Jacs, at 2611 Monroe St. on Madison’s near West side, “soft-opened” earlier this week in the wake of the recently shuttered Monroe St. Bistro. We (me, AmyJ, and our 2 and 5 year-old kids) spontaneously stopped in for lunch today. Jacs wasn’t perfect (what is after 5 days?), but we all agreed that it shows promise, and are happy to have it in the neighborhood.
While we’d intended to have lunch, Jacs serves only brunch between 10am and 3pm on weekends. The brunch menu had some very tasty looking breakfasts (omelets, eggs benedict, various lighter breakfasts, etc.) and a handful of sandwiches.
I was happy to see the moules frites still on the menu, as they were the only thing on the MSB’s menu that I ever found pleasing without caveat (and the only area in which MSB came anywhere close to its generally superior neighbor up the street, Brasserie V). I don’t know that they’re the same, but my understanding is that there’s some continuity in ownership and/or management between the two, so there’s reason for hope.
I wasn’t in the mood for mussels, though, so I decided to order the burger. I’m not a huge burger fan, but I do enjoy a good burger once in a while, and find it a reasonable way to form an initial impression of a place like Jacs, given that many of my favorite burgers in town come from generally similar establishments. (Roughly in order, I’m thinking of The Old Fashioned, Brocach, Brasserie V, and Dotty’s. Sorry, Weary Traveler, I love the place but the Bad Breath Burger just doesn’t do it for me.) Jacs’ burger was served on a ciabatta roll with caramelized onions, cheddar, aioli, lettuce, and tomato. I’d call it solidly ‘good’, but not quite great. I has asked for it medium rare, but my burger instead showed a puzzling range of doneness: fully rare on one half, appropriately medium rare for about a quarter, and pretty much medium on the remaining quarter. Flavors were all good, though if the aioli had simply been described as mayo I probably wouldn’t have noticed that it wasn’t. The bun was a particular happy note on the burger. It nearly scared me away from ordering it at all, as MSB also served their burger (which I tried exactly once) on a ciabatta role that I found to be a tough and regrettable distraction from an already non-awesome sandwich. I don’t know if Jacs changed their bun source or if I perhaps had caught the Bistro on a particularly bad day, but this bun was a clearly positive addition. Until someone starts just putting their hamburger on the ciabatta from Lombardino’s (hint, hint), I’m comfortable calling this my favorite bun in town.
Amy was about to order the quiche but changed her mind at the last minute when I pointed out that the “Summer Sausage Sandwich” didn’t look as yucky as the name suggested. Processed meat plays an appropriately subtle role in this sandwich, which otherwise consisted of fresh mozzarella, arugula, red onion, and tomato on a baguette. She liked it, but didn’t love it. “It didn’t rock my world” was her comment, but she didn’t regret the choice.
We both chose the soup of the day as our side (other choices were green salad, frites, and a quinoa salad that wasn’t available, presumably due to a new restaurant getting its kinks worked out). The soup was an herbed new potato (at least until they ran out one cup after filling our order) that I found to be quite good. I’m a huge soup fan, and based on today’s experience will certainly make a point of trying Jacs’ other soups du jour. Our daughter Nora (2), inherited Daddy’s soup-loving gene, and also liked it — she kept nuzzling up to my elbow and asking for more tastes.
Ben (5) is still in his post toddler conservative palate phase, and Nora doesn’t eat much (by adult standards), so we ordered the fruit and yogurt breakfast plate for them to share, and a side order of frites for the table. The granola served with the fruit and yogurt plate was among the best I’ve had, and the fruit and yogurt quite satisfactory.
The frites were excellent, as MSB’s had been. One cone was plenty for us all to have a nice side snack. I adore Brasserie V (though I’m still a bit sore about the loss of the duck confit from their dinner menu), but these frites were better than any I’ve had up the street.
The beer list at Jacs is scaled back from MSB’s, but is still exceptional for a small restaurant/bar. There were about a dozen beers on tap, roughly half of which Belgians of various sorts. Brasserie V is secure in its position as Monroe Street’s (and arguably Madison’s) best restaurant beer list, but Jacs is no slouch in this department. I had a glass of the Val-Dieu Grand Cru, which didn’t disappoint.
Jacs’ location has seen a lot of turnover in the past decade. The series of predecessors to MSB — the Creole Cafe, Louisianne’s Kitchen, and Papa Phil’s — were all good restaurants. (The pulled pork po’ boy with bleu cheese cole slaw and pepper jelly from Louisianne’s Kitchen was the best sandwich I’ve ever had, and I miss it somewhat desperately to this day.) In this same time period, the Pasqual’s directly across the street (with equally challenging parking and similar prices) has doubled in size, and is consistently full. There may be lots of non-obvious reasons for this disparity, but there is an obvious difference in the kid-friendliness department. On any given visit to Pasqual’s I generally see more kids than I saw cumulatively over the years in the various restaurants in Jacs’ current location.
Judging by the press surrounding the announcement of MSB’s demise and Jacs birth, this wasn’t lost on the proprietors of Jacs, who made a big deal out of their intent to be more kid/family friendly. OK, cool. The intent is visible: the hostess came back right after seating us with a bag of toys for the kids to play with — more fun than the usual crayons + inane puzzle, and less wasteful. It could use some fine-tuning, though. The brunch menu didn’t have a kids menu or any obviously kid-oriented items. Also, the brunch-only weekend daytime menu will probably leave us going less than we would if there were breakfast at breakfast time and a full lunch menu at midday.
I’ll definitely go back to Jacs. The dinner menu had a number of things that looked good (the small menu at the MSB was both uninspired and uninspiring, leaving me inclined to order ‘meh’ for my few dinners there during its short run). I’d like to try breakfast there, too, though not being able to eat breakfast until 10am is a bummer. At least one can compensate with $2 mimosas or bloody marys.