Coming through the Rye

December 2017 View more

In recent years, fans of craft spirits have discovered the particular cocktail of joy and frustration that their brethren in the worlds of wine and beer have long known: the avalanche of options that springs forth when your beverage of choice suddenly becomes a hot property. What was once a fairly straightforward transaction at the bar, with “neat” or “rocks” representing the bulk of the decision-making process, is now an expansive and involved ritual. Thanks to the artisanal explosion, many establishments have lavished the next-big-thing treatment on everything from gin to tequila to vodka.

And whiskey, of course, gets its name in lights and its many varieties and permutations cataloged in a multipage, small-font tome of a beverage list at The Next Whiskey Bar in Lisle (Hint: Don’t forget your reading glasses). Lest teetotalers steer clear of what may appear to be little more than a bastion of booze, it’s worth noting that the folks behind NWB have paid close attention to not only the many branches of the brown liquor family tree, but also a range of tempting dishes to complement whatever happens to be filling one’s glass.

Stupendous Start
While the food selections at NWB don’t stray far from the three-pronged approach of burgers/sandwiches, salads and variations on tried-and-true mac ‘n’ cheese, these three unassuming categories offer plenty of interesting possibilities. However, some of the most tempting options can be found right at the top of the menu in the Starters area, where everything from the bacon-wrapped Cajun shrimp to the alliterative pulled pork poutine grabbed our early attention.

We ultimately settled on the beer-battered cheese curds, and couldn’t have been more pleased with the choice. As frequent visitors to our neighbor to the north—and, thus, veteran cheese curd aficionados—fried cheese is not something to be taken lightly (so to speak), and this little basket of white cheddar magic was as good as anything the Badger State has to offer. Are these cheese curds alone worth the trip to Lisle? Short answer: yes.

What’s Next
With the bar set high by that remarkable opener, there was concern that our entrees, no matter how well executed, would feel like something of a step down. But, since making a full meal out of another few orders of cheese curds felt irresponsibly indulgent, we did the adult thing and moved onto the main- course slate.

On one side of the table was a grown-up grilled cheese, thick with bacon and tomato and accompanied by a steaming bowl of creamy tomato basil soup. Before me, meanwhile, was a mile-high shrimp po’ boy, heavy on the Cajun kick and also making good use of those fresh beefsteak tomatoes. We rounded out the meal with shared sides of charred Brussels sprouts with Parmesan, rich four cheese mac and a solid elote. No letdowns here.

But if the spirits menu at NWB really is a book of sorts, then the savory and sweet bookends between which it rests should really be deep-fried—with those amazing cheese curds on one side and the equally fantastic whiskey doughnuts for dessert on the other. Here again, an exceedingly simple concept is pulled off exactly right, resulting in the kind of capper that adds the perfect punctuation to the evening.

Yes, we walked out of a place called The Next Whiskey Bar having tasted nary a drop of the dozens and dozens of whiskey variations on offer, and yet on this night we didn’t feel like we had missed a thing.

NWB—The Next Whiskey Bar
4732 Main Street, Lisle