In some cities, storefronts are full, and any time one business vacates, there is another one on its heels to take over. In other places, storefronts stay empty for years and fall into disrepair, and the vacancy seems more like an epidemic than an opportunity. The restaurant scene in downtown Jackson seems to be tilting toward the former lately, which is great news for local diners.
Tye's Restaurant and Bar (120 N. Congress St., 601-949-3434) has slipped into the Plaza Building almost as quietly as Koi left it. Tye's, which opened March 10, serves lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday-Saturday, and it is a great addition to downtown fare. The dinner menu has a variety of appetizers, salads, pastas, chicken and seafood dishes, and steaks. Each chicken, seafood and beef choice is served with a choice of starch and vegetable. (On opening day, the starches were garlic mashed potatoes and rosemary mashed potatoes, and the vegetables were sautéed squash and steamed asparagus.)
Lunch Lady and friend Amanda Dubourg (former special investigator for Project: The Elite) began with the portabella fingers appetizer, which was listed on the menu as being served with "marinara sauce." But simple marinara sauce is an insufficient description of the chunky, perfectly seasoned tomato mixture that accompanied the lightly fried mushrooms. Once the fingers were gone, we were tempted to take a fork to the sauce and eat it solo—great appetizer.
Our entrees were equally pleasing. We both ordered pasta dishes: Lunch Lady the chicken Florentine pasta and Amanda the shrimp and crawfish pasta. The chicken Florentine featured fettuccine with cream sauce, artichokes and spinach. The cream sauce was hearty and comforting without being heavy, and the vegetables and chicken blended smoothly into the dish. Amanda was equally happy with her pasta, which Lunch Lady, being seafood-averse, was loath to try. The chicken Florentine also makes an appearance on the menu as a plain chicken dish (no pasta), in case you want the sauce without the carbs. That way you can embrace the carbs in the rolls, which are served with strawberry butter that tastes like you're spreading a fresh piece of fruit on your bread.
The restaurant has yet to obtain its liquor license, which it expects in about six weeks as of this writing. In the meantime, you're welcome to BYOB. There's some residue of Koi here—methinks they bought the dishware while the getting was good—but it's all the good parts. Tye's is a little lower key and feels more effortless than its predecessor, and Lunch Lady may have been dancing in her seat inadvertently to the unobtrusive but snappy jazz in the background.
For nonalcoholic drinks downtown, walk down the street to the Coffee Roastery (308 E. Pearl St., 601-949-6994), which recently relocated downtown after five years in Flowood. Now housed in the Electric 308 building, the shop is a further addition to Jackson's downtown revitalization.
Currently in a "soft open" phase, the Coffee Roastery is serving regular coffee shop fare—coffee and espresso drinks, bottled juices and sodas, yogurt and baked goods. The blueberry bagel was the best Lunch Lady has had in Mississippi, and the muffins and mini cinnamon buns looked similarly delightful. In addition to the coffee and espresso drinks you'd expect, the Coffee Roastery has a couple of house specialties like the Twix (a mocha with caramel) and the café ole, which features coffee, espresso and steamed milk. Drinks come in 16 and 20-oz. sizes.
By the time the coffee shop begins running at full capacity, they will offer grab-and-go Newk's sandwiches at lunch, Crescent City beignets in the morning and wireless access all the time. And if you've been paying attention, you know how Lunch Lady loves her ice cream, so she's extra excited for the incoming gelato and sorbet counter, just in time for summer. You'll be able to enjoy the frozen treats at the Coffee Roastery's outdoor tables during business hours, Monday-Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
No longer quite brand new, but still a uniquely downtown option is the Palette Café by Viking (380 South Lamar St., 601-965-9900), housed in the Mississippi Museum of Art. Though fried chicken salads seem to be standard fare at lunch restaurants 'round these parts, the Palette Café does a little something extra with their tangy buttermilk-lime dressing accompaniment. Another salad boasts honey-Tabasco dressing over smoked turkey, crumbled blue cheese, greens, cucumbers and pecans.
The sandwiches offer similarly familiar foods with interesting twists: The grilled chicken has a spicy comeback-sauce kick, and the chicken salad has apples, grapes and pecans. The menu also makes Lunch Lady wish she could go back a good 20 years to take advantage of the pigs in a blanket and crudités on the affordably priced kids' menu. All this in the airy and spacious environment of the Mississippi Museum of Art's atrium can make a simple lunch feel like a cultured day on the town. They also offer group and boxed lunches and catering services, so keep them in mind for your next event.
Take advantage of downtown Jackson's revitalization for your next meal or caffeine fix, and tell us all about it at [e-mail missing].