Jackson’s Java – the venerable coffeehouse that was serving espressos to University City residents back when Starbucks still meant a character from Moby Dick – is offering two new options for starting your day.
It now serves breakfast every morning and hosts a live bluegrass band from 9 to 10 a.m. every Sunday.
Jackson’s is a college coffeehouse in the best sense. It’s the kind of place Robert Putnam and other community-building types rave about, where locals mix with UNC Charlotte students, faculty and staff.
For a local columnist, there’s no better place to sip coffee while trying not to eavesdrop on conversations that speak volumes about life in our corner of the Queen City.
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The new breakfast menu is available seven days a week, any time of day that Jackson’s is open, said manager Sasha Elliott. On Sunday mornings, Ramblin’ Bill and The Chequered Past provide the live bluegrass music.
Elliott is very pleased with the reaction to the new menu so far:
“Things are going great!” he said. “We’re trying to do a little bit more, offering more in-house selections that we bake here.”
The breakfast menu adds a healthy vibe in Jackson’s Bohemian atmosphere. In place of a former fudge counter, there is now a “create your own” oatmeal bar. Along with oatmeal, cooked up fresh, breakfasters can select almonds, walnuts, raisins, cranberries and other tasty additions.
Jackson’s also offers an innovative “oatmeal bar” of another kind: oatmeal, nuts and fruits baked into a kind of muffin. It’s a sweet, stick-to-your-ribs breakfast treat.
In addition, Jackson’s menu lists breakfast sandwiches of egg, cheese and a choice of meat on croissant, wrap or English muffin. They are cooked to order while you wait. Or you can chose a fresh-baked scone, with cheddar and ham, or sausage and pepper jack.
The restaurant has kept its old menu of bagels and cream cheese spreads, as well as assorted muffins. That includes the popular Glorious Morning muffins, which sell out pretty much as quickly as they come out of Jackson’s oven in the back.
This being a coffeehouse, Jackson’s also has the expected cookies, bars and cheesecakes to accompany coffee, tea and steamers, postmeridial or nocturnal.
Vegetarians won’t see a simple egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwich without meat on the menu, but that’s easy to fix. Just order one. One nice touch: Jacksons will give you peanut butter to put on your bagel. That chain named after the Melville character may brew decent coffee, but they do not offer PB for their bagels.
Jackson’s bluegrass jams offer a unique way to get Sunday mornings off to a pleasant start. Lead singer Ramblin’ Jack has a fine voice and terabyte repertoire of bluegrass and folk classics. The band has a Jackson’s connection: Former barista Alicia Driver is the group’s fiddle player. The Chequered Past is all acoustic, with an oversized bass guitar that looks inspired by a Mariachi bass (a creative cultural exchange, if you ask me).
Some folks might question hosting a bluegrass band on Sunday mornings. After all, the Harris-Teeter next door still won’t sell you a six-pack of beer until noon on Sunday. On the other hand, this is the city where Bill Monroe got his start, before Nashville. If you are so inclined, the occasional gospel selections Ramblin’ Jack and the Chequered Past include in their sets can be every bit as inspiring to the soul as singing church hymns or listening to a high mass by Bach or Josquin.
Jackson’s remains at its heart a coffeehouse, in all its diversity. It does something increasingly rare: buying and roasting beans on site, a treasure for those of us who prize good coffee. Right now, it has a Peruvian organic coffee that is excellent. They still use an air roaster that owner Mike Jackson proudly set up years ago after a research trip to – of course – Seattle.
In those day, Jackson was a conservative Charlotte City Council member with a Libertarian streak, and a “Dittohead” club met at Jackson’s to listen to Rush Limbaugh. Those days are long gone; nowadays you hear progressive jazz on Jackson’s stereo, when bluegrass isn’t playing live.
There’s a lesson here. Jackson’s has learned and continued to grow and change over the years, keeping good things, adapting or dropping ideas that didn’t work, and adding new options. Breakfast and bluegrass are squarely in this innovative tradition.
In the process, Jackson’s Java has evolved into a unique place that reflects our unique community. Putting aside partisan politics, there is much to admire in this kind of proactive pragmatism.