Jacques Patisserie brings a taste of Europe to town
By CONSTANCE CRUMP
NEWS RESTAURANT REVIEWER
The social history of Ann Arbor might be traced through its bakeries. In the early ’70s, Deluxe Bakery Shop, the Washington Street home of schnitzbrod, German pretzels, bauern bread and crunchy cookies, closed, mourned by its appreciators, but not replaced.
At the same time, the Sun Bakery, home of chewy everything (a.k.a. whole foods) opened, a reflection of the whole earth times. Just over decade later, it too closed, leaving the Ann Arbor bakery field wide open for fancy pastry emporiums that take the staff of life far beyond basics.
Now croissants beckon on every corner, Jacques Patisserie, one of the most recent croissanteries, opened last summer on North University in a pocket of gentrification called Hamilton Square.
The place has nice atmosphere. The owners are generally on hand, and the staff is friendly. It’s one of the few European-style cafes in town. A local habitue of such cafes mourns the lack. If there were more, he says, he wouldn’t have to spend so much time hanging out in any particular one, but could circulate.
Alas, despite a plethora of croissants, Ann Arbor is not Paris, as you might have noticed.
Jacques serves a simple menu of sandwiches and salads along with fancy tortes, cookies, pastries and of course, croissants of many colors.
Salads change from day to day, but some standards appear with frequency. Creamy seafood pasta salad appropriately employs shells for the carbohydrate element. In a different mood, garden salad includes lightly blanched broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peppers in a tart vinaigrette - a luncheon both healthy and satisfying.
There’s something of a non sequitur about croissant sandwiches. They’re hard to eat and inappropriately buttery with most fillings. Baked-in fillings, on the other hand, are usually successful. At Jacques, savory centers are toothsome.
Raspberry croissants reminded samplers of giant Pop Tarts, with gooey filling heavy on the cornstarch.
“All they need is some squishy white icing,” one disgruntled raspberry-fan Crumpet said.
Jacques’ daily special sandwiches are usually offered on crescents, but its excellent white or crusty rye breads can be substituted to good effect. I especially like chicken or shrimp salads, both fresh and laudably low on celery. Ham or turkey deli sandwiches are other good choices. Somewhere, Jacques has tracked down winter tomatoes with good flavor.
Chocolate mousse cups had been in the pastry case a little too long one day last week - their piped filling was nearly ossified, the bottom layer turned to gum. One Crumpet had strong objections to the fillip of chopped peanuts that garnished the mousse - “Pistachios, ideally, maybe almonds or pecans, even walnuts — but peanuts? Ugh! ” she said.
Sourpusses are probably muttering that Jacques’ spotless pink tile and brass and chrome decor is exactly the kind of chi-chi Post-Modernism that’s a threat to Ann Arbor’s traditional restaurant seediness. So be it. The rest of us can enjoy the change for the better in public aesthetics. White wicker chairs, supergraphic black and white tile floor, huge windows — an absolute necessity for a successful cafe — all contribute to Jacques’ appeal.
Plastic tableware and pressed foam coffee cups are a regrettable fact of life at many of my favorite spots. I can accept it at Jacques if it means owners Maureen and Michael Watassek will use the space which might be used for a dishwasher for an espresso machine instead. Cappuccino forever! Regular coffee is quite good and Jacques uses real half and half.
715 North University In Hamilton Square 662-4700
FOOD 8 out of 10
SERVICE 9 out of 10
ATMOSPHERE 8 out of 10
HOURS: Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. until 7 p.m.
PRICES: Inexpensive. Breakfast, $1.70; piggish lunch for two, $12.73.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Fair -
high counters, narrow aisles.