Freelance Food & Drinks Writer

At the Bar: JJ’s Restaurant

Settling into the bar at JJ’s Restaurant  near the Plaza always prompts this question: Why don’t I come here more often? The bar looks just as it should, polished wood, curving around shelves stocked ceiling-high with about every good liquor you might want. The bartenders act just as they should, as welcoming and knowledgeable as they are low-key and professional. And the drinks… they taste just as they should, too.

On a recent night out, the husband went for an Old Fashioned made with Old Overholt rye whiskey. Like many classics, it’s easy to ruin with too much fruit-salady mush in the bottom of the glass, but JJ’s got it right. Me, I was on a different mission. JJ’s is on Del Maguey’s restaurant list, so I asked about mezcal.

Sure enough, they had a bottle of Del Maguey Minero, alongside one of Sombra. Both tempting, but I had to go with the Los Nahuales añejo, produced by the Distileria Los Danzantes in Oaxaca and marketed in the U.S. by the guys at Craft Distillers, who were doing artisanal spirits before artisanal spirits were cool.

You expect a mezcal to be smokey and vegetal, and this was.The aroma reminded me of a just-doused campfire, with hints of sweetness and earthy agave—all things that carried over on the palate. It was dense, oily and potent (it’s 46% ABV), yet smooth from two years in French oak, with a lingering finish that matches any Islay Scotch’s.

Sipping an aged mezcal neat is not for the faint of heart, and I eventually added a few ice cubes, which opened it up and made it even more enjoyable. Still, straight was the way to go at JJ’s, which, despite it’s incredible spirits selection, does not have a drinks menu touting specialty cocktails of the day.

There’s no doubt your bartender can mix up anything you want, but you need to know what you want. In the case of mezcal, should you want it in a cocktail, you also need to know how to make it.

It’s not JJ’s fault—mezcal might be a centuries-old spirit, but the modern cocktail world is just now figuring out what to do with it. I’m partial to the Old Oaxacan served at Manifesto, and the Oaxaca Old-Fashioned that I posted in March looks similarly tasty.

Still, when out and about, it’s good to have an easy-to-remember recipe in your pocket, like this Mezcal Margarita from Difford’s Guide: combine 2 parts mezcal, 1 part Cointreau and and 1 part freshly squeezed lime juice in a shaker filled partway with ice. Shake, and then strain into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a lime wedge. Just as it should be.