Another Pontchartrain Rebirth
Goodbye Caribbean Room. Hello Jack Rose.
A native New Orleanian, Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.
Catch Poppy Tooker on her radio show, Louisiana Eats! Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m. on WWNO 89.9 FM.
Two summers ago, the rebirth of the Pontchartrain Hotel’s Caribbean Room in the hands of Chef John Besh’s then rapidly expanding empire was big news. At the time, many of the original classic dishes were “re-invented” in a lighter way and the “jackets only” rule was reinstated.
In March 2018, the Caribbean Room served its last crabmeat Remick and trout Veronique.
Luckily, two members of New Orleans’ new guard were already envisioning a future for the grand space. Emery Whalen and Brian Landry had served as leaders of Besh’s hotel division “Our House Hospitality,” formed in fall 2016 to manage food and beverage operations at both the Pontchartrain and a new Nashville hotel called the Thompson. Following sexual harassment allegations against Besh in October 2017, Whalen and Landry purchased the outstanding contracts for both properties from Besh’s organization, creating QED Hospitality.
While the Caribbean Room languished, Hot Tin, the Pontchartrain’s new rooftop bar, was an immediate sensation. With a view never previously seen from New Orleans’ Garden District, framed by the city’s most risqué window dressings, Hot Tin drew the most diverse crowd ever seen at the venerable hotel. Red velvet ropes contained eager guests, who often waited in line for over an hour to take the coveted elevator ride to the roof.
The Caribbean Room is no more and the Hot Tin line has disappeared. Now, while awaiting a rooftop spot, visitors while away the time at Jack Rose. The new concept takes its name from a 1920s-era applejack cocktail of the same name. Here it is reimagined with Calvados and apple cider, frothy with egg white and topped with a stenciled rose, an homage to Tennessee Williams’ play “The Rose Tattoo.”
Jack Rose has the feel of an eccentric aunt’s elegant avenue home, where there are no rules and a party is always about to spontaneously break out. All the fun begins in the Living Room, where comfortable sofas invite conversation and cocktails. Just outside the windowed walls, a rose garden beckons.
In the Dining Room, there is a visually delightful joke everywhere you look. The restaurant is composed of three adjoining rooms, each layered with amusing detail. The Club Room is dedicated to the Pontchartrain Hotel’s beloved Mile High Pie, the only culinary holdover from the Caribbean Room. The dark wood-paneled room sports a wallpapered ceiling where towering slices of the mammoth dessert float in space on a pink metallic background.
Jack Rose’s menu, however, is no laughing matter. Landry and executive chef David Whitmore collaborated to deliciously reinterpret New Orleans favorites. Small plates include crawfish bread and “popcorn” sweetbreads. Steak tartare is prepared tableside, served with freshly baked hot onion rolls. Panéed veal, pompano en papillote and wagyu daube round out the dinner options.
While the Caribbean Room struggled in New Orleans, the food and beverage business at Nashville’s Thompson flourished. Without constraints of tradition previously mandated at the Caribbean Room, Whalen and Landry are determined to put their Tennessee success to work at the Pontchartrain.
Much of the Nashville buzz has centered around pastry phenom Lisa White. White oversees all baking operations at the Thompson, supplying a bustling coffeehouse, restaurant and rooftop bar. Under her creative direction, flights of doughnuts with fanciful flavors like s’mores and cannoli are the rage at brunch and her inventive ice cream sandwiches have developed a cult-like following.
Now, pastry chef Erin Swanson has the same creative freedom with the Pontchartrain’s baking program. Although Mile High Pie and blueberry muffins remain sacrosanct, Swanson’s pastry counter at the Silver Whistle Café tempts with a constantly changing selection, freshly baked in-house from morning till afternoon. During late evenings in Jack Rose’s Living Room, couples linger over sinfully delicious cake for two. But don’t worry! If dessert is too dreamy, an elegant Pontchartrain suite is always steps away.