When we last visited the Ritz-Carlton, it was for my birthday dinner and one last nostalgic look at arguably one of THE swankiest destination dining places in Sarasota. (I did, after all, work in the Vernona Restaurant for two years just after it opened in late 2001, so it was more of a pilgrimage of sorts. It was, in a word, a sensational repast!)
Now, after almost four months in transition, and with the fanfare that can only be generated by the Ritz-Carlton, Jack Dusty Coastal Cuisine & Crafted Cocktails is finally opened, and we were fortunate enough to be invited to a preview on the Thursday prior to opening up to the public on Monday, January 21st.
On our arrival on this evening the room was obscured by floor-to-ceiling black drapes, and we had our names checked on the guest list, and then urged to download the Ritz-Carlton app on our smartphones, as there was a “scavenger hunt” of sorts, where six facts about the room were to be uncovered via QR codes that were stuck on the labels worn by six employees. And then, the reveal.
The Vernona has been transformed into a casual-chic seaside hangout, with enough twists and turns on the menu and specialty cocktails that will have people checking out Jack Dusky in droves, and returning again and again and again. Check out this “before” picture and you’ll see this is not a renovation. It is an entirely new build that better fits both the Sarasota Ritz-Carlton, and Sarasota’s vibrant arts culture as well.
What The Ritz did was essentially to gut the Vernona, and the spacious lounge area between it and the Ca d’Zan cocktail lounge, strip the area down to the studs and started from scratch. There are new bathrooms off to the left of the entry, a casual seating area at the front, a private dining room at the back (reservations required) and an amazing outdoor patio lit with gas torches and candle light. In the middle of the restaurant is a marketplace where guests can pick up a cup of coffee and a fresh pastry during the day, and becomes a wine bar at night. Next to it is a raw bar where you can snack on freshly shucked oysters, shrimp cocktail, stone crab or local caviar from Mote Marine.
We were immediately greeted with a server offering samples of the grouper cakes in mini form, and a choice of two of their soon-to-be-famous craft cocktails. After that we toured the new room, eyes popped and jaws slacked. This place is drop-dead gorgeous. It would be easy to go on and on, but trust me when I say, true to Ritz- Carlton form, they have left no details overlooked.
I can only imagine how pleasurable it will be to stop by the outside patio after work, have a cocktail or glass of wine, with one of their amazing appetizers, and just soak in the ambiance. Jack Dusty’s has it in droves!
And so it went, as we sampled oysters, plain and ensconced in Hollandaise sauce (my personal pick for best-in show), tuna sashimi, Mote caviar served atop miniature johnnycakes, fried green tomatoes, wine, and water served in re-purposed wine bottles that have been cut down. Brilliant!
Easily the highlights of the evening, were meeting the chef, manager and several former co-workers still there since opening, (which says a lot about a place) as well as meeting and mingling with like-minded foodies and making new friends.
There is so much to love about Jack Dusky, we can’t wait to slip across the street for lunch next week and savor the atmosphere and food again, once they’re in full swing.
Bravo, and welcome to Sarasota, Jack!