After Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen, formerly Manny & Merle, underwent its transition last year, I stopped in for a meal (or two) and was delighted by what I found.
When Waylon’s Feed & Firewater, an offshoot owned by Tony Palombino, opened in St. Matthews, I had to test the waters. Would the menu be the same? Would it live up to the Merle’s experience? Was transitioning the small space on Shelbyville Road from a Boombozz Pizza the right call?
Based on a first visit, it was. The deceptively large space holds a vibe similar to that at Merle’s, but I sense a slightly more modern feel that should play well to the St. Matthews crowd, while still offering an atmosphere that is different from that at Drake’s or Sullivan’s Tap House.
Festooned with barrel heads, hand-painted bourbon murals and as much bourbon paraphernalia as one could shake a stick at, Waylon’s also throws in modern flair that balances what could become a bit too rustic if left unchecked.
Still, the natural wood bar, which appears to be sliced directly from an enormous tree, is a nice touch. There’s also a side room with patio access that is a bit more laid back, called Waylon’s Garage. That would be a fine place to watch sports.
The menu at Waylon’s is nearly identical to that at Merle’s, and there is a massive selection of bourbon available just like at the original. Signature drinks adorn the menu just as at Merle’s, including the ballyhooed Mannyrita.
I sat at the bar on an early afternoon, Conway Twitty crooning over the stereo system, and mostly had the place to myself, which isn’t too surprising just a couple of weeks into the business opening. I’m a sucker for the tacos at Merle’s, but was determined to diversify.
At my last Merle’s visit, I tried the tasty chicken, whereas previously I was all tacos, all the time. This time, I mixed it up, ordering one of the green chili pork tacos as an appetizer while deciding what my main meal would be.
My taco came out before I had even decided on the main course of my late lunch, with no complaints from me. It was beautifully presented just like at Merle’s, and was spicy, tender and delicious, with pulled pork topped with green chili jam, garlic crema and plenty of cilantro. The flavor blend was spot-on, per usual. I could eat five of those tacos. Maybe more.
“It’s everybody’s favorite,” the bartender told me after I gushed over the taco.
As the Old 97s played, I decided to try another house special in the Dunked Cuban sandwich. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of a sandwich described as being “dunked,” conjuring images of au jus. But 10 or so minutes later, the sandwich came out in a small cast iron pan, and I quickly saw what was up.
A semi-traditional Cuban sandwich had been cut in half, with the open sides dunked into thick, gooey queso, which held the sandwich in place. When I plucked the first half from the cheese, there was almost a suction cup effect, so thick was the tasty queso.
Inside the sandwich was smoky pulled pork, thick, crisp pickle slices, a thin slice of ham, and yellow mustard. The telera roll was toasted and delicious in its own right.
The sandwich was actually more filling than it even looked, and I found myself preferring the bites without the queso to those with. But the beauty was the choice — cheese or no cheese. It was entirely up to me as to how much dunking I wanted to do.
I skipped the requisite side of chips and paid a couple bucks extra for a side of green beans, and that might have been my best call of the meal. The thick beans were slow-cooked with enough bacon that you could almost call them breakfast, and the flavor was so right it made me salivate.
“These are green beans like my mom should have made,” I told the bartender. She didn’t laugh at my joke, but she got the point. I won’t go back to Waylon’s — or Merle’s — and not get the green beans. I enjoy the mac and cheese there, but the beans win out.
I capped my lunch with a Mannyrita, as my meal ended right around the time happy hour began at 3 p.m. Jerry Reed’s “Amos Moses” spilled from the speakers. Not a bad dessert, especially given I’m not a big fan of sweets. All in all, I’d say Waylon’s carries on the Merle’s tradition, offering an option for those who don’t relish going downtown.
Waylon’s Feed & Firewater, located at 3939 Shelbyville Road, is open Tuesday through Thursday, 3-11 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. A brunch menu is available Saturday and Sunday before 3 p.m. Live music is a regular staple on weekends.