a little bit of Paris in Old Milwakee
1022 S. 1st. Street, Milwaukee
Major credit cards accepted.
Mr. & Mrs. M. have not dined at Chez Jacques since it was still at its old location on South Second Street. We remember the first restaurant as having been a cozy, interesting little nook oddly located in the industrial neighborhood dominated by the giant shadow of the Allen-Bradley clock tower. We also remember waiting for about an hour for our orders to come, which made us a little cross (hence, a very long interval between our visits).
Fast-forward to the future-present (as we’re so good at doing): Chez Jacques has for a few years now been moved almost exactly one block east in that same industrial area, to 1022 S. 1st. Street. Now it’s across from a BP gas station where Mr. M. has been telling himself, while filling up his car on numerous occasions, that the two of us need to finally check out the “new” Chez Jacques and give them a second chance. Ooh la la!
The second place is much bigger than the first was, being divided into four separate dining areas, each with its own distinct personality. But all have a warm, cozy atmosphere, with décor of French knick-knacks and pop art being the common denominator throughout — exactly what we remembered and liked so much about the first place. The first thing we saw upon walking through the door was none other than owner Jacques Chaumet, standing at the bar smoking a cigarette and looking nervously around. As we recall from our trip to Paris in the summer of 2008, that’s exactly how most, if not all, the bistro managers we saw there acted! Combined with the busy-bee running around of the wait staff (very typical of Parisian bistros), the place immediately got major points in our book for a feeling of genuine authenticity (inside, that is – the “we’re-in-a-real-French-bistro” illusion is shattered when you walk back outside into the industrial, south side landscape).
But what about the food?
The menu offers a nice selection of gourmet plates, featuring, among other things, a French Cheese Plate (mais oui!) with Fruit and Baguette ($12.95), Smoked Salmon ($14.95) and Jacques’ Special with Foie Gras, Paté, Cheese, Salad, Baguette and Cornichons (those are just pickles – $17.95). The breakfast selection of course features fresh baked croissants ($3.00) and French Toast – the French call it pain perdu (pronounced “pan paird-you”) which means “lost bread,” presumably because it gets lost in the bowl of egg-milk mixture before cooking ($6.95). Croissant sandwiches —more American than French — come with fruit and scrambled eggs (the Ham & Cheese is $7.75), and various omelet options are available with potatoes and toast for $9.50.
Quiches include the world-famous “Lorraine” (bacon and cheese), Vegetable and Prosciutto and Spinach, all for $8.00. The crêpes range in price from $7.95 to $12.95 and come with a wide range of fillings: Seafood (shrimp and crab), Smoked Salmon, Roast Beef Mushroom (OH MY GAWD!), Chicken Curry (not French, but YUM!), Spinach Roquefort, Caramelized Apples, Banana Nutella (DROOL), Poached Pears and Vanilla with Berries. A nice sandwich selection includes Roast Beef with Mushrooms, Roasted Veggies with Feta, Saucisson (Salami), the famous French Croque-Monsieur (Ham & Cheese) or Croque-Madame (same thing, but with a fried egg on top), Olive Tapenade, Paté, Baked Turkey with Brie & Tomatoes, and one of Mr. M.’s absolute favorites from French-speaking Cajun country in Louisiana, Andouille Sausage. Sandwiches range from $7 to $9 in price. An original selection of salads cost between $7 and $14.
For $6.95 to $9.95, you can start an elegant, French dinner off at Chez Jacques with a unique French appetizer, like Bouchée d’Escargots (puff pastry with French snails – this is absolutely DELISH, so don’t be afraid to try it!), Bouchée à la Reine (puff pastry filled with crêpes, veal and cream sauce), Crab Cakes à l’ancienne (crab cakes with old-fashioned, coarse-grain mustard), Shrimp Cocktail Rémoulade or Classic, Champignons Farcis (mushrooms stuffed with spinach, feta cheese and garlic), Fromage de Chèvre à la Provençale (baked goat cheese with tomatoes, garlic and basil), or simple Croutons à la Tapenade (Provençale olive spread, one of Mrs. M.’s all-time faves, on toast).
