Food & Dine Magazine_Profile

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RestoRed fiRehouse and shRine to “BakeRsfield sound,” the silveR dollaR shines

I’m guessing moneymaking brainstorms are rarely coined during late night bourbon binges, but this is exactly what happened for the newly minted restaurateurs behind The Silver Dollar. While spinning “old school hillbilly records” and swigging Kentucky’s finest at six a.m. one morning, business partners Larry Rice and Michael Rubel decided to recreate their good time for paying customers.

I honkytonk heroes

Talk about following your bliss!

Rice, Rubel and third partner Shawn Cantley’s formula of vintage vinyl and whiskey-by-the-drink is sustaining a buzz that began fermenting before opening night. Throw Chef Jonathan Schwartz’s gussied-up roadhouse fare into the coffer and you have what is amounting to a gold mine. On busy nights, the former Hook and Ladder building that houses this reimagined honky tonk struggles to contain all those who come in search of good food, stiff drinks and generous helpings of Western Swing. By the time this reaches print, in fact, seating at the Silver Dollar will have doubled, with sidewalk and patio seating on tap for the warmer months.

Also ahead: weekend lunch service, along with a rejiggered cocktail and dinner menu to reflect a seasonal sensibility. That’s all well and good, fellas—just tell me you won’t scratch my Stockyard Pony, ($8: a herbaceous blend of J.W. Dant Bourbon, Aperol, fresh lemon and Angostura Bitters.)

An old one And A cold one

Despite the craft cocktail lineage of its brain trust (Rice helped alter the way Louisville imbibes while at 732 Social; Rubel is a force behind the renowned Big Star and The Violet Hour in Chicago’s Wicker Park), the Silver Dollar tends to play down its top-shelf pedigree. House-made syrups, bitters and fresh-squeezed juices make the concoctions here as good as any around, but, in case you miss the glowing neon on your way in, the Silver Dollar is, at its heart, a whiskey bar.

people and places profiles
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAN DRY Summer 2012 23 22
The Silver dollAr 1761 Frankfort Ave. 502.259.9540
Above: Larry Rice (left), Shawn Cantley (center) and Michael Rubel (right)

“Drinking shouldn’t be pretentious,” Rice told us recently, signaling a departure from past beverage programs loaded with bar geek references and, literally, no shot glasses. “I want a place that you’re not looked down on just because you ordered a domestic.”

While honing their model, the trio agreed that the fancy cocktail thing might be a bit too precious for this honky tonk. Although there is a place for the highend drink here, the days of waiting for sculpted lemon twists or gently swatted mint sprigs are behind us for now. Cantley may have put it best when comparing devotees of this culture to “Trekkies:” instead of Klingons, complex drink specs are the obsession.

This attitude adjustment reveals itself with $3 whiskey-of-the-day specials--or, to borrow the house parlance: “an old one” (Old Grand Dad, Old Heaven Hill, Old Charter 101, etc.) and “a cold one” (a $3 beer chaser.) An extensive whiskey menu is also on offer, bound smartly in razor-thin sheets of cherry wood. The line up spans varying price points and distilleries: from a $5 Old Fitz to an $18 Pappy 20 year.

But no one will look askance should you order something a bit more fussy. Whether the house cares to admit it or not, the bourbon and tequila driven drinks are a key reason to visit, and a number of clues indicate that more study went into the cocktail menu than its curators might care to let on.

The Picon Punch ($8,) is one case-in-point that speaks to the Silver Dollar’s interest in both Bakersfield and cocktail history. This old recipe, which was likely created by migrating Basques who arrived in California’s San Joaquin Valley to heard sheep in the Sierras, features a French aperitif called Amer Picon. Availability of these orange-based, flavored bitters has long since dried up in the U.S. and must be crafted in house. The Picon is mixed with Grenadine (also home made) and Old Grand Dad in place of the traditional Brandy.

Seldom seen in these parts, the Picon Punch is made more impressive in that, even at Bakersfield’s Hotel Noriega, (a still standing Basque bar built in 1893,) they use a mass produced Picon substitute.

Why BAkerSfield?

Bakersfield was founded on a notion of hospitality, with one of its early settlers, the eponymous Colonel Thomas Baker, inviting exhausted travelers and prospectors to rest the night in his field. The city’s municipal website says nothing of what Colonel Baker did or didn’t feed his guests and asked about the fare at the Silver Dollar, Rice says, although there really isn’t a “Bakersfield cuisine,” they Summer 2012 25
Slow smoked barbeque pork on a bolillo bun with house made coleslaw.

want the kitchen to draw inspiration from the unpretentious commingling of influences found in the culture there.

