The third and final stop on my little “DC Restaurant Week Tour” brought me to neighboring Alexandria, VA. The spirit of the old country still haunts the quaint, yet busy settlement of Old Town Alexandria. The brick homes, cobblestoned streets, as well as the historical markers that dot the area have shared their space with a number of America’s popular outposts such as the GAP Outlet, Banana Republic, and Anne Taylor Loft. Other companies, such as California Pizza Kitchen and United Colors of Benetton, once called Old Town “home,” but as the changing tides of the economy ebbs and flows, so do the town’s “residents.”
What was once a Holiday Inn Select on busy King Street has since been changed to Kimpton Hotels’ flagship banner, Hotel Monaco, in recent years. During its incarnation as a Holiday Inn, the space – which was always full of potential – was never really pushed to its limits. But with its re-birth through Kimpton, the locale has stylishly meshed its historical sensibilities with a flair for modernity and chic-ness. And I’m not only talking about the hotel’s gorgeously appointed lobby and guest rooms. Their real gem: Jackson 20.
Since Kimpton bursted onto the hospitality scene focusing on their boutique-style hotels, they have not only mastered the art of design and function as it pertains to hotel rooms and public spaces, but they’ve also made a mark on their respective city’s dining scene. The Serrano Hotel in San Francisco is home to the delectable Ponzu, and The Muse in NYC boasts the casual yet graceful Nios. In similar fashion, the Hotel Monaco presents Jackson 20 – a dining space that blends together the rich traditional atmosphere of Old Town, with the contemporary trappings that Kimpton is known for. The restaurant is named after President Andrew Jackson, who is known to have been the first Commander in Chief to invite the public to attend the Inaugural Ball. Keeping in tradition, the restaurant continues the former president’s renowned hospitality through “inspired American regional cuisine.”
My foodie-friend, Leah, and I decided that we couldn’t pass up another chance to take part in DC’s Restaurant Week this summer, especially after my previous jaunts earlier in the week. But this third and final stop on the "tour" was symbolically special: it was our “last hurrah” so to speak before succumbing to the world of “new car” payments, which we both now have to embrace. That said, we expected nothing but a great time at dinner, and that was exactly what we had.
Upon entering, after passing off my car to the tending valet, we were welcomed by the wafting air filled with everything associated with southern comfort food. Despite the dimmed dining room, with its dark wood furniture and long bar, the first-impression of intimidation from the chic surroundings was easily over-powered by the smells of deep fried chicken, freshly made corn bread, and fall-off-the-bone barbecue ribs. In an instant, we were brought into a world that screams “shabby chic” and “Paula Deen” all in one sentence.
We were given the option of dining in the courtyard for the full Jackson 20 experience, but with the impending rain, we decided to stay in-doors to be on the safe side. We were seated near the bar, where hotel guests and locals alike enjoyed their drinks at leisure. Our friendly server discussed the menu with us, and came back shortly with our drinks: a Clover Club (with gin, raspberry puree, and citrus) & a Forbidden Fruit (10 Cane Rum shaken with passion fruit and pineapple juices, finished with a 10-year Tawny Port float). The creative libations were just a couple off an interesting list, which includes some classic whiskey drinks made with the restaurant’s own twist.
Our three-course meal pretty much came as smoothly as can be imagined:
Course 1: Virginia Crab Cake with arugula, a fried green tomato, and sauce Gribiche, and Scallop and Beef Brochette –each wrapped in bacon, and served with Anson Mills Grits
Course 2: BBQ Beef Ribs grilled with J20 BBQ sauce, smashed potatoes & a green bean salad, and Beef Brisket –slow-roasted Wagyu beef, crispy marrow potatoes, creamed spinach & horseradish
We also added a side of fries cooked in duck fat. (There’s nothing more that I can say about that.)
Course 3: Banana Pudding & Chocolate Pecan Tart
The encounter was nothing less than scrumptious, and while you could feel the heaviness that is prevalent with southern cuisine, the portions were perfect. Our server made us fully aware that despite the menu catering to “restaurant week” customers, Jackson 20 wanted to be sure to offer the full extent of their menu and portions to all guests; a charming way to start-off the dining experience, if you ask me.
Our first course exuded the flavors that are reminiscent of carefully prepared soul food. The meats of the second course were “melt-in-your-mouth” tender. And the desserts made you think it was Thanksgiving in late August. It was the perfect end to my restaurant week tour, and a nice indication that the dining scene of Old Town is only getting better.
As the rain poured down with monsoon-like torrents, the sights, the smells, and the flavors of Jackson 20 soothed us to our own lullabies. It was hard to leave without wanting a blanket and a pillow for a quick nap right there at the table. That’s a clear hint that this place will have to be revisited as winter draws close.
Jackson 20, 480 King Street, Old Town Alexandria, VA 22314, 703.842.2790
(Photos courtesy of the restaurant's website.)
1 year ago