Lunch at MJ’s Café seems to have become a popular choice for workers in the Old Jefferson area of Baton Rouge.
Located in a shopping center on Jefferson Highway between Government Street and Claycut Road, the lunch café began operations in May 2011 specializing in vegetarian and vegan-friendly foods.
I dined with two friends who were both on a raw fruit and vegetable cleanse, allowing some dairy. I identify as a “chickentarian” — a made up diet term I use to say that I eat everything but beef and pork.
It was 1 p.m. and MJ’s Café was nearly packed, but that did not hinder the attention we received from our sarcastically funny waiter Stephen or even from owner/chef Maureen Joyce, who made a visit to our table.
When placing my order, my love for fresh guacamole made me immediately go for a sandwich called the vegan ($7.99). It’s a black bean salad, guacamole, spinach and tomato combination grilled on whole wheat bread.
To make it a lunch duo ($10), I coupled the sandwich with tomato Florentine soup ($4.99). The rich texture made the soup a meal in itself. It was a pleasant contrast of thick and creamy with the shredded cheese and spinach leaves adding a chewable feature. This soup choice prompted Stephen to ask if I was practicing veganism, because if I had been then he would have suggested a different soup pairing. I haven’t been to any restaurant where a waiter checked to be sure an item’s ingredients were in my diet. I can’t explain how refreshing that small interaction was.
My two semi-vegan friends for the day — who were each on day four of cleansing — experimented with three of MJ’s five fresh salad choices.
One friend ordered a large spinach salad ($7.50) sans the toasted pine nuts. The salad he requested offered fresh spinach, apples and feta cheese, with a red wine vinaigrette. He said several times that the salad was a lot better than he thought a pairing of apples and feta cheese could be.
The other friend decided to pair two salads — cabbage slaw and tomato salad ($4.99 each) — to create a lunch duo ($10). The waiter told him that the slaw salad is a popular choice among MJ’s vegan diners. As he chewed through the robust flavors, he described the dish as being different as in zesty, spicy with a contrast of sweet apples up against jalapeños and cabbage.
“There are a lot of things going with flavor,” he said. “Flavor is everywhere!”
After cleaning his first bowl of salad, he dug right into his tomato salad — tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil in a red wine vinaigrette. This dish was a little oily in comparison to the cabbage slaw, but it was still good. He said the spices gave it an earthy taste like a fresh salad but that he didn’t just taste that, he also really tasted the vegetables and the cheese.
For dessert, I selected the blueberry white chocolate bread pudding topped with a blueberry puree and fresh cream ($2.99). Since MJ’s Café works with only local seasonal food items, there is no standing dessert menu so let’s just say I got lucky.
I stopped eating sugar items a few months back so I worried that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy a sweet treat but the owner explained her preparation process and recipe.
“I experimented with real maple syrup,” she explained. “The recipe calls for a cup of sugar, but I only used a quarter cup this time — no one has complained yet.”
When asked what we may be able to see on the menu in the future, the chef just smiled and said, “Whatever’s fresh.”