 (before the 85-cent cookie).
Video Café (1804 N. State St., 352-3939), across from Millsaps, is younger than Basil's and has already had a name change—or, call it a name simplification. "Flashback Video Café" doesn't just have a new marketing campaign; it's got a menu that has settled in to offer some of the most exciting gourmet sandwich eateries in town. The trick is really the care that is being put into these sandwiches, with a focus on the ingredients, the breads and sauces. The Fellini ($6.75) is a favorite, with Genoa salami, ham, roasted bell peppers, lettuce, tomato and sweet garlic oregano served on a toasted hoagie; the warm, sweet, Italian flavors blend into a satisfying sandwich (and they'll do you up a veggie version if you ask). Eat it slowly enough with a cappuccino at one of Video Café's back tables, and you'll feel yourself slipping into a relaxed state that can only be described as artsy.
Or, order the Soba Noodle salad, fire up your WiFi laptop and try hard not to let your mind settle on some stupid cliché about how this doesn't feel like Jackson anymore. Stick around long enough, and maybe you'll get hungry enough for a slice of the Key Lime pie, which is a definite standout.
Belhaven Station (1220 North State St., 352-7002), across from the Baptist hospital, is hiding the single best (non-strict) vegetarian option in the Jackson Metro outside of Rainbow Plaza—the Veggie Wrap ($5.50). I'd order other things in Belhaven Station if they didn't have the Veggie Wrap, but, as it stands, I've got no choice.
Everything about this sandwich is right, from the light, spicy jalapeno and cheese tortilla to the soothing buttermilk garlic dressing and the warm grilled flavor of the mushrooms and onions that are warm enough that they almost begin to melt the shredded cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses. All I can say is that it tastes like the Belhaven Station folks put a little extra care into this wrap; as to the rest of their menu—well, it looks both creative and complete.
Belhaven Station is too often under-busy when we stop by for a late lunch; I have a sense, though, that the college crowds might help a little bit. Particularly if they find out that this place doesn't just have one of the better deli-style menus in town—soups, salad, sandwiches and even gravy-and-cheese smothered French fries—it's also got Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap and outdoor seating on the patio.
Why do I have a feeling they're in for an interesting autumn?