It’s the tiny eatery that’s quaintly nestled in the corner of Laura and Monroe streets, a juxtaposition to the midday-bustle of Downtown Jacksonville. Magnificat Café has been feeding Downtown workers since 2003, though owners Benoit and Kathy Desclefs have been in the culinary business for more than 30 years. Hungry patrons can step from the Urban Core through the café’s Parisian-themed entrance – complete with wrought-iron patio fencing, bistro furniture, hanging plants, and a stone lion fountain that spouts water from his mouth – and step into Chef Benoit’s kitchen for a taste of the Paris suburbs where he was born and raised.
Kathy explains that Magnificat is known for its quiches and handcrafted soups, so I had to try both. Each slice of quiche is a quarter of a pie, fluffy and savory, with a flaky crust that crunches just right. When I visited, the quiche of the day was blue crab with cheese, a dash of seafood flavor that blended well with a pasta salad sprinkled with poppy seeds and a housemade vinaigrette. Sides are chips or potato salad. As a diner wary of all things mayonnaise, I was hesitant to try the potato salad. Fortunately, this homemade-style dish wasn’t the typical Southern “mayo with potato” creation; instead, it had both an ample creaminess and a subtle saltiness that didn’t deter me from taking another bite.
I love soup as much as I dislike mayonnaise, so I was happy to try the samples Kathy kept proffering. The carrot-and-ginger soup was, and may always be, my top choice. Imagine the sweetness of carrots and the spiciness of ginger stirred into a creamy, savory concoction. This soup is perfect for vegetarians and those who prefer a light broth. Another favorite was gazpacho, a summer specialty Magnificat serves chilled, as it should be.
The café also features its “Mag” signature sandwiches. The favorite roast beef sandwich includes beef piled on toasted bread straight from The French Pantry, with Boursin cheese melted into a creamy, garlic spread topped with fresh veggies. Magnificat offers several other sandwiches, including vegetarian options, on a variety of bread from which to choose.
To complete the experience, I ordered pineapple-and-peach bread pudding. My sweet tooth did an impressive samba, though the fruit didn’t overwhelm the sweet vanilla flavor of the bread. (I know, the samba isn’t a French dance, but my taste buds are still recovering from last week’s Brazilian fare at Terra Gaúcha).
Kathy and Benoit are community-minded, which is why Magnificat Café has recently become home to PuraBean Coffee, a local coffee roasting company. And soon, another local treat, GuanaBana artisan ice pops, will be available there. If you happen to see a group of people sneaking under the counter and stealing through the kitchen, don’t call the gendarme – they work upstairs. The second floor of Magnificat is home to Lumen Entertainment, an independent film production company started in Jacksonville.
Magnificat Café hours reflect the Desclefs’ desire to serve lunch to hungry area workers; it’s open from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Mon.-Fri. This cozy spot is a perfect getaway from the high-rise hubbub of Downtown’s noon rush hour, proving that Jacksonville can be quaint and giant all at once.