Evocative comes with the territory for a tavern built in a historic French Quarter cottage. Jewel of the South, however, is not just out to evoke old New Orleans.
It’s rekindling one specific piece of its past, and showcasing it in the kind of place the modern French Quarter badly needs.
The brandy crusta, a once-forgotten cocktail, is now the toast of the Jewel of the South, the signature drink on a short, smart list of classics and house adaptations. The name Jewel of the South itself is a tribute to the 19th-century bar where it was once served.
The cognac-based drink is tart with lemon juice and smooth with Curaçao and maraschino liqueur. It arrives in a delicate stemmed glass with a strong kick, a sugared rim, a lemon peel like the train of a gown and a long vintage.
Bartender Chris Hannah, who made his name by giving great cocktails their due at Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, developed Jewel of the South with Nick Detrich, another bartender best known for his time running Cane & Table.
“The only way I would feel like we contributed something to the neighborhood is if I make this as special a room as I made the French 75,” said Hannah, discussing his aim for Jewel of the South prior to its opening.
Jewel of the South is in a longtime home on the edge of the French Quarter that still has the dimensions and scale of an old Creole house. Bartenders work before a black walnut bar, sending forth drinks to a handful of tables between the bare brick and stout cypress, or out to the brick patio.
From the kitchen, you might overhear the London accent of chef Philip Whitmarsh. His menu centers on small plates and shared snacks for tavern noshing, though these fresh and original dishes are also substantial enough to furnish supper.
Beef tongue pastrami is arranged with cups of red endive and a touch of pesto, fat dollops of mozzarella are stacked with salted cucumber and a bouquet of fresh herbs, ready to be tucked into roti flatbread, a fried chicken thigh balances over a doughy bao with collard green kimchi and Korean hot sauce, like a conceptual chicken-and-dumplings dish.
The signature drink here, meanwhile, goes straight back to the source material.
The brandy crusta was created around the 1850s by New Orleans bartender Joseph Santini, as cocktail historian David Wondrich recounts in his seminal book “Imbibe.” He served it at his own Jewel of the South bar, which once operated in the present-day CBD (a precise address remains elusive).
It’s the drink credited with adding citrus to the list of ingredients that could constitute a cocktail, making its name known in the era when cocktail culture was first being codified. Though never a huge hit even in its day, Wondrich wrote that the brandy crusta paved the evolutionary cocktail path for future sour cocktails, including the sidecar, “and life without Sidecars would be very dreary indeed.”
Hannah put the brandy crusta back in local rotation during his tenure at the French 75. For Jewel of the South, he and Detrich drew inspiration from its creator and his era. Santini’s contributions, they point out, predated many of the remembered and revered pioneers of cocktail culture.
“It’s bringing back something of a man who unfortunately has been largely forgotten because his time came too soon,” said Detrich.
In the months ahead, Jewel of the South should add a new staircase to access the second floor, which will have more tables. .
But even at its debut, Jewel of the South is a win for the French Quarter. It joins the short but encouraging ranks of new bars and restaurants bringing the taste, style and flavor that the city’s historic core deserves.
Another in that number is Manolito, a cocktail bar the size of a wine cellar run by Hannah and Detrich, along with partner Konrad Kantor.
The bartenders say Manolito is a tribute to a lost friend, the late Manuel “Manolito” Carbajo Aguiar. He was the bartender in Cuba who helped school them on the island’s distinctive way with drinks at the legendary spot El Floridita (of Hemingway-drank-here fame).
Jewel of the South tips its hat to an influential bartender of a much earlier age and lifts the prospects for writing some new history in the French Quarter.
1026 St. Louis St., (504) 265-8816
Daily from 4 p.m. (happy hour 4-6 p.m.)
Go big or go home? Lately in the French Quarter I’ve been thinking precisely the opposite, and feeling right at home at a clutch of spots that…
You can count the ingredients for the classic whiskey old fashioned on the fingers of one hand.
Beer is big on Bourbon Street, and never bigger than now, as Mardi Gras' climactic weekend kicks into high gear.
There are two reasons why Venezia Restaurant rarely sells dessert. One is the size of the servings at this Creole-Italian classic.