New Orleans is a town that might dress up to let loose. It has restaurants that feel timeless but don’t act their age. There are people here who table hop enough during a meal to work off dessert, or at least justify a nightcap.

This is the spirit Jack Rose is out to capture. It’s equipped for the task with a modern New Orleans menu, a setting in a grand hotel recast for the next generation and a new culinary company eager to make its mark.

Also, there’s a lot of champagne.

Jack Rose is the new restaurant in the Pontchartrain Hotel, which opened over the weekend.

It took over the space that was the Caribbean Room, an ambitious but ultimately short-lived reincarnation of a historic New Orleans restaurant name.

Jack Rose is the debut for QED Hospitality, a company created last year by chef Brian Landry and Emery Whalen.

The two were previously top managers with John Besh’s company, where they ran food and beverage venues in the Pontchartrain Hotel – including the Caribbean Room, the Bayou Bar, the rooftop bar Hot Tin and the Silver Whistle café. They left Besh’s group late in 2017, part of a raft of changes there since allegations of sexual harassment against the celebrity chef came out last fall.

Whalen and Landry together formed their own company, which took over managing the Pontchartrain Hotel’s bars and restaurants. QED also now runs venues in the related Thompson Nashville hotel in Tennessee.

Jack Rose is a fresh start for these two New Orleans hospitality veterans, and it marks a significant change for this prominent St. Charles Avenue property.

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Jack Rose is the new restaurant in the Pontchartrain Hotel in New Orleans.

Stoking spontaneity

The new restaurant is more casual than the Caribbean Room, though practically anything would be.

Its predecessor here had formal service, a jackets-required dress code and carpeted, linen-and-silver furnishings, all harking back to an earlier era. The Caribbean Room's return in 2016 was much talked about, but the restaurant did not catch on, even as other parts of the Pontchartrain Hotel drew crowds.

“We took a lot of inspiration from our guests and our staff at Hot Tin and the Bayou Bar,” said Whalen. “Those places are so alive. This space deserves that too.”

Landry said Jack Rose is out to stoke “spontaneity.” By definition, that’s not something the restaurateurs can plan. But they're banking that they can build a framework for it. 

That starts with a progression of different spaces at Jack Rose to draw different types of patrons, and the flexibility to host different kinds of visits simultaneously. There's a lounge for drinks and small plates, a rose-lined patio, several dining rooms and a wine list heavy on the bubbles, plus the other bars around the hotel.

Where the different people and occasions here intersect is where spontaneity can happen, Landry believes, describing that sort of playful, unscripted good spirit that flows from the patrons back into a place. It was something he saw close up during his years as chef at Galatoire's Restaurant, famous for its mix of the formal and freewheeling, and something he knew the Caribbean Room lacked.

“We were too stuffy before. We did not embrace quickly enough what we saw people wanted to do here and what they wanted it to be,” said Landry. “You have to let people make the place their own. That’s something I love about the old line restaurants in New Orleans. It’s something we want to instill here.”

Flavor and flair

The executive chef at Jack Rose is David Whitmore, who worked with Landry for years at Borgne. The two have worked closely together on the Jack Rose menu, starting with familiar ideas from New Orleans dining and then seeing where they could take them.

One example is the chicken parm, done here as half a fried chicken, bone-in, set over marinara and topped with billows of cheese (it’s also gluten free).

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The chicken parmesan at Jack Rose in the Pontchartrain Hotel is half a fried chicken, with marinara and billows of grated cheese.

Steak tartare is paired with hot-from-the-skillet onion rolls for build-your-own sliders, which is one of several dishes prepared tableside (the Caesar salad and cafe brûlot are others). Muddy waters sauce, a piquant, buttery blend, a throwback to the long-gone joint Uglesich’s, returns here around flower-shaped squid ink campanelle pasta, with royal red shrimp.

“Working with David is one of my favorite cooking interactions ever,” said Landry. “For every dish, we just start with one idea and it flows through one version after the next until we get there.”

The pastry chef at Jack Rose is Erin Swanson, who was part of the original crew that opened the Caribbean Room. One of her specialties here is shareable cakes and pies, like a saucer-sized grapefruit cake made with rosé butter (one of the countless rose references at Jack Rose).

She has kept the Mile High Pie, the variegated column of ice cream and nostalgia that dates to the original Caribbean Room. This recipe was once revamped at the Caribbean Room, before shifting back after some local outcry. The Jack Rose version is traditional too.

“We’re not changing that at all,” Swanson said. “We learned our lesson.”

Homey meets hip

The Pontchartrain Hotel, which dates to 1927, is not a typical hotel. Originally designed as a residential hotel for tenants, it was long known as a high-end property for well-heeled notables and celebrities. Instead of a big lobby and open public spaces, it always had smaller, more discreet settings. That layout remains today.

The hotel was out of circulation for many years but was resurrected in 2016 by AJ Capital Partners, a Chicago-based company with local ties (Cooper Manning, from the city's first family of football, is a partner).

Andrew Alford, chief creative officer with the company, led the new design. It takes cues from the hotel’s Living Room Lounge, which feels like an extension of the restaurant. Set off by the Ashley Longshore painting of rapper Lil Wayne, the room is done in a style sometimes called “granny chic.” That’s a homey-meets-hip blend of bric-a-brac and brocade, collections and curios and soft textures for a lo-fi vibe.

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Rosé cake is part of the dessert menu at Jack Rose in the Pontchartrain Hotel.

“Instead of visiting your grandmother, we wanted this to feel like your fun, crazy aunt’s house,” Whalen said.

The footprint for Jack Rose has a pair of adjoining dining rooms, with a private dining room dubbed the Mile High Pie Club (a vintage photo of the dessert is patterned across the ceiling). The restaurant leads to the Living Room Lounge, and it opens to the new Rose Garden, a gated patio under an oak limb, and overlooking passing streetcars.

The name Jack Rose comes with a few references. It harks back to the Jack Rose cocktail of 1920s vintage, a drink made with applejack. It also refers to a character in Tennessee Williams’ play “The Rose Tattoo.” Williams stayed at the Pontchartrain Hotel in its original heyday, and his play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” of course inspired the name for the modern hotel’s rooftop bar.

Hot Tin, the Bayou Bar and the Silver Whistle Cafe all continue at the Pontchartrain Hotel under QED's management. 

Jack Rose

2031 St. Charles Ave., 504-323-1500

Dinner Wed.-Sun. (from 5 p.m.)

Fri. lunch (11 a.m.-2 p.m.), Sun. brunch (11 a.m.-2 p.m.)

The Living Room Lounge opens daily at 3 p.m.


Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.