The Jury Room opens for deliberations

After some arrested development, The Jury Room opened for deliberations this week in the historic DeLaigle House on Greene Street.

Featuring breakfast, lunch, coffee drinks and freshly made gelato and fudge, the shop sits within spitting distance of the Augusta Richmond County Courthouse — although spitting is not recommended so close to either law enforcement or food.

The café owes its name to the legal professionals who surround it. Owners Jan Hodges and Robert Burch are completing $700,000 worth of repairs to preserve the 133-year-old building. Jury Room manager Owen Rice described his work with the owners as a “match made in heaven.”

“They had the location and I had the desire, and I had really wanted to get into this for a while now,” Rice said.

It is possible to spend all day in The Jury Room and never lose a billable hour. Free wi-fi access makes brief-writing a snap. Wall-mounted televisions update news reports. A small but very private conference room with a television and a telephone is available for reservations.

Lovely dark bookcases and stained wood lend a studious atmosphere, while the broad windows guard against gloom. Patio tables and a soothing fountain supply serenity just outside the doors.

With a full menu at The Jury Room, hunger will never have its day in court. Grab a rich “Trial by Chocolate” mocha and a fresh-baked bagel for morning mobility. Return for “The Verdict” latte (tiramisu flavored) and low-fat “Not Guilty Panini” at lunch. Stenographers will love “The Court Reporter” on Hawaiian bread, while public defenders will delight in “The Light Sentence” on sourdough.

Rice’s hospitality steel was forged with a hotelier father and a love of customer service, and then tempered with the discipline of the Air Force. He pleaded the case for The Jury Room with an appeal for quality, originality and  customization.

“I hope people will find they can come here and relax. They can take a break from their normal day,” he said, with locally baked breads and pastries, grilled panini sandwiches, salads, soups, original beverages and hard-to-find desserts. His emphasis on high quality extends beyond the usual meat sliced in-house. He offers “homemade” mayonnaise and original coffee bean blends specialty roasted for the Jury Room, as well as single-bean roasts sold by the cup or in bulk.

“We take a lot of pride in that. There is a lot of training that goes into pouring a proper espresso,” Rice said.

He rules on coffee as seriously as a judge. The Jury Room uses a semiautomatic machine that requires attentiveness and artistry to ensure that pressure, time and amounts are uniform. They have their own roaster.

“I adjust my grinds daily so that I’m getting the same consistency day by day because every time the humidity changes your espresso changes,” Rice said.

While in Italy for seven months with the Air Force, Rice discovered another ubiquitous Italian culinary delight: gelato.

“It was one of those things where you go travel somewhere and you always carry back one thing that you say, ‘Wow, that was really special.’ For me that was gelato. It is such a part of their culture. After every evening meal you go stroll along the piazza and you get a gelato.”

Gelato is an Italian frozen dessert certain to be declared an attractive nuisance. Similar to ice cream but denser and some say more flavorful, it is a huge trend in major metropolitan areas. True gelato is made with whole milk and  contains no cream, and is therefore lower in fat.

“We use imported Italian products; we’re making the gelato fresh,” Rice said. Gelato is labor intensive and expensive to make because it has a short shelf life, but that ensures it is always kept fresh. Certain flavors are traditional, such as “bacio” (chocolate and hazelnut), “nocciole” (hazelnut) and “stacciatella” (vanilla and chocolate with sugar-covered nuts). In many gourmet gelaterias, they push the confection to its limits with concoctions such as jalapeño, white chocolate lavender and sweet ginger.

Rice offered samples of black cherry and chocolate with honey and roasted almonds, and said that while he doesn’t foresee much demand for offbeat flavors, he can make custom orders.

“If they want something in particular I want to give it to them,” he said. “Just because it is a new product to Augusta, I’ve got to find out what the customers want.”

The Jury Room, 551 Greene St., is open fro 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday-Friday. Call 706-364-2334.

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