February 2005: Jackie's Restaurant

Trendy food and decor. A great spot before or after a show at the AFI Silver Theatre, a must for fans of fried chicken and brisket.

By: Cynthia Hacinli

High-Style Nostalgia Comes to Silver Spring

Even if you didn't know that Jackie Greenbaum was given to kooky earrings and stripes of fuchsia in her hair, you'd guess she likes to have fun. Her eponymous restaurant will put you in mind of Judy Carne and the Laugh In crew circa 1969. Faux-fur pillows, Lucite disks dangling from the ceiling, yellow ottomans, and changing cityscapes on the big screen bisecting the dining room and bar, ideal for playing "Where are you now?" while you wait. Because chances are you will wait: For a table if you don't have a reservation. For a server to take your order. For entrées to arrive. The place is still feeling its way.

Still, you're likely to let it go because there's nothing else like Jackie's in downtown Silver Spring. Chic decor, of-the-moment food, and the effervescent Jackie, who'll tell you she can't seat you until 9 unless there are no-shows and make it seem all right. It's no surprise that locals, both longtime residents and newcomer filmmaker types, have become regulars--and that the wise make reservations early in the day even during the week. There's the gang from Discovery that shows up for lunch almost daily. The family that stops in for dinner every Wednesday (fried-chicken night). Couples having intense conversations at the bar, and moms'-night-outers drinking raspberry-foam martinis and sharing small plates in the lounge.

They're drawn by the vibe and by chef Sam Adkins' Modern American cooking. Adkins was a disciple of Ann Cashion of Cashion's Eat Place fame and Cashion consulted on the menu. The result: food that's smart and witty, from the Elvis miniburgers with pimento cheese to the waffle-and-ice-cream finger sandwiches. In between are dishes familiar and arcane. But familiar doesn't mean routine. A starter of grilled calamari, shrimp, and scallops comes alive with green romesco, a riff on the Catalonian condiment usually made from ground garlic, peppers, and almonds. House-smoked rockfish is briny yet delicate. Calamari "pasta" puttanesca makes carb counting a cinch: Instead of pasta, tender shreds of calamari are perfumed with capers, garlic, and tomato. Who needs pasta? Fried mussels get their crunch from shredded phyllo and recall a similar treatment with shrimp made popular by Michel Richard at Citronelle.

Best of all are caramelized stir-fried pork riblets zippy with chilies and scallions, and Jackie's nachos made with house-fried tortillas, refried beans, cheese, and two stellar dips: fresh pico de gallo and whipped avocado. The only beginning that needs some rethinking--or better frying--are the wan deep-fried vegetables.

The regular menu has its pleasures, but the chef's heart belongs to the daily "nostalgia" plates. Tuesday's memorable brined brisket with crispy potato latkes and pungent red cabbage gives way to Wednesday's fabulous fried chicken and potato salad. Adkins is one of the few chefs in the area to fry his bird on the bone--as good as the fried chicken is at Vidalia in DC and Black Market Bistro in Garrett Park, its a boneless breast. Dipped in flour and skillet fried--you can see Adkins keeping an eye on the sizzling cast-iron pans in the open kitchen--this is a purist's fried chicken, and arguably the best in the area. The heap of picnic potato salad, studded with hard-boiled eggs and dressed with just enough mayonnaise, makes the plate a hall-of-famer. The week continues with braised pork shoulder punctuated with bacon--the accompanying collard-green purée is inventive but a bit too much like pea soup. Friday brings a zesty cioppino, and Saturday's meatloaf is better than Mom's.

Pleasures can be found on the short roster of ongoing entrées as well: carved lamb sirloin fragrant with Moroccan spices; moist and flavorful salt-crusted rockfish; and organic flat iron steak, a beefy plate with simple parsley shallot butter. Of less interest is the cod--a thin slab over a heap of celery and red onions. And while duck breast with a not-too-sweet saba glaze and spoon bread is pleasant, it's not a dazzler.

The nicely priced wine list has some clever choices, including a couple of interesting sparklers; Sideways fans will be pleased to find that there's only two Merlots. And though the martinis conceived by co-owner and sometime bartender Patrick Higgins read more like dessert than aperitifs, the choco-tini with Godiva white-chocolate foam is a popular finish--they're in keeping with the let's-have-fun motif.

So are those little waffle ice-cream sandwiches, though they'd be even better if the waffles were warmed. The sleeper dessert is the plain-sounding lemon pound cake with blueberry white-chocolate ice cream. It may not sound like big fun, but it is.

Jackie's

8081 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring (entrance on Sligo Ave.); 301-565-9700. Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner, Tuesday through Friday for lunch.

Atmosphere: A lively place with Lucite, shag rugs, and pop-art fabrics. Call early for same-day reservations even on weekdays.

Food: Creative American cooking and "nostalgia" comfort food. Small plates plus more substantial offerings and well-priced daily specials.

Service: Pacing can be off, with lags between courses.

Price: Lunch main courses, $5 to $15. Dinner main courses, $11 to $19. Dinner for two: about $60.

Value: Excellent. Stick to starters, specials, and even a few well-priced main courses, and you'll walk out with a Cheap Eats tab.

Wine List: Short, with a handful of appealing by-the-glass options and well-priced bottles.

Bottom line: Trendy food and decor. A great spot before or after a show at the AFI Silver Theatre, a must for fans of fried chicken and brisket.