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Joe Jitters soothes with real food, satisfying salads

Doris Clough doesn't have time for doggy bags or food that tastes like it was manufactured. That's why she likes Joe Jitters Coffeehouse, a comfortable restaurant in Moose Lake, pop. 2,239, that serves sandwiches, pastries, espresso drinks, free ...

Doris Clough doesn't have time for doggy bags or food that tastes like it was manufactured.

That's why she likes Joe Jitters Coffeehouse, a comfortable restaurant in Moose Lake, pop. 2,239, that serves sandwiches, pastries, espresso drinks, free Wi-Fi and salads.

Clough's favorite dish is the chicken salad with cashews and cranberries, which isn't always on the menu. "Usually, the gals will make it for me," she said as we approached the kitchen counter to place our orders.A large whiteboard listed dozens of items: lots of beverages, with a half dozen sandwiches, some wraps, bagels and other pastries. I added a multi-grain bagel and one of the day's two soups, something called baked potato chowder. Since it was an espresso joint, I got my usual - double latte short. We took our seats to wait for our orders to be called out and gazed out on Elm Street, where cold winds were blowing a few flakes of snow around. "It's quiet and laid back," she said of the coffeehouse's atmosphere. "That gentleman up there is working on his laptop, doing his thing," she said. "There's usually one over there on the couch, but he's not here today."

Clough's retired but not retiring -- she keeps a nearly full-time schedule volunteering around town, from the food shelf (in the basement just below the restaurant) to the hospital and elsewhere. When she' s not volunteering, she likes to travel (Bora Bora was her favorite trip of all) and dine at Northland restaurants, including Savannah Portage in Floodwood for the fish fry and Carmen's in Cloquet for the barbecue ribs.

Our orders were called out, and we fetched them. The salads were served cafe style, with a folded green-and-white checked napkin tucked under the plate. "I think it's neat how they present it," she said, as she took a few bites. "I like the crunch of the cashews and the cranberries," she said. It's a small salad, which is just right for her. "To me, if it's good, it doesn't have to be huge," she said.

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TOM'S TAKE

This humble little salad was made with fresh greens, craisins, a handful of cashews and another handful of seasoned chicken cubes, tossed with two cheeses (one was cheddar). I like these flavor and texture contrasts -- two kinds of crunchy, plus the sweet-tart of the cranberry "raisins," the salt of the nuts and so on. I mention "little" because for the larger appetite, it might not be enough.

For me, it was fine, but then I also ordered a bagel and the baked potato chowder, which reminded me less of a baked potato and more of German potato salad, with tiny bits of bacon and appealing tangy flavor in a thick broth. The bagel, served with panini grill marks, tasted just-baked fresh (even thought I later learned it wasn't) and was pre-slathered with real melted butter. I have a weakness for butter, but some might have wanted it on the side. Then again, maybe that extra butter was insurance against the bitter winter that was just showing its face outside.

After we dined, I took a few minutes to wander through the back of Joe Jitters, which consists of a 36 booths of various craftspeople - fleece hats and mittens, handbags and antiques - plus a small used book store. For four bucks, I picked up a hardcover copy of James Beard's "Eat Better for Less Money" -- a good title for these times -- and headed out the door.

ABOUT THE DISH AND RESTAURANT

The chicken cashew salad is a simple mix of diced seasoned chicken, cashews and craisins served on a bed of greens, said Ann Jusczak, who co-owns the coffeehouse with her husband, Randy.

Except for cookies, Jusczak said they're not able to cook from scratch in the establishment's tiny kitchen. "We don't have a big grill, or regular ovens, or stoves," she said. "But we get high quality soups and ingredients. We don't skimp on the quality. We want the product to be good." There is a small cookie oven and sandwiches can be grilled on a small panini-style grill.

The Jusczaks bought the coffeehouse two years ago and made some changes, including sandblasting a brick wall and installing a fireplace. "It was originally a Ford dealership," she said of the mid-century brick building on Moose Lake's Elm Avenue.

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TOM WILKOWSKE is a food reviewer for the Wave. Reach him at atablefortwo@duluthnews.com .

Related Topics: MOOSE LAKE
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