- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2007

Jackie’s Restaurant in Silver Spring serves up innovative, modern American food — much of it organic and locally grown — with an eye toward nostalgic home cooking in a groovy, renovated old warehouse. The decor is mod-inspired and colorful and nicely complements the exposed bricks and beams.

What’s not to love?

Well, Jackie’s, indeed, is quite loveable, though we had our share of mostly ups but some downs recently. The weak point is the service. A little slow — close to 30 minutes for the not-very-complicated appetizers to arrive — and somewhat indifferent. We don’t require or even like chatty, but our waiter had the stone-faced, slightly bothered demeanor of a fast-food server.

The drinks were tardy, too.

Once our appetizers arrived, though, moods around the table improved markedly, because the cooks at Jackie’s, including executive chef Sam Adkins, know their stuff. The fried calamari with cilantro chili sauce was as perfect as it was unpredictable. The batter was tasty and crunchy but so light it was barely visible; the fresh, piquant cilantro combined nicely with the chewy texture and light flavor of the squid.

Another favorite was the warm asparagus salad with goat cheese and green olive dressing. It is easy to under- and overcook asparagus, but these dozen or so seasonal thin stalks were perfectly prepared. The melted goat cheese and flavorful olive dressing gave the dish a nice punch.

We also enjoyed the very tender and nicely seasoned pork riblets with chilies, black beans and scallions and the French onion soup, which was delightfully balanced — not, as so often, crammed with bread and cheese. The broth and onions, though, were full-flavored and steamy hot, served in a brown ramekin.

And now for a sprinkle of disappointment amid all the praise: The restaurant on a recent Tuesday night — granted the space was surprisingly packed with the young and hip as well as the established and well-dressed — had run out of at least four dishes, including the restaurant’s signature dish, the mini Elvis burger topped with pimento cheese and described as “addictive.” The other absentees were the breaded wild striped bass, the pan-seared sea scallops and the chili-rubbed pork chop. What a shame.

So, we ordered the house-made linguini with meatballs, spinach and garlic bread, which turned out to be a good choice. The in-house linguini was impossibly and deliciously thin and arrived tossed in a red sauce. The meatballs were nicely flavored and included parsley sprinkles.

The dish belongs in the “nostalgia plates” section of the menu. The section offers one American heritage classic per day and includes meatloaf (Sunday) and skillet-fried chicken with potato salad (Wednesday).

We also tried the flat-iron steak with chimichurri sauce, roasted shallots and housemade fries. All but the fries (which are claimed to be housemade, but taste and look bland and prefab) were perfect and prepared as ordered.

The presentation at Jackie’s is simple but elegant on white plates of different shapes and sizes. All offerings are comfort-food and home-cooking inspired, but the kitchen takes those concepts and runs with them. The preparations and flavor-texture combinations are fresh and innovative and not necessarily something home cooks can replicate easily — like making the super-thin linguini.

The dessert menu is short but sweet (not counting the various cheese plate selections, which seem misplaced on an American comfort-food menu, albeit with a creative twist). We tried the delicious double chocolate brownie, which was served warm with vanilla ice cream. While starters and main courses are relatively modest in size, the desserts are, fortunately for the sweet-toothed, quite generous.

The frozen blueberry crisp sundae — blueberry ice-cream, streusel crunch topping and whipped cream — was tasty, summery fresh and rich at the same time. The frozen blueberries, though, were a little jarring.

Jackie’s, although we stuck with the thirst-quenching and flavorful Flying Dog Pal Ale, also has a remarkably large and varied wine selection, especially to accompany American comfort food.

Then again, the clientele, while mixed, is mostly sophisticated and late-arriving (while suburban, Jackie’s is hardly sleepy), which is why the noise level is a bit puzzling. How can they stand it? The 1930s and 1940s jazz flowing from the speakers was barely audible above the clattering of silverware on porcelain and loud talk and laughter. Judging from the crowd (the restaurant seats about 80, the bar and lounge about 20), though, most people don’t seem to care.

Overall, dining at Jackie’s is very rewarding. The food is solid while pleasantly unpredictable. The decor is fun and comfortable. If only the waiters cared a little more and the noise level bothered a little less, it would be perfect.

RESTAURANT: Jackie’s Restaurant, 8081 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301/565-9700

HOURS: 5:30 to 9 p.m. Monday (limited menu; appetizers and small plates); 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and until 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (brunch) and 5:30 to 10 p.m. (dinner) Sunday

PRICES: Starters $3 to $9; main courses $15 to $26; desserts $6 to $12. Brunch menu: main courses $8 to $10 and sides $1.50 to $4.50.

CREDIT CARDS: All major credit cards

PARKING: Street parking and a parking garage that is free after 7 p.m.

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: Silver Spring (Red Line) is about six blocks away

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