Last night, Jackson 20- the restaurant in the Hotel Monaco- was open for dinner. I think that because the hotel had literally been under wraps for a very long time and Chef Jeff Armstrong is a hotel restaurant maven made it impossible for people like me to stay away even on opening night.
The large front windows reveal a welcoming scene from the sidewalks. Inside, the beamed ceiling warms the room which is grounded by beautiful slate floors. Wood tables are spaced graciously and throw pillows are strewn about to make you comfortable if you are seated on the bench end of a table.
A bar is located at the far end of the restaurant and bar seats can afford you a clear glimpse into the open kitchen (where Chef Jeff Armstrong was one cool customer-calmly overseeing each plate as it exited the kitchen). Bathrooms, located just outside of the restaurant up the hotel’s hall are laden with white and black marble, and sport rich red wallpaper.
Frank and I arrive around 7pm and were greeted warmly. Since the restaurant was full, we waited at the bar for a table. Cocktails were reasonably priced-I got a “Honeysuckle” for $9. It was delicious with vodka, grapefruit, honey and muddled ginger. We had to stand for a few minutes, but grabbed a couple seats as patrons left. As I said above, bar seats are great to peek into the kitchen which unlike Hell’s Kitchen, hummed along efficiently.
After about 10 minutes, we were seated at a table (note:ask for a seat in the back or away from the street entrance, as the front door whisks in a chilly breeze on a cold night). The wine list includes 20 bottles of wine for $20. We got a bottle of Ravenswood Zinfindel with the thought that it would probably pair nicely with each of our dishes.
As I reported earlier, the menu reflects local and “Southern” dishes with an emphasis on comfort food. For our appetizers, I ordered the jumbo lump crab cake with slaw and Frank ordered a bib lettuce salad with blue cheese and pickled red onions. My crab cake was about a 5-6 oz. portion and was all lump crab. The slaw was refreshing, if a bit overdressed. A mustard/vinegar sauce was artfully plated on the side. Overall-delicious. Frank’s salad made him tell me that “you should get bib lettuce more-why don’t we eat this at home?-this is really good!”. I sampled the salad and indeed, the blue cheese was good yet not overwhelming and the pickled onions were a perfect counterpoint to the funk (I mean that in a good way) of the blue cheese.
Our entrees were fried chicken and veal meatloaf. My veal meatloaf was 2 generous slices, grilled and paired with a decidedly ketchup based sauce (I applaud the unabashed use of one of my favorite condiments!). The pair of meatloaf came with perfectly cooked fresh string beans and potato wedges. The meatloaf was seasoned nicely, had no fatty or grisly bits and was truly a homey dish which I enjoyed.
Frank’s chicken had a crispy battered coating which he thought could have benefited from fresh cracked pepper. Otherwise it was cooked nicely and was juicy. Frank, being a dark meat lover, still wanted a bit more from the dish and thought that an offering of light and dark meat would have brought the dish home for him. The chicken came with a large portion of braised kale and lump crab (huge lumps).
We also shared a side of creamed corn which was over-the-top-delicious. I’m not sure where the corn came from, but it was white corn, fresh, sweet and crisp (it even had corn silk here and there). The cream sauce was buttery, a little salty and set off the sweet corn perfectly. I would highly recommend this side.
Oh….bread and water service! They came a little late (understandable since the place was packed on opening night) but we received ice water without any “Still, sparkling or tap?”-thank you. A bread basket with fresh tiny bread buns and corn bread muffins came with room temperature butter-thank you again. On a special note-each table had a salt and fresh pepper grinders!
Service was friendly with a fully staffed restaurant making sure that everyone’s needs were met. A little glitchy?-sure, but honestly-I was impressed, happily sated and glad to be there opening night to welcome Jackson 20 to the neighborhood.