By Jason Gatsby, TSB Chow Hound
I feel obligated to disclose my love for bourbon and pastries, but the juxtaposition of a shot of whiskey and a decadent piece of cake seems a bit arbitrary. For Whiskey Cake in Plano, the spirit and desert coincide with ease and resonate in the diner’s head. I assure you, I won’t be forgetting the restaurant that includes two of my principal reasons for living in one simple name.
North Texas’ highways are saturated with concrete buildings. The redundancy of chains is disconcerting, so when I decided to partake in a meal at Whiskey Cake, I was apprehensive. The commercial feel from the outside left little to the imagination, but its philosophy of serving “farm-to-kitchen dishes & cocktails from their “from scratch only” kitchen intrigued me. Touting, the “from scratch only” theme, Whiskey Cake brags about its lack of a microwave in the kitchen. If a restaurant is claiming a “farm-to-kitchen” concept, then the absence of “chef microwave” should be implied.
In January, Brent Hammer, former chef at Hibiscus, was named Chef de Cuisine at Plano’s self-proclaimed farm-to-table concept restaurant, Whiskey Cake. It’s hard to fathom the restaurant group that heads up Twin Peaks is the driving force behind the concept for Whiskey Cake. I’m hoping the Front Burner Restaurant Group isn’t trivializing the concept of farm-to-table in order to exploit the latest “ food” trend. For the “localvores” who are passionate supporters of locally grown sustainable produce, take Whiskey Cake’s restaurant concept with a grain of salt. Their ability to industrialize the farm-to-table concept seems paradoxical, but I’m optimistic.
Unless you’re an early diner, prepare for a wait. This Plano hot spot is filled with vivacious and perhaps somewhat ostentatious patrons looking for a good time. Our 30-minute wait elapsed rather quickly as we conversed over cocktails at the bar. Before we were seated, I was able to view the in-house garden, where each employee is responsible for their own plant. During the wait, I was able to embrace the restaurant for what it is. Whiskey Cake is a culinary machine; turning out food quickly as the front of the house creates improvised seating in order to keep up with a fast-paced crowd.
For some, the bar menu may appear to be pretentious. You won’t indulge in your usual Miller Lite at Whiskey Cake, but for cocktail lovers, you may find your home away from home at Whiskey Cake. If your daily commute entails the Dallas Toll-way, I recommend Whiskey Cake after a hard day’s work. If your day was exceptionally tough, partake in a whiskey flight for $16, but don’t fly around the world too many times —you may not be able to walk to your car. Whiskey Cake’s mixologists offer a variety of moderately priced cocktails ($9-10) to satisfy diverse consumers. Using pristine ingredients, concoctions are formulated with herbs, freshly squeezed juices, homemade simple syrups, and Angostura Bitters.
The Tennessee Stud ($9) was deemed the crowd favorite, with Jack Daniels, honey, lemon juice, Regan’s orange bitters, and Old Fashioned bitters. The drink offers the whiskey flavor without the bite that emanates as it slides down your throat. With spring in full swing, the cocktail was refreshing but not too “girly;” I somehow convinced myself to stop at two. For those who are averse to whiskey, there are plenty of vodka, gin, and mezcal based cocktails that may catch your fancy.
Whiskey Cake’s culinary strength resides in the “snacks” and “burgers, stacks and melts” portion of the menu. Even though the main dishes are reasonably priced and composed of aesthetically pleasing accouterments — “smoked chili butter, wheat berries, duck fat fries, and grilled kale” — they’re lacking the execution that that could make them great. Under-seasoned chicken and poorly rendered duck breast are important intricacies that cannot be over looked.
The Mesquite Grilled Mussels with smoked chili butter, fennel, Swiss chard, roasted tomatoes, and tasso ham ($12) was the perfect way to start our meal. The smokiness and rich bold flavors made for a delicious appetizer. Accompanied with grilled bread from Empire Bakery, I caught my colleagues savoring every last drip by soaking up the tasty broth with the extra bread we ordered.
Before you order the Deviled Eggs ($5), ask your waiter how they’re prepared. “We change them up and keep ‘em interesting” is the tagline that accompanies the Deviled Eggs on the menu, which means they can be hit or miss depending on the flavor profile preferences. Tonight was a play on egg salad. I was disappointed in their lack of creativity, but to their credit, they were well seasoned.
Keep it simple with your entrees. Think of “bar food” and you can’t go wrong. Even though the “Three Little Pigs” ($11) are listed as a starter, this menu item can be enjoyed as an entrée. Three pulled pork sandwiches, Napa slaw, barbecue sauce and crispy onions served on top an actual brick, makes for an interesting display, but hopefully your Pigs won’t come to the table with partially cold pork, like mine. The combination of the slighty sweet sauce, warm pulled pork, cold and crunchy slaw and hot, crispy thinly sliced onions, dazzle the taste buds with the hot and cold sensations.
The “basic burger” ($11) is composed of brisket, which has a great fat-to-meat ratio, keeping your burger moist and juicy. The addition of sweet bacon on a rich challah bun completes the trifecta, but don’t assume you’ll be getting succulent duck fat fries with your burger. Instead, Kettle chips accompany the burgers and sandwiches. Sorry, fries are extra.
The “tuna burger” ($16) is a tuna steak, seared to medium rare, but the thick slice of grilled pineapple overpowered the other components. If you’re thinking outside the box, try the BBQ Bahn Mi ($12). The combination of slow roasted pulled pork, tangy vegetables, cilantro and Korean barbecue sauce on a crispy baguette epitomizes the complete flavor profile.
Save some room for desert. If you’re feeling full, take a few minutes to digest and make room. Don’t look even look at the menu. It’s easy, order the “Whiskey Cake” ($8). A sweet date cake with Buffalo Trace bourbon anglaise, spiced pecans and a tableside service of whipped cream is the Devil’s creation for my Achilles heel; bourbon and sweets. The the bourbon anglaise is the perfect compliment to the tender, moist and sweet cake, which is obviously house-made. I fought others off with my spoon and indulged until I could feel my pants begin to tighten.
We left satisfied and a bit hunched over from the consumption of cocktails and an immense amounts of food. All of us agreed we would return to Whiskey Cake, but for drinks and bar snacks. I remain skeptical of their dedication to the support of local farming and the importance of sustainable food, but despite the commercial feel of Whiskey Cake, I’ll try to keep an open mind.
Overall: 3 stars
Food: 2 and half stars
Beverages: 3 and half stars
Service: 2 and half stars
Atmosphere: 2 and a half stars
Price $$ to $$$
FOUR STARS = Extraordinary; THREE STARS = Excellent; TWO STARS = Good; ONE STAR = Fair; NO STARS = Poor
$ = Inexpensive: entrees $10 and under; $$ = Moderate: $11-$17; $$$ = Expensive: $18-$24; $$$$ = Very Expensive: more than $25
Photos, from top:
Whiskey Cake with with Buffalo Trace bourbon anglaise, spiced pecans and a tableside service of whipped cream.
Three Little Pigs pulled pork sandwiches
BBQ Bahn Mi