Jackie’s Grit


Funky Eatery Blossoms Amid Silver Spring’s Spruce-Up

Over the past few years, downtown Silver Spring, Md., has become an increasingly popular destination. The revitalization brought in the kind of chain establishments you might find in urban renewal spots anywhere in the United States, or D.C. for that matter, and the development has been undeniably good for the area.

But its popularity has obscured the “other” Silver Spring — a very different and more interesting community that has been growing and thriving on the grittier fringes of the central district. Here, good and interesting restaurants (see our January 2009 dining review of Ghar-E-Kabab), owner-operated coffee shops (Kefa Café has been going strong since 1987), retail establishments, entertainment venues (the relocation of the AFI Silver Theatre has been a huge cultural boon) and the establishment Arts Alley, an open space for outdoor arts-related events, all have heightened the interest of the area significantly.

On the vanguard of this development is a funky little restaurant called Jackie’s, the inspiration of co-owners Jackie Greenbaum and Patrick Higgins. The partners’ instincts were good when they found the spot in a mostly industrial area off Georgia Avenue back in 2004. Greenbaum, who had been working in her family’s commercial real estate business, and Higgins, a veteran of the D.C. restaurant scene, saw the potential and turned to local architectural design firm CORE for help in transforming the former NAPA auto parts store and garage.

They broke up the big, boxy open space with wrought iron, booths, a bar and an open kitchen. Then they filled everything with color and light emanating from brightly colored disks of Lucite, placing throw pillows like pieces of a crazy quilt to accent the hot pink banquets, booths and multihued plastic chairs. The bright green, heart-shaped sign on Georgia Avenue that points the way around the corner to the entrance on Sligo Avenue and the huge pink neon sign blazing above the door are tip-offs that there’s something special inside. The whole effect is charmingly retro kitsch and helps to establish the restaurant’s appealingly funky vibe.

To develop the cuisine for Jackie’s, the partners turned to a friend, Ann Cashion, a James Beard award-winning chef, while bringing on board Sam Adkins as executive chef, a former colleague at Cashion’s Eat Place and the Reef. Adkins and Cashion put together a menu that encompasses traditional comfort food in daily “nostalgia plates,” as well as sophisticated dishes described by the restaurant as modern American.

The menu at Jackie’s changes regularly with availability, but you can expect to find such simple favorites as skillet-fried chicken, barbeque pork ribs, meat loaf and cioppino, along with elegant dishes such as roasted duck with squash blossom stuffed with finely diced squashes, caramelized onions and blueberry sauce, or the sockeye salmon served over Japanese eggplant and dressed with a baby fennel salad and light key lime dressing.

A longtime favorite at Jackie’s is the mini Elvis burger. Omnipresent sliders have perhaps taken the novelty out of these tiny hamburgers, but when Jackie’s opened it was one of the first restaurants to serve up plates of the three-burger, bite-size treat with a dollop of thick pimento cheese and trimmings.

Chef Adkins also has a way with beets. His beet salad — thick wedges served over arugula with sliced onion, fresh peas, herbs and fresh goat cheese — is simple, elegant and delicious. Likewise, the roasted beets (served with the duck entrée or as a side) are sheer genius.

Pork in its various forms is another good choice. The pork riblets, served as an appetizer, are done with chilies, black beans and scallions. They are salty and fall-off-the-bone tender. Meanwhile, the pork loin — rubbed with dried chili and served with fried yucca, curtido-like cabbage salad and roasted red pepper ketchup — is delicious (though it can be a bit fatty for some).

Desserts at Jackie’s are straightforward and appealing. A lemon and blueberry tart is perfectly executed. The sharp pale yellow filing is dotted with fat fresh blueberries and complemented by a sweet blueberry sauce and thick, fresh whipped cream. Even simpler but also delicious is a thick slice of English pond cake with fresh blueberries in syrup and whipped cream. For those without a sweet tooth, a selection of excellent chesses (including several award-wining artisanal varieties such as Rogue Creamery’s “Oregon Blue”) offer a savory end to the meal — and also make for excellent bar food.

Jackie’s service is agreeable and leisurely. Appetizers usually arrive fairly quickly, but it can sometimes be quite a wait for the entrée, even on uncrowned evenings. Somehow it doesn’t feel like a problem though because the atmosphere is distracting, alternately energetic or soothing depending on the evening.

Like many of the restaurants in the area, health and social responsibility are an important part of Jackie’s business model. All the meat on the menu is organic, hormone-free and free range, and the seafood is fresh-catch only. Jackie’s is also committed to supporting local businesses. Most of the produce and meat they serve is sourced from small independent farmers within 100 miles of the area, including Tuscarora Organic Growers in Pennsylvania and EcoFriendly Foods and Northern Neck Farms in Virginia.

The coffee at Jackie’s is from Mayorga Coffee, located just a few blocks down Georgia Avenue under the train bridge in another converted industrial space. Jackie’s gets its ice creams and sorbets from its next-door neighbor, Moorenko’s, which shares the restaurant’s focus on food quality and uses only hormone-free dairy. And with a courtyard between the two neighbors, it’s a nice place to take the family for an afternoon treat or to finish out the evening after a meal at Jackie’s.

Jackie’s captures the spirit of the “other” Silver Spring — vibrant, hip and unwilling to conform. You have to look closely to find it and all the other treasures Silver Spring has to offer, but if you do, you will be richly rewarded for your efforts.

Jackie’s 8081 Georgia Ave. Silver Spring, Md. entrance on Sligo Avenue Phone: (301) 565-9700 Web: www.jackiesrestaurant.com Dinner: Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, from 5:30 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Brunch: Sunday, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Café menu: Monday, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Appetizers: to Entrées: to Desserts: Dress: Casual

About the Author

Rachel G. Hunt is the restaurant reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.