Chickasaw Oaks, the compact mall beside the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library on the west end of the Poplar Corridor, is a daytime retreat for the recession-proof.
The central lane of the complex is an indoor "street" with ceiling-high ficus trees, and windows with views into tony shops for interior design, art and women's clothing. It's a relaxed scene of contented affluence — one woman browsing a rack at a dress store last week was wearing a hair-salon smock and foil squares layered in her hair, passing time while the clock ticked on her hair-color appointment.
Ensconced at the center of the mall, Just For Lunch provides a midday dining experience that complements the luxury goods all around.
So, yes, there will be quiche and aspic. The "Quiche of the Day" is pleasingly dry and well-knit, with a healthy proportion of broccoli one day. The aspic has a beef-broth-and-celery flavor; in liquid form it would make a nice bloody mary.
Just For Lunch is a green restaurant, which, among other things, means it uses organic fruits and vegetables as much as possible. The "Southern vegetable plate" last week featured a cherry tomato pie that was, as a server pointed out, like a cheddar-cheese omelet baked in a crust.
If you're lucky, a stuffed eggplant will stay on the plate a while. A grilled eggplant hull was stuffed with sauteed breadcrumbs, with garlic and maybe a bit of oregano.
The green beans were over-stewed and drooped on the fork, old-Southern-style, but a white gazpacho of cucumbers in a sour-cream broth was refreshing, a bit bland on a first try, saltier and crisper on a second. Dill might be a logical addition to the soup.
A success the kitchen shouldn't mess with is the corn and black-bean soup, a rich stew with tomatoes and a judicious use of hot pepper in the south-of-the-border spices.
A shrimp salad was served on avocado with a ravigote sauce. The tart dressing derives its name from the French for "perk up" or "invigorate." This version gets its vigor from horseradish.
While salads — chopped, Cobb, Mediterranean, spinach — are a mainstay of the menu, you can get a hearty meal here. A bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado on ciabatta was remarkable for its thick slabs of Canadian-style bacon. A special one day was the beef tenderloin on a baguette, generous slices of smoky beef dressed with creamy fresh horseradish and sweet-potato fries on the side.
The dessert list includes cobbler and fudge pie, but on a hot August day, the lemon parfait seemed the right choice. The sweet-and-sour blend of cream and lemon arrived in a glass flute; unfortunately, ice chips in the mix had the unintentional effect of diluting it.
The rose and green interior dining room with a brick fireplace on one wall is a more somber setting than the "outdoor" seating on the mall. The dining crowd is largely made up of lunching ladies, but not only. My friend was asked on his arrival one day if he was joining a private party of penal officers.
Servers are classically attired in white shirts and long bistro aprons. They were uniformly efficient, unobtrusive and brisk, but not brusque.
Just For Lunch
Address: 3092 Poplar
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Reviewer’s choices: Beef tenderloin sandwich, $14.50; albacore tuna salad, $11.50; shrimp ravigote in avocado, $13.95; black-bean and corn soup, $5.25.
Just For Lunch doesn’t serve alcohol, but you can bring your own with no charge.