“We wanted it to be a really approachable place for anybody,” adds Rice. “We tried to build a menu in way that someone can have a beer and a shot of whiskey, eat some chili and not spend 20 bucks. But at the same time, if you want to course out a meal, you can spend some coin.”

Rice says his desire to be inclusive extends from family members who were once too intimidated to visit him at his former, fine dining ports of call. The all-are-welcome mentality once found at Colonel Baker’s field is certainly reflected in the offerings here: from the Basket of Chicken Livers ($8) to an 18-ounce Strip Steak ($32.) Although trained in French cuisine, (Executive Chef Schwartz worked for Michelin three-star recipient Daniel Boulud and, locally, helped open Basa) flowery descriptors are purposely left off the menu, which uses a culinary vocabulary closer to the Texas South Plains than South of France.

Bold, American, meat-andpotato dishes like Chicken Fried Steak ($14, mushroom gravy, smashed potato) and soul food classics like Chicken and Waffles ($17,) tell part of the story. There are also dashes of Southern, Latin and Mexican influence peppering the bill--meat or veggie Empanadas ($7,) and Molletes ($8, a torta with black beans, Pico De Gallo and melted Queso Chihuahua,) for example. An assortment of well executed fish dishes which range from a Blue Corn Crusted Snapper on the high-end ($24, with tomato butter and Swiss chard,) and crispy but tender fried oysters on the low side($11,) also provide reasons for return visits.

“I want a place that you’re not looked down on just because you ordered a domestic.”

at F&D. The corn meal dusted snack arrives in sandwich form or--if you’d rather bypass the bready distraction--straight up with Ancho Aioli. The dry, crisp coating opens to a light kiss of brine, an effect that Dave Hawkins, Sous Chef (and ironic shellfish allergy sufferer,) says comes from keeping an exacting eye on the fryer. It’s impossible to under-cook an oyster, but really easy to over do them, Hawkins explains.

Ordering the rolled oysters has become something of a reflex for more than one of us

Top Left:

Top Right: (Tall glass)

Swinging Doors – fresh grapefruit juice, lime, raspberry and Old Heaven Hill topped with Ginger beer (Rocks glass) Escondido –Lunazul Plata and Vida Mezcal with fresh lime juice and orange curacao.

Above: Fried oyster sandwich with red leaf lettuce, pickled onions, ancho aioli and sliced tomato on a bolillo bun.

TAke me BAck To yeSTerdAy once more moe BAndy It’s hard to say whether the Silver Dollar is a restaurant with a great bar or a bar with excellent grub, but the best seat in the house may be a stool at the 43-foot block of what Rice calls “Kentucky Wood.” The reclaimed lumber boasts Bluegrass provenance, hailing from an old tobacco barn in Lexington and former rick house of Old Crow bourbon. Details like these are part of what makes the still-new honky-tonk feel as though it’s been sitting on the corner of Frankfort and Pope for a century. The decision to showcase the bones of the Albert A. Stoll building, a Gothic revival firehouse built in 1890, is part of this too, along with cool artifacts left behind by Hook and Ladder Company #3. The department’s large, handmade map of the Clifton/Crescent Hill neighborhoods and old call box markers hang on the walls like priceless pieces of found folk art. When executed poorly, a restaurant’s theme can be a distraction, even a downer, particularly when the artifice of its concept pokes through. Mass produced replicas of battered road signs and made-in-China Americana can feel like forced comfort and induce something other than nostalgia. But the designers behind this space have made it easy to feel transported, which is aided by a dimly lit atmosphere and growing stack of twangy rhythm from record collector, Mike Rubel. After lowering the needle on Waylon Jennings’ “Dreaming My Dreams,” server Jennifer May beams when telling me she’s one of the few entrusted with access to the turntable. May explains that boss Rubel has high expectations concerning the handling of LPs. The ownership confirms that many literally butter-fingered employees have been excused from this task, leaving only two or three with the DJ-like responsibility for reading the room and choosing the appropriate cut. The time that May takes out of her other duties to select records is a reminder that this whole idea started with a couple of guys playing records. For the men behind this venture, the value that Waylon, Merle and Buck add to the Silver Dollar makes the chore of stopping to flip a record all the more worth it. F&D Summer 2012 27 Summer 2012� 26
Closeup: Chef Jonathan Schwartz Above: Seasonal vegetable plate with black beans and smashed potatoes Right: Braised short ribs with smashed potatoes and fried carrots. Sautéed shrimp served with roasted chayote and cornbread stuffing. Left: Pan-seared rainbow trout in lemon and brown butter.

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