They have Buffalo Trace! That was my first thought upon seeing the chalkboard at The Oak Scratch Kitchen and Bourbon Bar.
Give me a barstool and a glass.
That was my next thought.
The Oak, which opened just a few months ago, serves almost two dozen bourbons—including Maker's Mark, Woodford Reserve, plus Four Roses, Larceny and the aforementioned Buffalo Trace.
Savoring the Buffalo Trace, a complex blend of flavor notes that feels lush on the tongue and smooth in the throat, thoughts of food arise, specifically the Heritage Farms pork tenderloin. The bartender heartily expresses her approval of my choice, saying it was her favorite dish. It took only a couple of bites to understand why.
Sous vide medallions of tenderloin sit atop a cauliflower mash and surround a mound of sweet and sour Swiss chard. The crowning grace, both figuratively and literally, is the bourbon blueberry jalapeño pecan relish that tops it. Each component was impressive alone, but all of the flavors incorporated together made me as happy as the Buffalo Trace (or close to it).
More bourbons are on the way—staff at The Oak accepts suggestions for additions to the list as well—among them, Pappy Van Winkle. It's an elegant drink that, to quote a bourbon-loving friend of mine, "is transcendent."
Along with the brand-names, The Oak lists a "house-aged bourbon." The bartender said they take mid-range bourbon that has been aged about seven or eight years and put it in casks for further aging. When I visited, they were using a batch of casks that imparted a strong vanilla flavor (thanks to the use of Tahitian vanilla beans). The result is a rich after-dinner bourbon. It may be a bit on the sweet side for some but the effect is smooth and dessert-like.
The Oak, owned by the same folks behind Raleigh's The Taste Bar, has a daily "happy hour" which takes an elastic approach to time, as it lasts all day from opening to close. Mondays feature $4 Maker's Marks. Bourbon Tuesdays spotlights Bulleit, Jack Daniels, Maker's Mark (and Crown) with your choice for $6. On Fridays any Bulleit drink runs $6. As a nod to those who aren't there for the bourbon there are beer specials on Wednesdays and wine specials on Thursdays.
I admit I felt wary when first approaching The Oak. It's in the Marketplace at Lake Boone, amid hair salons, banks and a Tumble Gym. The small space—the fire marshal is going to frown if it is occupied by more than 49 people—has huge windows on two sides. If it's not a "fun" cocktail bar then a proper bar should be a little dingy, a bit dark, especially ones devoted to Scotches or, in this case, bourbons. Things did not look promising upon entering. Then ...
This article appeared in print with the headline "Bourbon bonanza"