the prices. Despite the Bistro's appearance, it's a decidedly mid-range spot for breakfast and lunch. Two eggs, home fries and toast will run you $5.50, while the most expensive lunch entrees top out at $11.95. The menu also features a litany of American standards, lunchtime comfort food familiar to anyone who doesn't brown bag it.
But familiar does not always pay off in quality. At Jackson Street Bistro, breakfast is served all day (until the doors close at 3 p.m.). Considering the quality of the lunch items, that's probably a good call.
Early in the day, on my second visit, the promise of that full dining room at lunch seems a dream. I'm the only person sitting at the bar, and the only customer in the restaurant besides someone waiting for takeout pancakes. My eggs are simple, seasoned and cooked right, alongside cubes of fried potato heavily seasoned with black pepper and two slices of sweet wheat toast. More capable eggs accompanied rich sausage gravy with a fine balance of spice and herb, atop a forgettable biscuit. Pancakes are fluffy and come with sweet honey butter, french toast is scented with orange juice and the waffles are tall and light. All told, Jackson Street Bistro easily serves the best breakfast in downtown Tampa.
Lunch is another story. Maybe it's the rush of people. Maybe it's that the dishes become a little more complex. Maybe it's just the problems that come when a kitchen has to deal with a bloated menu that lists about 40-50 options for lunch and breakfast. But once you hit noontime, all bets are off at the Bistro.
A prime rib sandwich ordered medium came as a thick slab of fatty gray meat. Half of it was tender, the other half loaded with gristle. None of it was worth eating. The Bistro's version of a muffaletta comes on grainy focaccia without the structural integrity necessary to hold in the meat, let alone the loose chopped olives rolling around under the bread. Salads are desultory, with seemingly the minimum done to match the menu description, although the ingredients are fresh enough. Chili at the Bistro consists of finely ground beef that is almost devoid of liquid, resulting in a meaty paste reminiscent of dry sloppy joe filling.
The fish entree is surprisingly tasty when ordered blackened, the filet coated in an earthy spice and dried herb blend that seems homemade. Chicken-fried steak might not suit my southern spirit -- it's breaded and deep-fried instead of pan-fried -- but it is seasoned well, tender and topped by more of that delicious sausage gravy from breakfast. Both great dishes, until you get to the sides. Those range from forgettable waffle fries to absurd cole slaw featuring pineapple and raisins.
Then again, you can order breakfast when you go to lunch. That chicken-fried steak can easily come with two sunny-side up eggs instead of cole slaw, home fries instead of potato salad. And only miserly curmudgeons would frown at a big plate of waffles doused in syrup at a business lunch.