An out-of-towner might not realize the significance of Whiskey Dry’s location; it’s situated in the heart of Fourth Street Live amid chain establishments ranging from T.G.I. Fridays to Hard Rock Café.
But if Howl at the Moon doesn’t exactly scream “Louisville,” the addition of Edward Lee’s Whiskey Dry at least gives visitors an introductory taste of what it’s like to dine locally. And the fact it boasts around 250 bourbons on its elaborate bar-back shelves — you have to use a ladder to get to some of those bottles — downtowners and visitors alike will get the idea that bourbon is king here.
To that end, the cocktail program is extensive and impressive, with house mixers like The Commonwealth, made with bourbon, sorghum coffee, peppercorns, Ale-8 and sassafras, and the Four Ingredient Wonder, which is simply bourbon, lemon, mint and bitters.
And while Whiskey Dry looks and feels like a modern, upscale restaurant, it’s still welcoming and offers fare that is friendly to all comers, focusing on burgers and milkshakes.
Red and dark green walls are adorned with everything from barrel heads to random art and black-and-white photos, giving it an unpretentious vibe. The menu itself is designed like a diner menu, with retro artwork and fonts.
If you have an old-school eater in your party, the menu offers basics like hand-cut fries and onion rings to go with a few relatively basic burgers. If you’re feeling like stretching your palate a bit more, you can get a 30-day, dry-aged Koji beef burger or seared salmon with couscous and vegetables.
I stopped in full-on knowing I wanted to try one of the signature burgers. I nearly talked myself into also getting an order of the Spicy Gochujang Chicken Wings, but instead became more intrigued with a starter of grilled shishito peppers. I ultimately chose the Big Ed burger for my main course, although the West Coast, fully dressed with avocado, caught my eye as well.
The peppers came out quickly and presented attractively, with 15 or 16 good-sized shishitos grilled until black char dotted the green skins. The peppers were coated in a maple glaze, topped with pickled radish and dusted with spicy togarashi, all sitting atop a tangy aioli.
The natural earthy flavor of the shishito reminds me a bit of okra, and outside of a random hottie here or there, the peppers are mild and flavorful with a hint of smokiness.
The sweet glaze was a nice touch here, although I’d have just as soon gone without, as the lime aioli and togarashi were plenty for my taste buds to accent the peppers.
My burger wasn’t slow to emerge either after I’d ordered it — I’m glad I waited until I was halfway through my appetizer — and it looked like an executive version of a classic diner burger, with a pair of smashed patties, cheese, shredded lettuce and a side of fries on a sesame seed bun.
The beef was cooked in classic style until the edges were crispy, and the flavor was impressive (Lee sources from Foxhollow Farm, among other nearby sources). It was exactly what you’d expect from a diner burger but better, with plenty of gooey, tasty cheese and a thin, fried green tomato hiding between the two beef patties.
While the iceberg did nothing but add window dressing and a bit of cool crunch, it helped bring it all together, with the thick, flavorful pickle slices topping the sandwich off.
And Whiskey Dry ponied up on the fries, too, with big, fresh potato flavor and a dusting of salt. My server also presented me with a bottle of house-made sauce, which was spicy, sweet, smoky and heavy on the vinegar — perfect for those fries (note: you can buy the sauce by the bottle at the restaurant).
Of course, Lee’s signature is combining Southern cuisine with flairs of Asian fare, and Whiskey Dry comes through, from the shishitos to the wings to sauces and subtle touches like fish sauce vinaigrette with your side of Brussels sprouts. You can even finish off your diner-style meal with a milkshake — and add bourbon, if you wish.
Whiskey Dry, located at 412 S. Fourth St., is open 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.