Saturday, April 5, 2008

Seriously Savory Somethings.

I don’t like cooked spinach. Raw spinach adds a certain flair to salads, and I’ll eat it by the handful. But early in my life, I was exposed to badly cooked spinach, and I usually avoid it.

You can’t keep me away from it at Jimmy’s Serious Sandwiches.

A cooked spinach sandwich may sound like the sort of stuff gastronomic nightmares are made of, but the folks at Jimmy’s have raised it to fine art.
I was exposed to the restaurant’s fare back on September 12, 2001. I was working in a newsroom, the day after THAT DAY, and lunch was catered in. One of my co-workers, aware of my allergies, handed me a box with the word “garden” on it. I was surprised to find inside not a salad, but an ethereal sandwich that both satisfied me and urged me to find out this restaurant. And over time, any time I needed good food fast after work, I called in an order and picked up a box on the way home.

Of course, times have changed, and being out of state so much I don’t get back to Jimmy’s as much as I would like. So heading over to the West Markham shop on a Thursday afternoon was a real treat.

Jimmy Weisman’s sandwich palace hasn’t changed much over its 23 years. There’s still the happy sculpture out front, and the green awning. We went late in the day, around 3:45 (the restaurant closes at 4 p.m.) and it was strangely quiet… unlike during the lunch hustle from around 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., when the place is packed with business professionals and hospital staffers looking for a good, bargain priced meal.

My traveling companion took a moment to decide on lunch, but for me, it was a no-brainer -- a Garden Sandwich, serious sized, with a fresh fruit side. We made the rest of our lunch selections, poured our drinks. and sat down.

The restaurant isn’t all that big -- about the size of your average Wendy’s… but it is clean and relaxed and completely without pretension. And the view in the front window is lovely -- a nice sprawl of green across the road that’s War Memorial Golf Course, and St. Vincent Medical Center and War Memorial Stadium in the distance.

I have to admit, I have to like a restaurant that serves Red Zinger Tea. The Celestial Seasonings offering is a great accompaniment to a good sandwich, and makes a relaxing afternoon beverage. You can drink the Red Zinger, or regular tea, or sweet tea… or a selection of fountain drinks. Or bottled water or Doctor Brown sodas, for that matter. There are plenty of choices.

For that matter, you have a lot of sandwich choices, too -- hence the “serious” part of the restaurant name. Selections like Thai One On, a hot and spicy Thai chicken breast with lime, Asian slaw and lettuce on a ciabatta; It’s Greek To Me, a hummus, veggie, and yogurt filled wrap; and the Salmon, Red Chile Rubbed, wrapped with corn and black beans and jalapeno dressing. Yummy.

Our lunches came out on green-tissue lined baskets.

My traveling companion had ordered a daily special, a Beef Tenderloin sandwich ($7.25) with a side of Twice Baked Potatoes. The meat was served up on a Po Boy roll, carefully cut down one side and piled up with savory yet tender strips of marinated beef, fresh tomatoes and lettuce. My companion had chosen to have his house dressing on the side (he’s not a big mayonnaise fan) but ended up spreading the horseradish-thick sauce onto the bun. The Twice Baked Potatoes, unlike those offered at other restaurants, are twice baked MASHED potatoes… slightly crunchy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside. My companion, who’s also a salt-i-vore, never reached for the seasoning, telling me the pile of perfection was perfectly seasoned.

Of course, while his meaty meal was tempting, I wasn’t parting with my sandwich of choice. Jimmy’s recipe for the Garden Sandwich ($6.25) won the 1979 National Sandwich Contest, and it hasn’t lost anything in the ages since. Two thick slices of pumpernickel bread conceal a warm mixture of cooked spinach, mushrooms, green peppers and green onions, a little mayo and lemon juice, alfalfa sprouts and sunflower seeds, all glued together with slices of Provolone, Swiss, and Cheddar cheeses. The savory mixture has the consistency of a good chicken salad, yet the warm gooey goodness of cheese. I found myself stabbing at the crumbs once I’d consumed my sandwich.

The Fresh Fruit Bowl side (you can also choose potato chips, potato or pasta salad, or the soup of the day) was a medley of fresh apples, watermelon, cantaloupe and purple grapes… nothing else, not that you need anything else. Everything was crisp and bright.

Of course, you can’t go to Jimmy’s without at least considering dessert. There’s even a warning on the menu: “Jimmy’s will be held harmless for actions taken against any and all individuals who fail to order dessert -- seriously!” The desserts aren’t fancy -- but at $1.10, they don’t have to be. You have a choice between the James “I Feel Good” Brownie, the Pecan Square, the Lemon Square, and a Big Toll House Cookie.

My traveling companion, ever the choco-holic, went for the brownie -- with its light crusty top, moist bottom, and heavy load of nuts. I had to go for the Lemon Square, another signature item at Jimmy’s. The light floury bottom is covered with a thick, sweet-tart lemon custard and dusted with an ample amount of powdered sugar. The brownies, Lemon Squares, and Pecan Squares are all about the same size -- about three inches square -- but you really don’t need any more. They’re rich and delicious.

If you’re not in the mood for a sandwich, Jimmy’s also offers up a good variety of salads, “cool plates” like chicken salad and tuna salad, and kids meals. You can also “Serious Size” your sandwich for an additional $1.25 if you have a hearty appetite.

You’ll find Jimmy’s Serious Sandwiches at 5116 West Markham, across from War Memorial Park and next door to Chi’s. They do carry-out orders and business catering, too. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. You can call (501) 666-3354 or check out the menu at

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