It was the evening before the great snowmageddon. The sky had that ominous steely color to it — the one that signals the approach of a major weather event — and the city was filled with nervous energy. I wouldn't normally go out under such conditions, but I felt that, if this was the end, I'd like my last meal to be more than a bowl of cereal or some leftover fried rice.
I had a choice. I could join the frantic throngs at the grocery store to stock up on bread, milk and eggs, then rush home to binge-watch the Weather Channel. Or I could drink whiskey.
Gamlin Whiskey House, the brainchild of brothers Lucas and Derek Gamlin of SubZero Vodka Bar fame, is exactly the type of place a gal would want to spend her last night on Earth. It's stocked to the rafters with quality booze, unapologetically meat-driven and offers a cozy spot for people-watching when the stuff hits the fan. Chef Ivy Magruder, formerly of Vin de Set, crafted the bourbon-themed menu, and the result is a restaurant that is straight out of Cigar Aficionado — hearty, masculine and full of things that will take years off of one's life. Because we were all about to die in a polar vortex anyway, this last fact mattered little.
The dimly lit bar greets patrons upon their arrival, its stock of every brown liquor under the sun displayed on the shelves. There are big-name Scotches, Canadian ryes, American bourbons and just about every other iteration of whiskey one can conceive of available straight or in a craft cocktail.
The drink menus are presented in an embossed wooden box that feels like a peek at the proprietor's secret stash. The cocktail list includes everything from whiskey flights to draft specialties to old-fashioned frozen slushes. We opted for two of the signature selections, the first being the "Peachy Keen," a concoction of Buffalo Trace bourbon, fresh peach juice and cinnamon. Where this was tasty, the "Bees Knees" was transcendent. The Knob Creek Rye and ginger ale were a classic pairing, but the honey-laced ice cubes made the drink. The honey (which, according to our server, comes from Gamlin's proprietary hive of local bees) gave the drink a subtle floral undertone at first, changing into a rich sweetness as the ice melted.
The place may be a whiskey house, but Gamlin's food is not an afterthought. The "Three Little Pigs" appetizer was a sinful pork flight with each selection served over simple beer bread. The hardwood-smoked jowl was herbal and buttery, and the pork belly had a delicious maple-bourbon flavor, though it was a little overcooked for my taste. The sweet and smoky barbecue pork shoulder was the best of the three — I'll be back for lunch to get the full sandwich version.
See photos: Gamlin Whiskey House Is a Welcome Retreat
Gamlin's steak tartare was a well-executed version of the classic; cornichons and capers were minced in with the tenderloin to give a tangy pop, and a poached egg crowned the dish. I spread it over some crusty bread, closed my eyes and basked in the indulgence.
Thinking that something green would negate the damage I was doing to my arteries, I ordered Gamlin's house salad, a chiffonade of kale with pine nuts and golden raisins. The salad needed something saltier to cut through the mouth-puckering lemon vinaigrette, and the Manchego cheese was not quite enough. However, with how much richness I was ingesting in the other courses, the extreme tartness was somewhat welcome.
If this was to be my last meal on Earth, I was going to eat a steak, preferably a large one. Gamlin's sixteen-ounce Cajun crusted rib eye was a beautiful piece of medium-rare marbled meat sandwiched between a bed of creamy white cheddar potatoes and a generous topping of mild blue-cheese butter. Cajun spices mixed with char to form a pleasantly bitter layer that cut through the meat's fattiness.
The "Moon Dance Farm Pot Pie" hit the spot on a cold night. Unlike traditional pot pies, Gamlin's was more like a hearty stew topped with a flaky puff pastry. The meat was fall-apart tender, soaking in a thick tomato broth that had been infused with the beef's juices. Corn, peas and carrots retained a snappy texture, and creamy mashed potatoes added even more decadence. It was the epitome of comfort food.
I had already eaten a month's worth of meat, but "Joe's Backyard Pork Steak" — a refined version of the St Louis classic — was too tempting to pass up. The 24-ounce behemoth was smoked and then simmered in a tangy barbecue sauce that had hints of vanilla. Beer-braised onion butter melted over the pork. The meat, however, was tough, which was unfortunate given all the flavor it was swimming in.
Gamlin at least dips its toes in surf, and we also enjoyed a special of perfectly cooked scallops, topped with chunky mostarda that provided a delectable tartness. This was a very well-thought-out dish.
We finished off with the sticky toffee bread pudding, so caramely and gooey that the clotted cream garnish seemed refreshing. It was a decadent end to a last meal.
As it turned out, the great snowstorm of 2014 did not end the world, and I did not die of a heart attack shoveling my car out in the parking lot. Regardless, it was a meal worthy of throwing caution to the wind, be it fair or foul.
See photos: Gamlin Whiskey House Is a Welcome Retreat
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