Few things are as synonymous as Kentucky and bourbon.
So much so, in fact, that I’ve had people ask me if bourbon has to be made in Kentucky to be called a bourbon.
The answer is no… though some will argue that all bourbon should be made in Kentucky.
But in truth, for decades most bourbon has been made in Kentucky. So much of it, in fact, that the Bourbon Trail — a series of one-off tours of some of the nation’s biggest and most renowned bourbon distilleries — has eclipsed horse racing and the Kentucky Derby as the state’s largest tourist attraction.
So as a native Kentuckian, I have to like bourbon, right?
No shocking reveal here. I really like bourbon. I chalk much of that up to an old Kentucky friend, whose home bourbon collection 10 years ago far eclipsed what you can find in most bars and restaurants in New England.
He always had a new small batch bottle to try, opening my eyes to the vast differences from one brand or distiller to another.
So in Kentucky, bourbon is a THING — maybe THE THING, really. Here… not so much.
But there are spots where the bourbon bug has bitten. One of those is The East End, a bar and restaurant in Providence, located in Fox Point.
Barbara had heard about an impressive $300 per person Pappy Van Winkle tasting and Ossabaw Island Hog Roast held earlier this month.
Spoiler alert, I didn’t shell out three bills for the Pappy and Piggy event, but we did decide to give The East End a try on a Saturday evening.
The joint is located on a corner of bustling Wickenden Street, near numerous other pubs, restaurants and coffee shops.
We were very fortunate to find a spot on the street just across from the front door and the heavy traffic begrudgingly paused long enough to parallel park.
The black awning, dark paint and virtually no windows doesn’t make for very much curb appeal, but once through the door the inside is eclectic and warm and fun. Over the bar was a herringbone-patterned wood ceiling with a stamped tin ceiling over the small dining area.
The restaurant’s website says it accepts “limited” reservations for parties of four or more. We saw a couple tables with reserved tablecards on them, but as we were our and about earlier than most on a Saturday, we were quickly shown to a table.
Our server, Sarah, arrived promptly with a trainee in tow and presented us with a couple menus. Fun fact, the food menu us MUCH smaller than the spirits selection. Not only does The East End have a massive whisky selection — from bourbon and scotch to Canadian and Irish whiskeys — it also has a large wine list and a nice selection of beers available.
They have some really nice hard-to-find or super premium whiskeys on the menu. We’re talking stuff that you either can’t find in stores (a-la the Pappy Van Winkle bourbon) to bottles I’ve seen locally on sale for upwards of $300 (the Redbreast Irish Whiskey 21-year-old). It’s great because if you’ve been dying to try a expensive bottle without shelling out a lot of money for something you’re not sure you’ll really love, you can try it here for a fraction of the price.
For instance, I sampled the Jefferson’s Ocean Aged bourbon. The gimmick is the oak casks are placed on a ship with the thought the motion of the ocean would work its magic, imparty extra oakiness into the final product.
Most bottles around in are more than $100 and I’ve just not been willing to shell out that much.
So for a fraction of that price — through a still stiff $15 — I got a pour. And you know what? I’m so glad I didn’t buy a bottle. It was good, but not as good as the Bib and Tucker I picked up recently for half that price, or Angel's Envy, which goes for around $70 locally.
They have another fun bar trick with their Call and Response cocktail ($14). You give the server a favorite spirit and then one other descriptive word and they whip up a cocktail to match.
Barbra gave it a shot. She picked vodka and her word was extroverted.
What arrived back at our table in a few minutes, she described as the most perfect cocktail in the world.
I can’t recount what was in it. There was fresh grapefruit juice, pamplemousse (grapefruit) liqueur, and a couple different kinds of bitters. It was tremendous.
So enough about the booze. Let’s talk about the food.
The menu starts out with snacks — ranging from nuts ($4) and crostini ($6) to sweet chili wings ($15) and calamari ($15). The menu is seasonal, so some of the dishes we had have now been replaced.
They also have a small raw bar with littlenecks, oysters and shrimp cocktail. You can also make up a charcuterie and cheese board with 15 items to mix and match (one for $9, three for $26 and 5 for $40).
We tried a couple of the items a smoked trout pate and the pimento cheese spread. Everything comes with toasted bread, mustards and picked vegetables.
The pickled vegetables were great. Still crunchy with plenty of tangy bite and just a hint of sweetness. The pimento cheese spread was also exceptional. Chunky with lots of shredded cheese still largely intact with a nice creamy base and the right amount of spiciness. The trout pate was smokey and flavorful, but I have to admit the dense texture wasn’t my favorite.
The entree portion of the menu is short with a couple salads (spring and Caesar both $10) a spaghetti squash”pasta” tossed in a wild mushroom and olive Bolognese, shaved grana padano and spicy breadcrumbs ($16), and six other assorted beef, seafood or other options.
While Barbara ordered the spaghetti squash, I picked the bacon cheeseburger with fries ($12 for the burger, plus $2 for fries or a side salad).
The burger came large and perfected cooked to medium as I’d ordered. The bacon was thick and smokey. The bun was was dense, maybe a Kaiser or brioche roll, and held up great to the juicy goodness inside. The fries were fresh and hand-cut, which I normally find too greasy, but these were perfectly cooked to be crispy without tasting burned.
Barbara’s pasta was tasty, if small for the price. The sauce had nice depth of flavor, but calling it a Bolognese is a little over doing it. She enjoyed it, but in the end wasn’t wowed by it.
We food bill came in just shy of $50 basically an appetizer, a burger and fries and a small portion of spaghetti squash.
But the food was all good and where The East End really shined was behind the bar. From the election to the creativity of the bartenders, it ranks among the best cocktail spots we’ve found.
Check out previous Dine Out reviews below