ALREADY BUSY: J's place for lunch.
Since we work downtown, we think there can’t be too many lunch spots around here. We get bored going to the same old places, and we’re too lazy to get in our car and drive to some other part of the city in the middle of the day.
So we were glad when we heard that J’s Place decided to open a second location at the corner of Sixth and Center streets. They already had a loyal following at their original restaurant in the Market Place shopping center on Rodney Parham in West Little Rock, and we had heard good things.
Even better, their downtown spot is in a great old building that had been vacant for too long. (Its last occupant was New York Bagel.) When we stopped in for lunch, our first priority was to see what they did with the interior.
It’s a clean, well-lighted place, with a high pressed-tin ceiling, and the old lunch counter dominating the middle of the room. There are clusters of tables and chairs and a busy buzz in the air.
Our group liked the simplicity of the menu. You have your appetizers, like onion rings ($3.95), cheese dip ($4.95), fried mushrooms and chicken tenders ($4.95). You have your sandwiches, like the turkey melt ($5.95), the cheeseburger ($6.35), the chicken sandwich ($6.50 grilled, $6.25 fried) and the po-boys ($6.50). J’s Place also has catfish plates, clam baskets, and a chicken fried steak.
One of the members of our party had the chef’s salad ($6.59), and he was impressed. It was big and fresh, with a generous portion of meat and cheese, and a “real good” dressing with a lot of blue cheese.
The rest of us had sandwiches, and while none of them were extraordinary, we couldn’t complain. Some of the wait staff wore T-shirts that encouraged people to “try the cheesesteak!” — so we did. It was a little greasy, and the steak wasn’t as seasoned or juicy as we might have liked, but it was heaped high with meat and peppers and we left satisfied.
The service was quick and polite, although all of us thought the background music might have been a little too overpowering. It was mostly 1970s-era soul and R&B, and it seemed to be a signature branding device (the catchphrase on the menu is “Always Great Food, Great Music, Great Times”), but the volume could be turned down a notch.
Overall, we’re glad in they’re in the neighborhood. Seems to be good timing, too, since Lulav just opened next door and construction starts on new loft apartments in the Lafayette Building one block over.
A postscript: J’s Place promises to start serving breakfast from 7-10 a.m. daily. We were eager to sample their menu for this review, because it includes all of the classics, like eggs, pancakes, omelets, biscuits and gravy, sausage, bacon and grits. Plus there aren’t many places downtown that serve a real breakfast. But they have had several delays getting started, and the last word at presstime was that breakfast service will begin in October.
523 Center St.
Good basic lunch menu, with sandwiches, salads and desserts. Quick, polite service and a busy downtown atmosphere.
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mon.-Fri. (Breakfast service, 7-10 a.m., will begin in October.)
Inexpensive. Credit cards accepted. No alcohol.