Bread winner 

Jaqbo's soups and sandwiches just icing on the cake

Some years ago, as a blushing bride-to-be, I got to know Midtown's Jaqbo, a French bakery then new on the scene, very well. Living nearby and looking for the ideal wedding cake, I took great pleasure in sampling many of theirs -- along with, of course, the cookies, pies, tarts, eclairs and even bread.

Many people still come to Jaqbo's for pastries and desserts, but many more come for their sandwiches, soups, salads and quiches. For comparative purposes, think of Jaqbo as the younger, budget-minded, in-town cousin of Alon's and La Madeleine.

With its tile floors, plastic-laminate tables and fluorescent lighting, it looks like a restaurant you'd find in a small airport. Conversations overheard here can be strange, with hordes of Tech students and staff milling about the place. Jaqbo's background music can be quirky, too, alternating from insipid '80s soft rock to melancholy French music, depending on who's working. However, what Jaqbo lacks in ambiance, it compensates for in quality and price.

The main stars of Jaqbo's lunch options are the sandwiches. Select a savory bread, from baguette to French country to potato basil to multi-grain, and then decide which of the traditional or specialty sandwiches you'll have. The Chicken Jaqbo ($5.99), warm chicken breast chunks with a garlicky white-wine cream sauce, would be better served on a strong, toasted bread rather than on the soft slices of country bread that I ordered. The contrast of warm, creamy sauce and room temperature bread did not serve either very well. I was happier dumping the chicken and sauce on the plate and using the bread to scoop it up.

The straightforward sandwiches are more reliable. Good choices include the salami and prosciutto on a baguette ($5.99), the wood-roasted breast of turkey ($5.79), the Trio ($5.79), with turkey pastrami, baked ham, roasted turkey, slices of Havarti cheese with dill and a nicely balanced sundried tomato mayonnaise. Although good, this sandwich would have been even better toasted or seared in the flat grill. Next time I will know to ask. Jaqbo's staff will gladly heat any sandwich for you if it occurs to you to ask ahead of time.

I always seem to arrive too late in the day to try the Pork Mediterranean sandwich ($5.99), enticingly described on the menu as "roasted pork, onions, garlic, red wine sauce, olives and mushrooms." If you have your heart set on specific menu items -- or if you tend to be picky -- get to Jaqbo early; they tend to run out of things. You might end up like I did one day, standing at the counter rattling off choices only to be met with "we're out of that" repeatedly, making choices out of random desperation only to end up with something I did not set out to eat.

Jaqbo's soups are consistently good, with cream of broccoli as the standout (small $1.99, large $3.15). Though nearly thick enough to stand a spoon in, the subtleties of the vegetable flavor hold their own. A single daily soup appears on a varied basis. I most often see onion soup, cream of broccoli and cream of tomato.

Though I have yet to try the salads, they look fresh, with green leaf lettuce and no iceberg lettuce evident. Quiche selections change daily, with ham and vegetable being most common. Available by the slice, they are $4.99 with a salad.

A cookie or brownie comes with all sandwich orders, but they tend to be dry. Desserts ordered from the case are better by far. Tarts, eclairs, cakes, tiramisu and cookies are all well-executed and quite pleasing. They are certainly enhanced by an unequivocally hearty espresso ($1.39) or Cafe Americano ($1.19).

I no longer live near Jaqbo, and for that I am glad. Otherwise I would be popping in for a bracing Cafe Americano, some creamy soup and a ham sandwich -- not to mention dessert -- all the time and I would have to walk there because I wouldn't be able to fit into my car.



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