The cocktail, a brandy crusta, came to the table through 19th century New Orleans.

The purple-topped turnips were so crisp and clean they might have come from the garden the same day. A dose of smoked ricotta and pecan vinaigrette layered on flavor without diminishing the freshness.

Completing the equation was the setting itself, all old brick, ancient timbers and dashes of modern style.

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The modern tavern Jewel of the South was built in a townhouse dating to the 1830s in the French Quarter of New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

It was another night at Jewel of the South, a reimagined New Orleans tavern on the edge of the French Quarter. It gives a glimpse into history and a taste of the contemporary. Through the pandemic, a place that blends eras has also been a test case for navigating changing times.

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Chris Hannah prepares an artful dodger cocktail at his tavern the Jewel of the South in the French Quarter of New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Jewel of the South opened in 2019 in a Creole townhouse dating to the 1830s. It joined a small, promising wave of new restaurants and bars with the potential to lure locals to the French Quarter, not just cater to tourists.

The bar is the domain of Chris Hannah, who made his name giving great cocktails their due to Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, often delving into the archives to resurrect lost classics.

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A brandy crusta at Jewel of the South in the French Quarter.

One example is that brandy crusta, a cognac-based drink that’s tart with lemon juice and smooth with Cura?ao and maraschino liqueur and finished with the sugar rim (the “crusta”) and a long train of peeled citrus. It was created in the 1850s by Joseph Santini at a bar he called Jewel of the South, inspiring the tribute here.

With Hannah at the helm, Jewel of the South was bound to be a cocktail destination. It’s the London-born chef Phil Whitmarsh who is putting the tavern on the map for food, too.

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Chef Phil Whitmarsh in the kitchen at Jewel of the South in the French Quarter of New Orleans on Monday, December 20, 2021. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

He brings a modern British approach, with its emphasis on seasonal freshness and the reinvention of familiar flavors.

Twined to Hannah’s narrative way with cocktail menus — telling stories through the classics, their evolution, even the seasons — it creates an utterly unique pairing under the slate of one French Quarter roof.

Whitmarsh has an ability to make an ingredient taste exactly like itself and also like you’ve never had it before, often turning secondary cuts and humble-sounding vegetables into showstoppers.

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The squash with miso and pepitas on chef Phil Whitmarsh's winter menu at Jewel of the South in the French Quarter of New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Witness the squash, with a caramelized cap under whipped miso and pepitas, a dish that feels both hearty and light, earthy and delicate.

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Shaving roasted chestnuts over savoy cabbage with cafe de Paris butter at Jewel of the South in the French Quarter of New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

The wedge of savoy cabbage has a charred edge and a drape of café de Paris butter, a sharp, garlicky compound butter more often found with steaks than leafy greens. The curling white flurries over the top look like cheese until you taste the sweet, buttery-soft flavor of roasted, shaved chestnuts.

Order what sounds good here and you might not have a single meat dish. But this is no vegetarian menu.

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Crab salad is topped with radish and served with crusty bread at Jewel of the South in the French Quarter of New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

The crumb-crusted halibut could’ve come from an upscale English pub with a view of a fishing fleet. The crab salad is a creamy-smooth spread cut through by the pop of wafer-thin radish, and it’s irresistible when mounded on the kitchen’s excellent crusty bread. The mortadella curled around shishito peppers is straight up drinking food with a different accent.

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Caviar is served with creme fraiche and fried potato scallops at Jewel of the South in the French Quarter of New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

And then, right at the top of the menu, there is caviar service. This ranges from the approachable, local bowfin ($45) to the higher-end Siberian beluga ($195). It’s all discounted to varying percentages for the “casual caviar” service on Wednesdays and at Sunday brunch.

The caviar comes with an accoutrement worth a visit in its own right: potato scallops. These are thick-cut potatoes, battered, fried and served puffy and piping hot to smear with crème fra?che and dab with caviar.

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Caviar is scooped onto fried potato scallops with creme fraiche at Jewel of the South in the French Quarter of New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Crisp as a chip, fluffy as blini, it’s like the marriage of beignet and soufflé potato.

Hannah is a partner in the restaurant with John Stubbs and Victoria Espinel, who are married and have a French Quarter home just around the corner (bartender Nick Detrich was originally a partner but has since left the business).

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John Stubbs (left), Victoria Espinel and Chris Hannah are partners in Jewel of the South in the French Quarter of New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Stubbs is a Lafayette native and consultant in Washington D.C. Espinel, is a D.C. native with strong Colombian roots from her family’s immigrant journey. She became intellectual property adviser to former President Barack Obama, and she's now CEO of a trade association for software companies and active with Girls Who Code, a program addressing diversity in the tech sector.

The three partners have been applying their various backgrounds to steer Jewel of the South through the pandemic.

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Chef Phil Whitmarsh in the kitchen at Jewel of the South in the French Quarter of New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Through that time, I’ve visited Jewel of the South for cocktails to go; for an outdoor collaboration with the dive bar the Saint, which turned a parking lot into what felt like a traveling culinary carnival; and for a ticketed indoor session with cocktails and snacks that turned the restaurant into something like a theater.

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A palette of cocktail accoutrements line the bar at the Jewel of the South in the French Quarter of New Orleans, including candy canes for Christmastime drinks. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

It’s back to its original format now, but the partners are working lessons from the pandemic into the business model.

One new example is a membership program called Cocktail Club, a monthly box of bottled cocktails and tastes from the kitchen. Restaurants like this are about the experience, and they’re trying to find ways to extend that beyond the four walls.

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The queens park swizzle is a rum cocktail finished with mint and a gold-dusted blackberry at Jewel of the South in the French Quarter of New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

It’s still hard times for restaurants. Stubbs and Espinel told me they believe in the business in part for its potential to build community and stoke change.

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Chris Hannah behind the bar at Jewel of the South in the French Quarter of New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

A tavern like this, that vibrantly animates another piece of the French Quarter, that brings the pulse of creative people asserting their own style, is what the city’s historic core needs now more than ever.

Jewel of the South

1026 St. Louis St., (504) 265-8816

Wed.-Sun., 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. (kitchen closes at 10 p.m.), Sun. 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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Email Ian McNulty at imcnulty@theadvocate.com.

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