wistful grill

The website for McCormack’s Whisky Grill heralds its own eventual arrival with a nonchalant “Coming Soon.” That’s funny because, while the Whisky Grill has been operating for months now, it feels like a restaurant that shouldn’t be open yet. I was in the mood for trying out a couple of whiskies while I met up with some friends for a chat, and having not yet eaten, I figured I’d try the food as well. That was a mistake.

First problem: the menu. The variety was impressive, for a minute. Short of splitting whiskey (or whisky, as the case may be) in to Scotch, North American, and Irish, there was little to indicate what you were getting into if you were a newbie. I’m not, but I’m no expert, either. Which of the North American offerings were bourbon? Rye? Scotch-style single malt? Maybe this is to encourage interaction with the staff to ask for help? I’m not really sure (though the bar tender seemed knowledgable).

The menu was a bit overwhelming in general. The whole thing was something like 11×14 inches (or bigger?) and contained multifarious laminated pages held together in one corner by a little chain like you’d use for dog tags. There was a tiny page of beers (decent selection, all in bottles/cans), a half-sheet of wines (“exclusively Italian” said the waitress, but without further explanation), two double-sided full sheets of booze, and one double-sided full sheet of food ranging from humble to $20+ entrĂ©es. I saw a brisket sandwich, and after confirming with the waitress that they smoke it in-house, I decided on that for my dinner with a side of fries. Nothing fancy – just simple, stick-to-your-ribs neighborhood bar kinda food. Right?

I wish. The fries should have been cooked longer. The roll used for my sandwich had all the flavor and character of the bread served at Outback Steakhouse (looked like it, too). And the brisket? They wasted the use of their smoker. The meat wasn’t tender – almost chewy in fact – had no smoke flavor, and bore no visible evidence of having been smoked (like a smoke ring). Maybe I would have tasted the smoke if it wasn’t for their overpowering sauce. It’s not that the brisket was swimming in sauce, but it tasted and smelled despairingly like a sloppy joe sandwich. The lack of tenderness in the meat would also have been less of a factor had they not cut the brisket into 1/2-inch thick slabs. Taking a bite felt like mandibular gymnastics as I tried simultaneously to cut through the meat with my teeth and not pull the contents out from the bread. I finished neither the fries nor the sandwich.

My two friends and I thought it might be fun to share an order of the funnel cake on the dessert menu, but no dice. The waitress explained that it’s been on the menu for something like six months without ever having been available. Six months! What else are they pretending to serve at this restaurant? So instead I opted for their homemade vanilla ice cream. This was truly unfortunate, because it was almost right, but ultimately came up short. The flavor was great; complex real vanilla flavor with nutmeg and sweet creaminess. A pleasant companion to some George Dickel #12 bourbon. But the texture of the ice cream was way off. Tough, almost crumbly. It didn’t taste freezer-burned, so maybe they just stored it too cold? I haven’t made enough ice cream myself to know what could lead to this, but it improved as it melted down.

The interior of the Whisky Grill is pretty nice – for my tastes at least – and the four level shelving behind the bar is an impressive sight for lovers of fine spirits. But the food here makes me never want to return. Maybe it was just a case of the Mondays, but I felt like so little care was put into my dinner that I wouldn’t want to try anything else on the menu. Huge list of whiskeys? Sure, but staggering variety doesn’t automatically mean a good dining/drinking experience (or we’d all be eating at The Cheesecake Factory…). Give me a well-curated list and it’ll be good whether there are 5 or 50 choices.

Skip this place. If you want passable bar food and some quality adult beverages on Robinson, you’d do far better at Commercial Taphouse.

holiday cheer

beer bottle and glass

I normally wouldn’t post something so blatently Christmas-y until after Thanksgiving, but I couldn’t help it. This beer is quite good, and the label lives up to the bottle’s contents.

wit and weiss-dom

At special request from my sister-in-law, here’s a little touch of beer nerdery.

For the longest time I was pretty sure I wasn’t a fan of wheat beer. All wheat beer. I know, that’s like saying, “I only drink red wine,” or “I only drive cars over emperor penguins,” but so goes my irrational mind sometimes. The point is, having tasted a few wheat beers over the past decade, I had come to the conclusion that they all had an unrefined bite and little more than summer trend status here in the US. Silly lemon wedge. So when the warmer months rolled around I generally avoided the slim, straight-sided glasses of cloudy blonde libation and stuck to my cloying brown ales instead.

About two weeks ago, however, I sat down at the bar of one of my favorite watering holes and was offered (without asking) a taste of a new Belgian ale on tap. I still don’t remember the name of it, but it do remember that it was a “Belgian white” and it was incredible. I’ve since tried (and quite enjoyed) a few others, and it led me to examine just what differentiates wheat beers from each other.

First off, almost every wheat beer on the market is an ale. That means it’s fermented warm with ale yeast which often results in a fuller and sweeter (if only in aroma) brew. There are rare wheat lagers out there, and they’re likely more crisp and light. Beyond that distinction, we have two major schools of wheat beer: the German “weissbier” or “weizen,” and the Belgian “witbier.”

Hefeweizen seems to be the big German player here in The States, and that’s basically an unfiltered wheat beer made from at least 50% malted wheat (as opposed to all barley). It’s usually quite carbonated to balance out the sweetness factor, and that may be what I don’t like too much about it. But it sure seemed to be a gateway drug to Beer Land for my wife and sister-in-law, so it can’t be all bad.

The Belgian witbier is often made with raw wheat (unmalted) and brewed with a spice/flavoring blend called “gruit” that is often made up of coriander, orange, and hops. This stuff is magical to my palate, and it’s the style of beer that I photographed – and later consumed – in my post last week (Ommegang is the brewery, and the beer was incredible).

I wish I had some witbier right now, actually. It’s hot and humid outside today, and it’s well past 5 o’clock at this somewhere.