- Casey Howell
- Skip the stack and head south
I can't remember the last time a server shook my hand when introducing himself, but Dalen did. My co-worker, who previously ventured to Whiskey Cake Kitchen & Bar, La Cantera's latest eatery, sometime during the holidays, was the first to fill me in on the uber-friendly gent. Even my curmudgeonly office compadre was swayed by Dalen's seemingly sincere demeanor, which could come off as disingenuous, but it wasn't the case. In short, you'll visit Whiskey Cake for the above-par foods, but stay for the hospitality.
Before we jump into the food, we have to get to know Whiskey Cake. The restaurant, the third of its kind by the Dallas-based Fork it Over Restaurants group, which includes Velvet Taco and The Ranch, sits near The Falls portion of La Cantera that also houses Bar Louie, Yard House, Perry's Steakhouse and Grille, and (gulp) The Cheesecake Factory.
Whiskey Cake drives its "farm-to-table" concept home — before even entering the eatery, diners can take in the most manicured garden I've ever laid eyes on. The doors lead into an atrium that holds a curated farmers market selection of goods from local vendors such as Youngblood Honey and Brown Coffee Co.
Once inside the restaurant, the couch-filled waiting area sits opposite a wall of succulents held in reused 2-liter bottles. It's as if Pinterest and Anthropologie are entwined in an epic battle of who will reign cutest — and I just want to pin everything. This feeling persists throughout the eatery, which seats just over 300. There's tall booth seating available and an expanse of tall bar tables that seat eight but can be broken down to accommodate smaller, more intimate parties. There's a fireplace at the far end and a row of hanging chairs sit front and center. More tables fill the backside of the restaurant, which is broken into separate little dining rooms.
Yes, it's a cavernous space, but the tchotchkes and trinkets that litter the restaurant and its generous use of natural lighting keep it from feeling that massive. There's a giant fork made of bent cutlery hung up on the back wall, while hollowed light bulbs filled with water and rosemary are used as table décor. Even the coasters — small cardboard squares stamped with WC's logo — are DIY. In other words, they're keeping you entertained, and yes, the show includes an open kitchen and baking area along with a pretty bustling bar.
But let's get back to the food. A co-worker and I stopped by for brunch on Sunday. To give you a sense of Whiskey Cake's popularity, we were met with an hour-long wait. No worries, as we busied ourselves with some much-needed shopping therapy until we received a text message asking us to report to the hostess stand. The menu takes some getting used to as it's broken down into snacks, burgers, stacks and melts, salads, cups and bowls, main plates, and sides and desserts with a thick Southern twist. Even with my three visits (including a previous brunch with a friend from out of town), I'm still discovering new items worth trying.
For this visit, we settled on the fried green tomatoes. The thick-sliced 'maters didn't disappoint with their tempura-like breading, fresh lemon zest and thick remoulade. Having already tried the chicken and waffles (great flavors, but the waffle could use a bit more crisping so as to not get immediately soggy under the house sausage gravy), I opted for the B.E.L.T., or brioche, sunny-side up egg, lettuce, and two types of tomatoes. When it comes to sandwiches, the use of great bread is probably the most important element for me, and WC's bakers nail it with thick slices of brioche that could easily swap places with slices of Texas toast.
The Sunday visit was my first introduction to Dalen, a Seattle hairdresser who's been in SA just three months. During the span of our visit, we also learned he's a server lead and was named employee of the week. He's basically our new best friend and we're already on a nickname basis. This laid-back hospitality-driven service is part of Whiskey Cake's (albeit fabricated) charm — they want to make you feel right at home, if home was a super chic farmhouse.
My dinner visit days later with a girlfriend was a mixed bag, even though we did get a cameo from the bestie when he dropped off a Sazerac (a visit to the bar is definitely in order if only for their wall's worth of small-batch and big name whiskies). The deviled eggs were huge and creamy, topped with sweet bacon jam and a dollop of salsa verde, but they came out with the rest of our meal, so we didn't get a chance to savor them.
Although the signature "farm bird" was enticing, I decided to try the wood-grilled pork brisket steak. Served atop a creamy helping of poblano white cheddar grits that were both smoky and sharp, the steak comes with a wonderful rub that again draws influence from Southern flavors (executive chef Kenneth Hardiman hails from Kansas City, Missouri). A smattering of watercress, kale and pears helped keep the guilt away. My partner's lamb stack, which hit all the right notes on paper with its promise of hummus, tzatziki and fresh arugula, was disappointingly delivered lukewarm at best.
Though we could have left with deflated notions of the eatery, the eponymous whiskey cake won us over. There's not a whole lot to argue with when a cake combines a warm toffee torte, bourbon anglaise sauce, spiced pecans and whipped cream (gingerly spooned over the cake by one of the suspender-clad servers).
The kitsch of Whiskey Cake, the restaurant, is evident, but when trapped in the outskirts of La Cantera, you could do much worse than stopping by this joint and chatting with one of the best servers in town.
15900 La Cantera Pkwy, Ste 21200, (210) 236-8095, whiskeycakesa.com
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Hours 11am-midnight Mon-Thu; 11am-2am Fri; 10am-2am Sat; 10am-11pm Sun