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Jack Rose Dining Saloon, where excess works

Russell Jones is the new talent in the kitchen at Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Adams Morgan. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Jack Rose Dining Saloon isn’t just for drinking anymore.

With the April arrival of a clever new chef, Russell Jones, the Adams Morgan tavern known for its walls of top-shelf whiskey has emerged as a place you want to return to for a plate of food as much as a shot of something amber.

Jones, 33, joined the saloon from the local Eat Good Food Group, where he worked as a sous-chef at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria and made cocktails at the company’s popular PX and TNT bars nearby. The South Carolina native learned one big lesson at Eve, from chef-owner Cathal Armstrong: Use the best ingredients you can find “and don’t screw them up.”

To eat his miniature crab cakes, arranged with bright yellow chowchow and a rich swipe of remoulade, is to taste that delicious philosophy. The crisp cakes are sweet with Maryland lump crab. Familiar foods might involve pleasant surprises; break into the hush puppies, for instance, and you’ll find minced shrimp inside the fluffy centers.

There’s more where those good eats came from in this handsome (but loud) watering hole treated to den-size leather booths, a stamped-tin ceiling and sunny service.

The crab cake platter with fried green tomatoes at Jack Rose Dining Saloon. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Clam dip mixes chopped Manila clams with cream cheese, sour cream, horseradish and soy sauce, a blend spiffed up with minced chives and lemon zest and quickly devoured with house-made potato chips. Snack Dinner recalls the chef’s Southern upbringing, when his family grazed on finger food, sometimes while watching sports on TV. Enough for four to share, the spread of deviled eggs, pickled vegetables, fried head cheese and more is presented on vintage aluminum trays.

Jones elevates another bar staple — and slips in the house signature — with his glossy chicken wings, fueled in part by hickory-smoked bourbon in their sauce. A former vegetarian for six years, the chef more than pleases the omnivore with a salad of baby kale and hearts of palm tossed with a garlic tahini dressing.

Jack Rose also grills an impressive hamburger, a half-pound of ground beef adorned with pimento cheese, bacon and fried shallots, stuffed inside a toasted bun from Panorama Baking. A thatch of skin-on fries adds to the decadence.

“People look for excess in their burger,” says Jones, who delivers just that with his.

2007 18th St. NW. 202-588-7388. Entrees, $15 to $32.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.



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