Juniper 61 Is Great for Lunch
The second restaurant by Cafe Lulu’s owners offers great sandwiches.
When a restaurant is packed on an ordinary Wednesday at noon, something good must be coming from the kitchen. When the servers are literally running from the tables to the kitchen to the bar, I want to be there.
Owners Sarah Jonas and Cameryne Roberts opened Juniper 61 in 2008 despite the misleading plaque on the building that says “Established 1960.” Together they also own Cafe Lulu (established 2005) in Bay View, where they gained instant success with consistently good food at reasonable prices. I bonded with the Mooney/Looney Tuna and have been a fan ever since.
There are many reasons to head to Juniper 61, a slightly pared down version of their sibling, Cafe Lulu. I’ll start with a good one, the house-made chips and Asian slaw. The chips come with a small cup of blue cheese sauce, an irresistible addition to those crispy chips. And the slaw, tossed in sesame and rice wine vinegar, is a delicious crunchy mess of red and green cabbage, scallions, carrots, toasted peanuts, and ramen noodles. I suspect a secret ingredient in the dressing because it’s so tasty, but they’re not revealing it on the menu. For first timers, if you ask, and I always do, they will give you a split, half chips and half slaw, an ultra-generous serving of each. You can substitute roasted vegetables, truffled frites, or sweet potato fries for an additional $2.00, but why?
The sandwiches that accompany those accouterments, a short list of eight on the regular menu are equally impressive. The Bahn Mi with its Vietnamese roots has four spicy house-made pork meatballs seasoned with a hint of garlic, tucked into a toasted baguette, and topped with shredded carrot, cucumber and daikon slaw. Finished with a sriracha vinaigrette, it’s a proper classic Vietnamese bahn mi, with meat, pickled vegetables and spicy heat to liven the palate.
The Tuscan Melt adds class to an otherwise ordinary grilled cheese. There’s a lot happening inside this toasted sourdough. If you pile melted provolone cheese, fresh basil, sliced tomatoes, and thin-sliced red onion inside toasted bread, then squeeze some herb-infused olive oil around it, and add optional bacon and avocado, you have a fat, decadent, hell of a good sandwich.
From the Middle East there’s Mediterranean Pita, house-made falafel topped with tomato-cucumber salad and served with feta-yogurt sauce. The pita is toasted, the falafel crunchy, and the sauce a perfect cooling foil to the spicy salad.
Normally I avoid anything that pairs beef with cheese except for an occasional cheeseburger. Juniper’s Seared Beef and Swiss Sandwich sounded too much like the gloppy Arby’s Beef N’Cheddar I once tried many years ago. But when my friend ordered the Juniper dish, I was happy to take a bite. The tenderloin, the real deal, was thinly sliced, and yes, extremely tender as advertised. The rest, sautéed wild mushrooms, seasonal greens, and horseradish sauce stuffed in a crusty baguette, paired well with the juicy meat.
Another rock star, the Pear and Gorgonzola Pizza has roasted pears, caramelized onions, a basic white cream sauce, the cheese, but not too much to overpower the pears, toasted walnuts and to make the flavors pop, aged balsamic reduction.
At her birthday lunch, my companion ordered from the Small Plates, Moroccan Lamb Kebobs, because she says, “My husband won’t touch lamb.” Small plate might not exactly describe the six large meatballs threaded on to three skewers. They alternated with with plump red grapes that had been marinated in red wine and roasted until they were succulent, sweet, almost like candy. The bit of heat in the meatballs could offend palates unaccustomed to spicy, yet the sweet grapes offset the heat and joined salty and spicy along with a cool yogurt dip to make a memorable mouthful.
The contemporary art that livens the tan-colored walls is worth a mention. As I was drawn to a colorful montage mixed with grey and beige, I looked for the artist’s name, Rochelle Weiner, and the title, “Dead Alewives.” Not the title I expected. Others had more upbeat, albeit puzzling names like “Skating on Wahl Avenue” and “The Long Short Cut.”
Weekends at Juniper 61 bring brunch and more international fare such as Curried Bangers and Black Beans, Mediterranean Lamb Omelet, and a Baja Burrito.
A long list of specialty cocktails suggests a happy mixologist. The wine selection will satisfy, especially on Wino Wednesday when diners get $10.00 off any bottle from 5:00 p.m. until closing. If non-alcoholic is your choice, expect free refills with a food order. And no matter what you order, expect a happy meal.
On The Menu
6030 West North Ave
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Friday 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., plus Saturday and Sunday brunch 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.