To me, the words “farm-to-table” conjure up images of a chef in a small kitchen painstakingly preparing the freshest of meals… something like Restaurant Gwendolyn or The Clean Plate. I was intrigued when I heard about Whiskey Cake, a farm-to-table concept restaurant based in Dallas, opening in La Cantera. I wasn’t sure how this slow food type concept could possibly fit in a large, chain-based shopping mall. After three visits, I still don’t get the warm and fuzzies I get from the small, locally-owned farm-to-table spots, but I do like larger restaurants supporting local farmers — and the food is pretty good, too.
The space itself is impressive. Right by the front door, there is a beautiful garden bursting with herbs and lettuces. The lighting and décor are gorgeous. Plus, the place has been full and I’ve visited on a Tuesday, Thursday and a Friday. Each time we made a reservation and our party was seated right away. It’s really important to make a reservation — I have heard about long wait times for walk ins.
More than half of the menu (the entire back and part of the front) is devoted to drinks with a focus, of course, on whiskey. The cocktail menu features drinks with cute names like “Hot for Teacher,” “The Jester” and the “Hello Dolly.” The waitstaff gushes enthusiastically about the bar menu, but seems somewhat unfamiliar with the specifics. For instance, when asked about dessert wine, we were pointed to a heavy red and when a Ranger Creek .36 Bourbon was ordered, we were first told it was unavailable and then brought a glass of the Ranger Creek .36 White Whiskey. However, all mix ups regarding liquor or otherwise are always handled beautifully by the friendly staff.
The snack list features some real winners. The Local Board, described as “stuff we like from the neighborhood and our house” on the menu, is a charcuterie plate. We also tried the deviled eggs; on my last visit, the deviled eggs were jazzed up with blue cheese and bacon which was really delicious! The Thai BBQ duck wings are favorites of a few friends and the fried green tomatoes are nice.
The entrees on the menu sound fabulous and over our visits, we’ve ordered a variety around the table – the Farm Bird (half chicken), Smoked Duck Breast, Texas Striped Bass, the Pork Brisket Steak and the highly recommended OMG Burger. Each dish had high and low points. Notably, the fish was described by the server as having a tarragon flavor; I should have listened, there was an enormous amount of tarragon (would you like some fish with your tarragon?) The cous cous that came with the duck was a high point and was described as delicious. The burger has a lot of potential, but was a bit dry.
Dessert was our favorite part of the meal. On all visits, the whiskey cake was truly amazing and worth a trip back just for that.
Whiskey Cake has a lot of potential. Our overall impression is that the staff is enthusiastic and friendly, but inexperienced. The food overall is good, but has a little “meh” mixed in, particularly on the entrees. As a newly opened restaurant, it’s still working out its kinks. Under the guidance of an experienced chef, Kenneth Hardiman, and some very dedicated managers, Whiskey Cake will soon be a San Antonio favorite.
I am a believer that farm-to-table has to go “mainstream” in order to survive, but I felt the connection to farmer and food was a little bit lost in the hustle and bustle of the large restaurant. The first visit right after opening was the only time the staff talked about where the food came from and what made the dishes special. Without a deeper connection and understanding of the food, Whiskey Cake feels much like a Stonewerks or Cheesecake Factory.
If Whiskey Cake truly wants to be a local farm-to-table restaurant, it has to commit to it, truly make it a part of every aspect of their business, and educate diners. Otherwise, it will just be another corporate chain dressing itself up with a cool cause.
15900 La Cantera Pkwy Suite 21200
San Antonio, TX 78256