The Restaurant at 39 John Street in Downtown Charleston has a decidedly French flavor as can be detected in its name, 39 Rue De Jean - As the translation of the simple street address from English to French transforms the mundane to the elegant, so too, upon entering the dining room, one is transported back to the era of the "best generation" when sweet nostalgic memories were made in overseas cafes during World War II. The exposed brick and dark wood tones is in stark contrast to the white linens giving the impression of defiance during the era that the war would not interfere with the simple niceties of life. The music, also, echoes of the bygone time when women wore silk stockings and hats and brass buttoned, baby-faced soldiers grabbed on to life with gusto. Oversized antique furniture and old architectural columns lend to the dated atmosphere. Huge antique mirrors offer a misty glimpse into the past when long afternoons stretch into evenings and the cafe style dining shielded patrons from the realities of the period. One could easily lose track of time imagining he or she is enjoying the afternoon in a French cafe.
This would be easy to do considering the surroundings, music and the menu at 39 Rue De Jean, which lists traditional fare expected for a luncheon in an establishment with its French moniker, offering escargot (snails in butter) a soup special of bouillabaisse (seafood soup) Patats Du Jour (potato style of the day) and creme brulee (cream dessert with a glazed crust) or various other delicieux choisi, (delicious selections) but there is a twist to the luncheon menu in that it offers traditional American sandwich fare, some Japanese sushi and teriyaki favorites, and a bit of Italy for an eclectic selection.
It is as if a nod is given to the experience of the many countries affected during the era and each are recognized in some way either through the menu choices or the quite impressive wine list, which is obviously considered an important aspect of any meal in a French cafe. The list maintains both vintage and non-vintage wines from what seems like every corner of the world: France, Germany, Australia, Italy, Argentina, Oregon, California, Washington, etc. and the well-rounded selection carries something to suit every meal, every palate and every budget. The selection temps one to order a bottle and have some bread while considering the menu and perhaps to raising a glass to times gone by while enjoying apres-midi a loisir (lazy afternoon.)
What is most pleasant about luncheon at this restaurant, in addition to its ambiance, eclectic menu and wide offerings of wine, both by the bottle and by the glass, is the patient and polite servers, who, undaunted by special orders, aim to please. After such a pleasing luncheon experience, I anticipate returning to the 39 Rue De Jean to enjoy dinner and one of those well-selected bottles of wine.
The luncheon ambiance, evocative antique surroundings, music, unique menu selections and attentive staff earn a pleasing 3 3/4 stars out of a possible five stars. The median luncheon value for two rating is at the higher end of 3 dollars rating $$$.