The rain was coming down so hard outside that we could hardly talk above the the roar it made against the skylight in Chickasaw Oaks Mall, but the spirits inside Just for Lunch were anything but damp.
A large group of older women was in a festive mood, sipping small pours of wine they brought in as they caught up on talk. One of them wore a pair of enormous, bright blue 1970s eyeglasses that inspired jealousy in my daughter and OK, maybe a little in me, too. They would have made the coolest sunglasses. ...
There have always been men at Just for Lunch when I've eaten there. It's not off limits and there's nothing girly about the food. But the fact is, it's a place you want to go with your girlfriends. Something about it is conducive to gossip and even a little silliness.
I recently had lunch there with my mother and my daughter. We liked everything we ordered and had a grand old time, not so much gossiping (my daughter doesn't approve, though her mother doesn't mind at all) but at least catching up.
I have a friend who loves chicken salad and orders it wherever he goes. He can tell you where it's good, and he'll make a face if you ask him about a restaurant where it's not. His favorite in town is La Baguette.
I'll say this: It's a toss-up. It should be easy for anyone who wants to hold a taste-off, since Just for Lunch and La Baguette are just a few steps apart. That puts some darn good chicken salad under the roof of the mall, and I urge anyone who decides to try them both to share their thoughts with me.
I ordered the bouquet of salads, which brings your choice of two salads accompanied by either fresh fruit, a green salad or soup. Since it was rainy and dreary, I chose the excellent, subtly spiced roasted red pepper soup. It was a lighter version than some that are little more than cream, but topped with crumbled blue cheese and rich enough to be satisfying.
But back to the chicken salad. Nary a grape, apple nor sliver of almond to be found: Instead, generous chunks of white-meat chicken, celery and a bit of green onion are bound with mayonnaise to create one of life's great pleasures, the simple version of chicken salad.
We played a game of rotating plates, passing my mother's salmon over grits and my daughter's Caesar salad counter-clockwise so we each had a few bites. The Caesar dressing is of the creamy variety, which seems to be more popular these days. I prefer the anchovy-laden version, but I admit the one at Just for Lunch was tasty, the greens fresh and crunchy and the grilled chicken tender.
The salmon was a generous fillet cooked just until flaky and served on a pool of stone-ground grits. Next to the chicken salad, we agreed this was the standout. Still, don't miss the egg and olive salad, available in the bouquet or on a sandwich (so is the chicken salad) or the quiche.
The tiniest muffins and rolls are served while you wait for your food, and a cheese and pecan cracker comes with the salad plate. The blue cheese biscuits are to die for, slightly crisp on the outside and delicate inside.
Call me cruel, but a good stumble makes me laugh and a fall, well -- I'm a little embarrassed to admit how funny I think it is when someone falls. We were finishing our meal when a waiter with a pitcher of water tripped over the step leading up to the porch. He caught himself and didn't spill a drop, but my daughter and I started laughing.
"That's not even funny," my mother said.
We explained that it was the possibility of seeing a porch full of women covered in ice water that had us laughing. I was getting ready to get a serious fit of giggles so I had to look away from my daughter. She turned to my mother.
"Your child is strange," she said.
And after a good meal and good company, I found that endearing somehow. It's nice to get the generations together, and Just for Lunch is a good spot for it.
Just for Lunch
Address: 3092 Poplar Ave., Suite 11
Telephone: (901) 323-3287
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Handicapped access: Yes
Alcoholic beverages: None yet
Don't miss: The chicken salad, the egg and olive salad, the quiche.
What's hot: The lagniappes, tiny extras that make you feel a little special.
What's new: The restaurant should have a full bar in September. Until then, there's no corkage fee for bringing your own wine.