Locavores, corporate America has heard your cry: Local is good.
The proof is in Whiskey Cake, 1845 Northwest Expressway, which arrived in Oklahoma City from Plano, Texas, from the Fork It Over restaurant group. This farm-to-fork concept from the Lone Star State could teach a good portion of Oklahoma’s restaurants about good stewardship of local foods and products.
Calling Whiskey Cake a chain is like calling a pair of bricks on the side of the house the path to the Emerald City. The original location in Plano and the one occupying the space where the Elephant Bar once lived are the only two of their kind. That said, it’s clear by the look of it that this concept was built to be a franchise — if not the most unique franchise of its kind.
Whiskey Cake is home away from home — or at least the home you dream of if you still like to page through a Restoration Hardware catalog. Exposed brick, yellow-filament Thomas Edison bulbs and ever-present stacks of firewood imbue a warehouse-meets-barnhouse sensibility. Egg cartons aren’t tossed out; they’re saved to serve as sound buffer for the echo-friendly ceiling. Cardboard boxes bearing kitchen products aren’t recycled by the city of Oklahoma City; they are clipped into squares for use as coasters. Just as Huey Lewis once assured us it was hip to square, Whiskey Cake appears intent on making it abundantly clear that it’s cool to embrace sustainable practices.
And that’s a good thing.
The local flavor starts with general manager Tanner Fleming, who was born and raised in Oklahoma City, earning his restaurant stripes at the Chili’s on South Meridian during his formative years. Fleming took a brief break from the restaurant business to try out tech jobs before going back to work for P.F. Chang’s, which led him to work around the country.
“We’re a farm-to-fork, garden-to-glass restaurant, but that’s not where supporting local stops,” Fleming said.
Whiskey Cake is as franchise-friendly as a concept of its ilk can be, but it’s missing any clear concessions you might expect from an out-of-state restaurant group. The menu is an homage to comfort foods from around the world, interpreted through a local lens. The dishes aren’t ambitious, but that fits the laid-back, detail-focused feel of a restaurant that serves food and drink on and in vessels sourced from the local secondhand stores and antique malls.
Oils from Olive Oil and Co. used in the kitchen are available for purchase at a mini general store near the entrance. Candles are made by a local candlemaker. Whiskey Cake even hosted its own farmers markets, inviting local producers and vendors to peddle their goods on a recent Sunday afternoon.
The Old MacDonald-cum-Nine Inch Nails aesthetic includes a wide-open kitchen where wood is burned as often as natural gas, bread is made from scratch, and a bar where cocktails are crafted without the help of premade mixers or elixirs.
This partnership with local producers is a clear boon on a couple of levels, according to chef de cuisine Kenny Hardiman: “We source as much of our food locally and fresh as we can, so we’re feeding our guests and the community.”
Made from scratch
The two Whiskey Cake menus are fraternal twins rather than identical. Hardiman has the lattitude to make switches based on what’s available and what the locals demand. And because the food is made from scratch, it will bear a unique personality from its older sister restaurant to the south.
Hardiman offers a balanced menu chock-full of bold flavors. The appetizer menu would make a fantastic meal for large groups, featuring fried green tomatoes with remoulade, hummus, a trio of pulled pork sliders, Thai barbecue fried duck wings, goat cheese fondue, roasted shishito peppers and grilled mussels. And don’t forget about the deviled eggs, which Hardiman likes to switch up every week or two. Check please.
Burgers and sandwiches run the gamut from what you want (The Basic Burger) to what you need (The OMG Burger) plus homages to gyros and banh mi.
The entrees are short and sweet: two kinds of grilled fish, rotisserie chicken, smoked duck and beef in brisket or tri-tip. Hardiman has had time to edit his menu to the point his kitchen staff is running on all cylinders. I can attest to how he converted perfectly acceptable fried duck wings into a dangerously addictive dish that will be hard for me to resist on return visits.
Come with your appetite, but be prepared to wet your whistle at the bar, which not only hand-crafts high-octane high balls but also makes various juices and nonalcoholic beverages daily. And then there’s the whiskey selection, which answers in that classroom of precious little attendance. Bring your drinkin’ shoes.
For dessert? The very large, very expensive sign that hangs out front says it all. For the tone deaf, here it is note-by-note: toffee torte, bourbon anglaise, local pecans, whipped cream made to order.
... And scene.
If you go
Whiskey Cake is open from 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, closing at 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Brunch is served starting at 10 a.m. Sunday. The restaurant closes at 11 p.m. Sunday. For more information, go online to whiskeycakeokc.com or call 582-2253.