And how about the entrées and desserts? Entrées range from $11.95 to $21.95, and feature Steak Frites (8-oz. New York Strip), Boeuf Bourguignon (remember the recipe Mr. M. shared with you in TCD Recipes, Pt. 1: Savor our savory selections?), Medallions de Veau (veal medallions with wine sauce), Poulet Frites (one-half roasted chicken), Canard Roti à l’Orange (one-half roasted duck), Bouillabaisse (a traditional poor-man’s fish stew from the south of France heavily seasoned with saffron), Coquille Saint-Jacques (sea scallops with vermouth sauce) and others, including vegetarian pasta.
We started things off by sharing an order of the French onion soup for $5.50. It was as rich and as super-cheesy as that which we had in a sweet little café on Paris’ famous haven-hill for artists, Montmartre. Mrs. M. couldn’t finish her huge order of crêpes stuffed with vanilla and berries for $8.95, and Mr. Mr. barely finished his toasty-good Croque-Madame sandwich, which came with a lovely side salad of radicchio lettuce and other greens and breathtaking Dijonnaise dressing (it was literally breathtaking, as it had a very strong note of what Mr. M. thought to be either wasabi or horseradish!) for $9.00.
Though we were absolutely stunned that they had none of their famous homemade French fries to serve with the sandwich (because their fries are so good that they ran out of them the night before), Mr. M. thought it was just as well that there were none to serve him because he was as stuffed as Mrs. M.’s crêpes after eating his sandwich and salad! Noting that the menu also sports a nice collection of coffees, teas, wines, beers and cocktails, we opted for a nice cup of real hot chocolate (made with semi-sweet cocoa) to cap things off.
Well, we waited nearly 45 minutes this time for our simple orders to come out of Jacque’s kitchen. But that’s probably because the kitchen is small, as we both noticed en route to the powder rooms. Nonetheless, Chez Jacques is truly an authentic, French-bistro dining experience (despite the odd lack of French fries when we were there). The interior atmosphere and food are true to the real thing in Paris, and in the famous French tradition of lingering over one’s lunch all afternoon, this is not a fast-food affair (it’s funny how the French word bistro actually comes from the Russian word meaning “fast” or “quick”).
It’s worth the wait, though, if you’ve got the time.
Make your own CROQUES-MONSIEUR sandwich and French fries at home!
Recipe makes two sandwiches
4 slices good-quality artisan bread
4 oz. gruyère cheese
4 oz. deli ham
a little butter
Dijon mustard (optional – our personal touch)
Preheat a large skillet or grill pan on the stove over medium heat. Make sandwiches by laying down a layer of cheese to taste, then ham to taste on one slice, spread a little Dijon mustard on the other; close up to make the sandwich, then butter both outside surfaces well. Fry in the pre-heated pan until the bread is nicely toasted and golden around the edges on both sides (yes, it’s just like making a grilled-cheese sandwich).
It’s a nice touch to trim off the crusts and cut in half before plating. This is traditionally served with pommes frites* (pronounced “pum freet” – that’s French for “French fries”) and a light salad with vinaigrette.
*Served with nearly everything in Paris, we found that most restaurants served really thin-cut fries (almost exactly like the ones from, of all places, McDonald’s!).
HOMEMADE POMMES FRITES
Makes 2 to 4 servings (depending on how many you want, obviously)
Peanut, canola or other vegetable oil for deep frying – do not use olive oil (it’ll catch on fire)!
2 large, oval Idaho potatoes, peeled
Sea salt or kosher salt
Fill your fryer with the prescribed amount of oil and get it heated up, or pour at least one inch of oil into a deep pot on the stove and heat it to 350º F. over medium-high heat. Slice the potatoes into thin “matchsticks” (between ⅛ and ¼ of an inch thick – try to get them as thin as you can, but make them all uniform in size). Submerge them in a bowl of cold water as you go to keep them from oxidizing and turning brown on you before getting them in the oil.
Drain the potatoes and dry them thoroughly with paper towels (before dabbing with the paper towels, we give them a good whirl in a salad spinner – those are widely available these days in most housewares stores).
Drop the potatoes in small, manageable batches into the hot oil (don’t crowd them too much!) and cook for about 6 minutes, until golden brown. Remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon or wire skimmer, and drain on more paper towels. Sprinkle the hot fries immediately with salt, to taste.
Keep cooked fries warm on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet in a 350º F. oven as you cook the remaining potatoes.