Whisky (no “e”) River, owned by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (yes, the NASCAR king), is located in the EpiCentre, just down the road from the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Despite the NASCAR connections, don’t come to Whisky expecting to see a bunch of rednecks drinking Busch Light. Instead, you’ll find “club casual” digs– it’s two parts rock and roll and one part country with a splash of southern hospitality. The country innuendo is slight: cowhide backs on the bar stools, a mechanical bull, and the occasional country song pouring from the speakers. There are also servers dressed in tight fitting tops and barely there Daisy Dukes, a uniform that surprisingly only applies to the female employees. What gives, Dale? Overall, the vibe in Whisky River is more night club than country western, and that’s exactly what Mr. Earnhardt was shooting for.
Whisky River offers a full drink menu–beer, wine, and cocktails–and has two sprawling bars, seating for over 200, a VIP lounge, plus plenty of room for dancing. Further solidifying its ultimate entertainment venue status, Whisky partners with Kiss 95.1 as the official pre and post party venue for many big name concerts and sporting events uptown.
All of this with nary a nacho or beer nut in sight… That is until Whisky River recently rolled out a full menu featuring “more than just bar food” with a substantial chunk dedicated to southern style barbecue. As part of the menu inauguration, I attended an expansive tasting this week.
The engorging began with appetizers, including crispy buffalo shrimp, baby corn dogs with honey mustard, jalapeno poppers, and buffalo dip.
I enjoyed each of the appetizers, especially the poppers. Unlike most jalapeno poppers, Whisky’s aren’t fried–they’re served halved, stuffed with cream cheese, and wrapped in applewood smoked bacon. Then there were the delicious corn dogs. Say what you will about corn dogs–I couldn’t resist the childlike urge to pop the baby bites in my mouth, one after another after another.
It seemed everyone loved the buffalo dip. It’s tangy with a blend of cream cheese, ranch, blue cheese, and New York Style hot sauce. The dip comes without meat (though you have the option of adding chicken or shrimp).
As mentioned, southern barbecue is a big component of the new menu, and we got to try every meat they offer: roasted pulled chicken, pulled pork, beef brisket, baby back pork ribs, southern fried turkey, and spicy smoked sausage.
With barbecue spots popping up all over Charlotte, Whisky has some stiff competition. They don’t claim to have the best barbecue in town, which is appropriate because their barbecue, while good, falls short of the competition. One thing Whisky seems to have mastered is retaining moisture in their meat. From pork to brisket, every meat we sampled was juicy, even the perpetually dry prone turkey. Interestingly, the meats are smoked offsite as the EpiCentre does not allow smoking on the premises.
The barbecue sauces are kept tableside (standard for southern barbecue) so that you can add them to your liking. Whisky has four barbecue sauces to choose from: Honey Gold, Smokey, Hot, and Original. Each of these tomato-based sauces are a touch sweet. The Smoky was the best of the bunch, but my preference lies with vinegar-based eastern North Carolina sauce, which Whisky sadly doesn’t offer.
Whisky River has all the traditional southern sides available, and we sampled the collard greens, mac and cheese, sweet potato waffle fries, potato salad, and green bean casserole (unpictured—but it’s just like the kind your aunt makes for Thanksgiving).
Of these sides, the mac and cheese was my favorite. I’m not a fan of collard greens, but I was told by others that they were well done. The sweet potato waffle fries were fun, but the potato salad was bland, with the only flavor seeming to come from the bacon sprinkled on top.
Then there was the cornbread. Oh the cornbreadddddd. It is definitely one of the best I’ve had, though I think it would be better called “corncake.” It was moist, sticky, and buttery–no grainy corn meal texture to be found.
Whisky also offers build-your-own BBQ spuds, topped with the protein of your choice. It’s “one pound of potato and about one pound of fixins,” and the supersized spuds are rolled in bacon grease and rock salt.
Chicken wings are also available in a variety of heat levels and flavors, including mild, lemon pepper, sweet Thai chili, spicy garlic parmesan, jerk, hot, peach habanero, and Atomic (seasoned with habaneros and ghost pepper). One nice option: you can get the wings fried or grilled.
Burgers also make an appearance on the menu, most notably the “6 Wide Challenge” — it’s six eight-ounce patties, each topped with two slices of cheese, served with one pound of french fries. The challenge: eat the whole shebang in under 30 minutes, and your name goes on the Wall of Fame, plus they’ll pay for your burger and throw in a T-shirt.
Sawing into the six-wide was was like cutting a wedding cake! Extreme caution was used to ensure the tiers were not disrupted. The burger was solid, juicy, and packed with that charbroiled flavor I love. A few words on the french fries: thick-cut and salty. What more could you ask for?
Make sure to same room for dessert at Whisky River–they’ve got a slew of tantalizing treats including a brownie sundae, fried cheesecake bites, and old fashioned apple crumble pie with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. The funnel cake fries were one of my favorite sweets of the tasting, and they come with your choice of dipping sauce: chocolate (my personal fav), strawberry, or caramel. Whisky also features a fried candy bar of the month, and for November it’s all about the Milky Way. The candy bars are coated with Whisky’s honey-infused hushpuppy batter–a genius bar food marriage if I ever heard one.
Overall, there are a lot of great things on the menu at Whisky, and true to their claim there is more than just bar food available. My personal favorites were the appetizers (buffalo shrimp, buffalo dip, corn dogs, and jalapeno poppers), the mac and cheese, CORNBREAD, burger and fries, smoked bacon anything, and of course the entire dessert menu.
Whisky River is now serving the full menu from 11am-11pm daily.
Head on over to the Whisky River website and join the mailing list to receive a free buffalo dip coupon!