It seems every other storefront in downtown Miami offers sandwiches stuffed with processed lunch meat and salads stacked on flaccid greens. There are a few new respites such as Niu Kitchen, Café Pastis, Burrito-San, and Peruvian-sandwich shop Station 28, but still many of the area's eateries take a school-cafeteria mentality to feeding the countless office workers who pour onto the streets daily.
Since June, they've been flocking to Jar + Fork (270 E. Flagler St.; 305-364-5643), which opened in the space once occupied by Tre Italian Bistro. Like many of the places nearby, it offers the soup-salad-sandwich combination, but owner Juliann Gigi, 32, has tried to put a different spin on things. The former accountant and finance executive of Aoki Group Inc., which owns Benihana and Doraku, helped that company open a juice bar in Honolulu before jumping ship to pursue her passion independently.
"I have a holistic nutrition degree; the accounting and finance were just a means to the end," she says.
The menu pulls produce from Homestead's Verde Farms, bread from Zak the Baker in Wynwood, and bacon from Babe Froman Fine Sausages.
"Everything is made in-house every single day, down to the aioli," Gigi says.
The setup has worked, and each day around noon, a crowd piles into the brick-walled space and a line begins stretching to the door and onto Flagler Street. There's the $12 grab-and-go option that offers a soup like vegan carrot ginger or turkey chili, possibly combined with a kale caesar, chicken salad, or tuna poke. For something a little slower and little more substantive, the so-called Paleo-inspired plates take about ten minutes to arrive at your table and come loaded with a meat and two veggie-based sides.
It's a bit pricier than some other downmarket options, but it's well worth it. A bunless burger ($14), arriving a nice pink medium, comes topped with a velvety sweet potato purée that's a fine stand-in for cheese. The kitchen also does a nice job of not overcooking a meaty slice of wild Scottish salmon ($14) and crisping the skin into a briny sort of chicharrón. Some sides — like sautéed cubes of squash, eggplant, and zucchini — are ascetically simple. The better ones are a bit heavier but worth it. Identical cubes of butternut squash are curried and gently doused in a honey sauce, creating a nice sweet-spicy contrast. A little soy sauce and sesame oil work well in a Brussels sprout and cauliflower stir-fry.
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Jar + Fork is even bucking the downtown trend of opening only for business hours Monday through Friday. The weekend brunch menu
There are also $8 cold-pressed juices that drop to $5 on Mondays, offering the opportunity to stock up. Gigi, who runs the place with partners John Suarez and Valerie Skinner, hopes to expand the business via its juicing operation and is already looking for another space to branch out as the kitchen takes over.
Let's hope the food follows wherever they go next. Jar + Fork's menu seems like the obvious answer to lunchtime woes.