Chef Jackie Shen opens a place of her own in New Buffalo

Chef Jackie Shen with Chocolate Truffles she created using Belgian chocolate and a Grand Marnier center for a catered party during the opening weekend at her new Jackie's Cafe in New Buffalo.

NEW BUFFALO — Chef Jackie Shen has worked at some impressive fine dining venues and also ran her own place, a Lincoln Park restaurant renowned for its groundbreaking synthesis of classical French and Chinese cooking, for 13 years.

Now she’s in charge as owner and chef at the new Jackie’s Cafe in New Buffalo.

Shen said she came to New Buffalo a year ago to serve as executive chef at the Stray Dog Bar & Grill when that local eatery re-opened in the wake of a July 2012 fire.

“I fell in love with New Buffalo. I sold my house in Chicago and I bought a house here in New Buffalo and I’m settling in for life,” Shen said.

After a year at The Stray Dog, Shen said she wanted to “venture out and do something on my own.”

That something is the new cafe, located in the former home of the Grateful Diner (and before that Kite’s Kitchen) at 801 West Buffalo St.

Jackie’s Cafe opened on Friday, May 23.

“I have an excellent staff in the kitchen and everybody has stepped up to the plate between the front of the house and the back of the house,” she said.

Crepes are a breakfast specialty at Jackie’s Cafe because Shen really likes crepes and has a long history with them.

“We did a lot of crepes when I worked for a French restaurant as an apprentice back in Chicago when I started to learn how to cook” she said.

Shen said she also loves to create pancakes and waffles.

“We put on a spin on the waffle with the glazed walnut. We offer a Healthy Pancake (topped with the house granola and Greek yogurt), and I got this blueberry bread from Breadsmith in South Bend, and I make it into a French toast that is absolutely to die for,” she said. “And of course we’ve got to have Judy’s Sticky Buns.”

The granola, fresh-made in-house, also is available as a main course, served with Michigan maple syrup. Other breakfast and brunch menu offerings include Eggs Benito (a mixture of jalapeno cornbread, ham, poached eggs and jalapeno cheese sauce), a Low-carb Seasonal Frittata, Classic Eggs Benedict, Gunthorp Farms sausage and Drier’s bacon.

Salads are front and center on the lunch menu.

“We have a Moroccan Couscous Salad, we have a Kale Waldorf, a Chinese Noodle Salad, a Szechuan Shrimp Salad and a Parmesan Chicken Cesar Salad,” Shen said.

If you prefer sandwiches, you’re in luck with a Croque Monsieur, the “Not a Plain Turkey Sandwich” (which Shen said is spiced up by a cranberry chipotle mayonnaise), an Egg Foo Yung Sandwich and the Teriyaki Salmon Sandwich among the cafe’s offerings for lunch.

No meat? No problem.

“We totally cater to vegetarians,” Shen said.

The current menu at Jackie’s Cafe is designed for summer appetites.

“Everyone wants to eat light and healthy in the summer,” Shen noted.

Shen originally came to America from Hong Kong to study hotel and restaurant management at the University of Houston (where she earned a bachelor’s degree). She began waitressing in Chicago during the summer and eventually worked as front of the house manager at the Ritz Carlton and the Hyatt  in the Windy City.

She apprenticed for the late chef John Banchet at his Le Francais restaurant in Wheeling, Ill., before running her own place, Jackie’s in Lincoln Park, for 13 years.

She then worked for Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Red Light, and Chicago Cut Steakhouse before becoming part of the re-opening effort at The Stray Dog.

Jackie’s Cafe is open every day except Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (lunch service begins at 11 a.m., with breakfast items such as eggs available all day). After June 15 that schedule also will apply to Tuesdays.

“Somewhere down the road when my menu is ready we’ll have a deli window here with some baked goods and carry-out items,” she said.

Catering for special events and parties is one the menu now, and Shen said she was already involved in that aspect of the business over Memorial Day weekend.

For more information on Jackie’s Cafe, call (269) 469-1800.

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