We like to keep our ear to the ground, attuned to pick up news about new restaurant openings in the ’Burg.
After we started writing the Signature food feature, we quickly learned that one of the best perks is that people are excited about sharing food news with us.
So, from the first “There’s a new cafe opening downtown,” we’ve picked up any information that came our way about Town Square Cafe and Bakery and anticipated featuring them here.
First, news of the location – the Pastry Garden building at 129 Walnut St.
Next, we ran into owner and head chef Jessica Jacobs at the Keg and Barrel’s Oktoberfest, and she dropped a few tidbits about curing pastrami, baking all breads in-house, and opening early for breakfast and coffee.
We caught her enthusiasm and could tell that Jacobs was doing the hard work of setting ambitious goals and figuring out how to bring them to life.
After Town Square Cafe and Bakery opened in mid-December, 2016, the trickle of information became a downpour: news of pillowy bacon and cheese croissants, a bite of a co-worker’s perfectly crumbly lemon cookie, a text from a friend picturing her toddler – grinning with face and hands yellow from curried spinach.
Trying a new place
We like to give new restaurants a bit of time to settle in before trying them. Time to let them work out the inevitable bumps in service and give the staff time to learn their jobs.
When we finally got the go-ahead to feature Town Square, we’d heard enough to know we were in for a treat.
Town Square opens early Tuesday to Friday. They serve breakfast and coffee starting at 6:30 a.m., and serve their full lunch menu until 4 p.m.
On Saturdays and Sundays, they serve their weekend brunch menu from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Town Square may be Chef Jacobs’ debut as a restaurant owner, but take one step inside the spacious and freshly-appointed venue, and you can immediately tell that she draws from a breadth of experience.
A good place to start
Jacob’s depth of knowledge starts with her training as a pastry chef, so it’s natural that bakery cases overflowing with fruit tarts, cakes, chocolate-dipped strawberries and a variety of croissants and other baked delights welcome you in.
We were happy to see a bit of a line at the counter during our visit. It means business is hopping and gives us a chance to see the staff in action.
At Town Square, the staff welcomes in customers, directs traffic with friendly banter, and keeps the flow of orders running smoothly.
Once you’ve placed your order, make your way to the gracious dining room or cheery patio, where you will be glad to find spacious tables with plenty of elbow room and enjoy a very reasonable wait time for your food.
Readers, we can tell you these are all good things. All signs point to a professionally-run business off to a great start.
Fresh and familiar
The menu at Town Square offers fare that feels both familiar and inventive.
The specialty coffee drinks, for instance, come with expected flavors like chocolate, caramel and cinnamon, but also unexpected and unique flavors like angostura and cardamom.
This theme carries over to the rest of the menu, where diners looking for breakfast can order a traditional dish like a two-egg breakfast, or updated favorites like a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit with brie.
Traditional side dishes like fries, mac and cheese (more on that later!) and chips can also be ordered alongside the rarely-seen-in-a-restaurant roasted whole sweet potato or curried spinach.
Town Square also operates as a full-service bakery, and their cake menu offers familiar Southern favorites – red velvet, carrot, caramel, each freshened up with new techniques and flavors that breathe new life into the well-loved bakes.
As evidence, this:
“Moist red velvet cake betwixt layers of cream cheese mousse, frosted in brown sugar Marsala buttercream, topped with chocolate ganache and adorned with fresh strawberries and raspberries.”
Sweet tooth calling to you yet?
Answer its call by picking up a slice. Wouldn’t that go well with an Orange Mocha?
Better yet, call ahead and order a whole cake to share. Or to keep to yourself.
We don’t judge.
All the way from scratch
As a full-service bakery, Town Square makes all of their breads from scratch and in-house. They even paired with local biologists at BAC Yeast to develop their own strain of yeast from those captured in the wild around the business.
This means that their yeasted breads – from the sourdough to the croissants – are products you can’t get anywhere else.
These tasty bakes form the cornerstone of Town Square’s solid breakfast, lunch and brunch menus.
Sandwiches and comfort food
The popular Pressed Turkey Bacon Pimiento starts with two slices of their sourdough, which is pleasantly substantial with a delightfully chewy crust. These are spread with a thick layer of a kicky pimiento cheese that has just a bit of heat. Generous slices of roasted turkey and crisp slabs of bacon round out the sandwich, which is toasted golden.
The sandwich is hearty without being heavy, and full of flavor.
You can pair it with fries, and that would not be a mistake, but we recommend you try the curried spinach. Here, gently wilted spinach meets a heat-free curry spice, and is studded with bits of sautéed onion and golden raisins.
Curried dishes and pimiento cheesehave made appearances in church cookbooks, recipe columns and at ladies’ teas for generations in the South, so the pairing offers a bright flavor combination that feels as familiar as it does unique.
The lunch menu also features burgers on Town Square’s own buns and plate lunches including roast beef or chicken, and diners can mix-and-match sides as they please.
The roasted chicken paired with their collard greens – slow simmered and as tender as your grandmother’s – and a serving of their mac-and-cheese might be the world’s most comforting lunch.
The mac-and-cheese ticks all the boxes. Tender pasta? Check. Creamy and saucy? Check. Gooey, melty cheese? Check. Buttery crumb top? Check, check, check. The portion is generous, and arrives at your table perfectly baked and ready to steal the show.
We also spied a trio of beauty-queen salads making their way to the table next to us, and came down with a case of order-envy.
A friend’s raves about the chicken pot pie, and her eyes widened with excitement when we told her that Town Square sells them ready to take-and-bake.
Jacobs, however, is particularly partial to their spaghetti and meatballs.
A family recipe, this dish is exactly what you’d hope for. Perfectly al dente pasta canoodles with a lush sauce that can only result from slow cooking and careful layering of flavors. Tender, savory meatballs nestle into this tasty tangle topped with a melting of mozzarella and shower of Parmesan.
Of course, a generous slice of their freshly-baked French bread crowns the dish and stands ready to sop up every last bit of sauce.
It’s a dish that leaves you feeling cared for. It’s humble fare prepared with a lot of attention to detail.
Save room, y’all
Hopefully by this point, you understand that you need to save room for dessert at Town Square.
You have a lot of options. There are gleaming fruit tarts, chocolate-dipped cake balls, petite meringues and thick slices of cake.
There’s cheesecake – scented delicately with lemon, perfectly smooth and creamy, with just the right amount of sweetness. The beautiful filling is accented by a rich crumb crust and plump, fresh strawberries. Heavenly.
If you only saved a little room, but still want a sweet ending, a serving of crème brulee is the right decision.
Break through the caramelized sugar top with a petite spoon to be rewarded with a luscious, just-sweet custard, perfumed with orange zest.
You’ll be forgiven for swooning at your table.
On your way out, give into temptation and take a little something away. Maybe chocolate croissants for tomorrow’s breakfast. A couple of cookies for after supper. A sweet bag of meringues to take back to the office. A chicken pot pie for tomorrow’s supper. A whole cake because you’ve made it this far into your week and you deserve a treat.
With a lot of hard work and attention to detail, Jacobs and her team at Town Square Cafe and Bakery are positioned to enjoy a long and tasty tenure in one of Downtown Hattiesburg’s favorite spots.
Long-time Hattiesburg residents Jason and Autumn Perry have done their time in local kitchens. Jason started the menu at T-Bones and is currently in the kitchen at the Keg and Barrel. Autumn and Jason created the menu at the Thirsty Hippo and are excited to work together again on Signature restaurant features.