It was love at first sight when C.J. "Chip" Newton spied the space that would become a homespun cafe on a quiet back-street in downtown Haines City.
JACKIE'S ART CAFE
621 Ingraham Ave., Haines City
Open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. Saturdays. Dinner service from 5-8 p.m. Mondays.
Artsy cafe serving soup, salads and sandwiches along with live music.
Most major cards accepted.
$4.99 to $11.99
APPROPRIATE FOR KIDS:
Chicken soup, grilled cheese, bacon and tomato sandwich, meatloaf sandwich, chicken salad, pulled pork.
His find originally was intended to serve mainly as art gallery, a place to showcase his nature photographs and the Florida landscapes painted by his friend, Jacque Palomaki. Having produced a number of area art shows, the pair were keen to establish a permanent spot to exhibit works by local artists as well as their own.
The downtown storefront discovered by Newton, a former editor of the Haines City Herald, came equipped with rustic, brick walls, high ceiling fans and a small kitchen, adding to its appeal and potential as more than a place to exhibit art.
He and Palomaki opened Jackie's Art Cafe in May 2012, adding music to the mix with live performances by folks like Jon Corneal, an Auburndale native who spent years in the Nashville scene as drummer, songwriter and collaborator with the likes of Gram Parsons.
Digging into their own collection of tried-and-true recipes, Newton and Palomaki (she's married with children, he's single), fashioned a menu of simple soups, salads and sandwiches, items that mesh with the relaxed, artsy setting.
The place truly is an art gallery, with virtually every inch of wall space occupied by an eclectic mix, from penciled still lifes to vibrant oils. A few of the dining room's tables come equipped with a deck of cards.
The restaurant reduces operations during summer, serving light breakfast and lunch fare only. There's always ice cream in the house, but you may find fresh-baked pecan pie one day, and a rather unusual version of bread pudding, opulent with fat, flavorful blueberries, the bread really more like cake, the next.
Beginning Wednesday, things heated up a bit, with extended hours on Mondays and Saturdays, and more ambitious meals.
Named for Palomaki's late mother, Jackie Olesak, Jackie's Art Cafe is a serene oasis most days, with solo pianists and guitarists gently plying customers with oldie-goldie standards.
Things get a might louder when Corneal hits the floor, according to Newton, a daily presence at the cafe where his many roles include waiting tables and cajoling customers with folksy, deadpan humor.
At first blush, Jackie's comes across as the sort of place that caters mostly to seniors, where the chicken salad, crunchy with bits of apple and light on mayo, pairs perfectly with a soft, piano version of the 1960s folk hit "Greenfields" playing in the background.
But initial impressions dissipate with sturdier fare, such as Palomaki's homestyle meatloaf sandwich, the main ingredient glazed in ketchup and served hot with a melt of white cheese, or a perfectly bronzed grilled cheese sandwich, $6.99, kicked up with crispy bacon and thick slices of fresh, ripe tomato.
Palomaki splits her time between the kitchen and front of the house, where she delivers colorful salads, voluptuously topped in a wedge of broiled salmon glistening with an apricot glaze, $10.99; and hearty, pulled-pork sandwiches oozing with melted cheese and freshened with a slice of tomato, $7.99.
During one recent rainy afternoon, a hot bowl of chicken soup ($3.49 cup, $4.99 bowl), light on salt and plush with a variety of vegetables, including an unlikely but pleasing addition of sliced, mild pickles, hit the spot. The restaurant also pays homage to Chicago's hot dogs, topping its frankfurters with bright, green relish, tomato and sport peppers, those tiny, briny embellishments packing a bit of heat.
Newton and Palomaki make a good team, though neither has extensive restaurant experience. Somehow they seem to manage affairs, promptly attending to customer needs with a pleasant, unhurried manner. The food is simplistic, but fresh. Portions are generous. And the price of your meal includes entertainment.
During a July 8 inspection, the restaurant was cited for three violations, one of which rose to a high priority for a chemical stored in close proximity to eating utensils.
Mostly, Jackie's is a treasure, where good food, music and art come together. It may have a small-town vibe, but the formula has broad appeal.
Eric Pera can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7528