Chicken skins trump pork rinds. Doubt me? Trust but verify the former as prepared by Russell Jones, who fries the skins to order, dusts them with smoked paprika and sugar and sends the hot heap to the table with a lime wedge and green goddess dip. Named for the cocktail blending applejack and grenadine, Jack Rose rolled out three years ago with one of the most dashing bars around — and cooking that required some drinking to forget. Pitching in: 1,800 bottles of whiskey on the walls, some of the inventory reached with the help of ladders on rollers. The spring debut of Jones, a former sous-chef at Restaurant Eve, tempts me to become a regular. The South Carolina native has a Midas touch with snacks. Clam dip refreshed with lemon zest disappears quickly with the help of house-made potato “ruffles,” while chicken wings pick up their heat from habaneros, their buzz from a sauce made with hickory-smoked bourbon. Fluffy hushpuppies crack open to reveal minced shrimp. A neat hedge of liver nuggets and lacy shallot rings, poised on a modified yakitori sauce, turns routine liver and onions into fine dining. Equally impressive are the chef’s bigger plates, best eaten with a skillet of warm cornbread and (splurge alert) bacon jam. The main dining room — handsome with leather booths, butcher block tables and marble bar — entices you to stay. The clamor, from all the hard surfaces, might find you asking for your handline-caught swordfish to go.
Jack Rose is a good stop for whiskeyphiles and neophytes alike
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, Sep 30, 2011
By now you may have heard about a bar called Jack Rose.
The three-story temple to whiskey boasts an inventory of more than 1,000 bottles - both Scotch and American - in a former boxing gym at the foot of Adams Morgan. Some of it comes from the collection of Bill Thomas, who founded the two Bourbon bars, each of which stocks more than 100 rare, weird and wonderful Kentucky whiskeys. Much of the Scotch comes from the storied collection of Harvey Fry, a single-minded single-malt obsessive who owns thousands of extraordinary examples and often hangs out at the bar at Jack Rose to mull over the finer points of Bruichladdich or Glen Grant.
Jack Rose's array of whiskey fills specially built shelves along three walls of its first-floor dining room. The displays climb toward the pressed-tin ceiling - so much so that bartenders have to use special rolling ladders to reach the bottles at the top. It really is a virtual reference library of whisk(e)y. If you want to explore the diversity of Islays, Lowlands or hard-to-find barrel-aged Kentucky spirits, this is your place.
But the thing about Jack Rose is that you don't have to be a Scotch fanatic to have it become one of your favorite bars.
Let's start with the airy dining room, which finally opened last month. It may be the classiest place in the city to have a cocktail right now. A 54-foot marble bar with four bartenders on duty runs down one wall. It faces a dining area filled with mahogany tables and luxe round leather booths. There's plenty of light, both natural and not.
A whiskey list at Jack Rose is as thick as a wine bible at a high-end D.C. restaurant: Scotches are organized by regional style, bourbons by producer. Almost all selections are sold in half-ounce pours as well as two-ounce glasses. Most of those little tastes cost $4 to $7, and they're worth it for both intrepid samplers and neophytes who want to explore something like the peaty Port Charlotte PC6 without plunking down $26 for the equivalent of a shot glass full.
But, as I said, it's not all about neat glasses of whiskey. Cocktail fans will find much to like on the list of 20 mixed drinks ($13 each). Half are classics - a full-bodied Boulevardier, the sweet and satisfying Jack Rose, made with apple brandy. The others are new creations. The Knuckleball, which just about every bartender recommends, is a whirl of tastes - rye whiskey, crisp aperitif Cocchi Americano, herbal and woody Pernod absinthe, sweet chocolate bitters and sea salt.
What not to make your first drink of the night: Not Your Mother's Scotch Bonnet adds a spicy syrup of Scotch bonnet peppers to malty Bushmill's Irish whiskey, Dubonnet and fresh grapefruit. Delicious and savory, but I felt the burning on my tongue for a while afterward.
The scene: Jack Rose has been opening in stages since May, when the public got its first look at the rooftop deck. It boasts three bars, three vistas of the city and an open grill, where former IndeBleu chef Michael Hartzer served up barbecue sandwiches on a recent evening. Unlike the whiskey-focused dining room, the cocktails on the roof have a sunny tiki vibe: Stormy Monday #3 peps up the usual Dark and Stormy with apricot liqueur and citrusy Beefeater 24 gin; such old favorites as mai tais and Painkillers are also available.
In your glass: In addition to cocktails, there are 20 draft beers, predominantly American microbrews. One thing I've learned the hard way: Don't trust the printed draft beer list, which is perpetually out of date. Chalkboards would be helpful.
Six red wines, six whites and five sparking wines are available by the glass.
Price points: Where you eat or drink has an effect on your tab: Cocktails in the dining room cost $13; those on the roof are $10. Draft beers are about $7; cans of beer start at $6 on the roof. On the roof deck, a pit beef sandwich is $9 and a bowl of smoked clams is $8; in the dining room, a slab of braised pork belly is $10 as is a plate of five buttermilk-fried frog legs.
Coming soon: A hidden basement-level "Prohibition Bar," where customers may be able to sample some of Bill Thomas's pre-Prohibition whiskeys.