When I heard that Escafé was moving over to the old OXO space, ushering in a wagon wheel saloon specializing in affordable spins on rustic Southern fare, I was skeptical. Known less (to me) as a restaurant and more as a place to drink Red-Bull-vodka-laden Orange Crushes while dancing on the bar to Lady Gaga, Escafé featured a kind of grinding that had little in common with that now being employed by Whiskey Jar chefs to produce their delicious boiled peanut hummus. Unfortunately, my skepticism was confirmed after my first two visits. Fortunately, it was unconfirmed after my last two.
The space is almost but not quite unrecognizable. The bar has been pared back, woodified, and polished, giving it a great saloon feel. There are old-fashioned touches here and there, like barrels and pitchforks and burlap sacs, drinks in jars, and a menu choc full o’ your grandpappy’s favorite brown liquors. The effect overall is decent, but my main complaint is that the beige plastic tables look really cheap and ugly. If you’re a party of one or two, consider eating at the bar. Either way, the service is excellent!
As I said, my experience with the food has been mixed, but the worst times were early, amidst a packed house. We’re trying to be better about not writing reviews until the restaurant has had a chance to get into a groove. Now, it seems they have. The boiled peanut hummus, with garlic and tahini and jalapeño skin, is like a heartier and more complex chickpea hummus, at the expense of being mildly grittier. The cravable roasted chicken sandwich, which couldn’t sound less interesting in name, is a sandwich fit for man-work: a thick slice of chicken with crisp bacon, hard-boiled egg, cheddar, and mayo. Oh, and watercress. The mayo, egg, and bacon mush together to create a kind of smoky, crispy egg salad. My favorite dinner item is definitely the sweet potato dumplings – like large sweet potato gnocchi – a contender for best new dish in town (and possibly best vegetarian dish in the area?).
One of the most noteworthy aspects of The Whiskey Jar, however, is the recession-proof pricing. Appetizers from $5-7, Entrees from $8-17. There’s also a late night menu that includes fried chicken with collards for $12, and hush puppies with sweet potato biscuits for $6. Now that’s food at prices worth dancing on the bar about!
Dave says: “The Charlottesville restaurant scene is upscale- especially on the Downtown Mall. Don’t get me wrong there are places to find value, but more often than not some sticker shock accompanies perusal of a menu. Not so at The Whiskey Jar. They’ve done an excellent job offering affordable food and drink in an atmosphere every bit as polished as pricier restaurants. The bar area alone merits a visit – it may well be one of the more comfortable places to have a drink on the mall. Additionally, it was particularly nice to see a flight of Virginia bourbon offered.
As with most new restaurants the menu needs time to develop, but Whiskey Jar is no doubt headed in the right direction. On both of my visits I felt that the dishes were ¾ of the way there – a little tweaking to each and they could become a force to be reckoned with. I’m excited to see how they will integrate local produce once we get into the heart of spring and summer – perhaps this will take things to the next level. Given the value oriented approach, I’m happy to return and see how things progress.”
Menu: See here.
Rating: Dave: Jed:
Pros: Cheap, tasty food with a late night menu. Extensive whiskey menu.
Cons: Hit-or-miss atmosphere with ugly tables. May be inconsistent in its early days of operation.
Price: Appetizers $5-7, Entrees $8-17.
Parking: The usual mall spots.