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Local is as local does: Whiskey Cake doesn't act like a chain restaurant

The Food Dude writes about Whiskey Cake, an out-of-state franchise with local ambition.
by Dave Cathey Modified: July 8, 2014 at 2:50 pm •  Published: July 8, 2014

photo - Whiskey cake is pictured at the Whiskey Cake Kitchen and Bar in Oklahoma City, Thursday, July 3, 2014. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
Whiskey cake is pictured at the Whiskey Cake Kitchen and Bar in Oklahoma City, Thursday, July 3, 2014. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

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.

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by Dave Cathey
Food Editor
The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene.
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