Another sports bar-grill hits the Fort Worth market. Cue the yawns, right?
On the surface, XII Whiskey Bar & Grill seems to have all the predictable trappings: It's Super Bowl-esque XII denotes the Big 12 conference that neighboring TCU has joined. Its spare interior is done up in the purple and off-white Horned Frog colors. It's got the proper ratio of flat-screens (11) to customers, most of them dudes in baseball caps craning their necks to see how their teams are faring.
But wait a minute. What's that someone is sipping at the bar? Certainly not the usual stein o' Shiner. It's an elegant shot glass filled with an amber-colored liquor that called Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon.
Toto, we're not in sports-bar Kansas anymore.
Indeed, XII Whiskey Bar & Grill, which opened in late August near the TCU campus, in the space formerly occupied by Hammerhead Sushi, is as much about the libations as it is about the game or the grub. On Whiskey Wednesday alone, for a mere $4 per tumbler, you can sample 10 all-American whiskeys, bearing familiar names as Jack Daniels and Jim Beam, to Wild West monikers as Bulleit Rye and Buffalo Trace. These whiskeys are all part of the larger list containing 43 specialty whiskeys, bourbons and Scotches.
A total novice at fine whiskey connoisseurship, I allowed on-site mixologist Scott Nichols to guide me through a sampling of some of XII's liquid wares. The Four Roses Single Barrel Kentucky bourbon ($6) left a sheen of vanilla, pear and smoke on my palate, while the Bulleit Rye ($5.50) combined cherry, caramel and smoke in unspeakably pleasant ways. The locally made Texas Whiskey ($8) set off lots of vanilla and caramel taste notes. Finally, the 12-year-old Yamazaki Japanese whiskey ($8), aged in a barrel, imparted a smoky, dried fruit taste that went down with ease.
These little shots of whiskey sophistication would make several welcome return appearances as flavor accents in several basic bar dishes. They were absent in the nevertheless exceptional armadillo eggs ($7.49). Hard to recall a starter that combined the perfectly greaseless frying of an egg-shaped jalapeño, stuffed with cheese, and revved up with a cayenne-powered mayo.
Wiping the heat-induced sweat from my brow, I was ready to launch into the Frog fries, ($6.99) a meal disguised as an appetizer that involves a plate full of the manliest of steak-cut fries, sporting every quesadilla-like topping you could ask for.
XII's bourbon BBQ brisket sliders ($8.99) don't even really need "Mom's homemade Bourbon BBQ sauce" to amp up their flavor. The brisket is juicy, and as tender as a lullaby. It's tucked into an exceptionally yeasty toasted slider-sized roll that, after three ravenous bites, is history.
While the bourbon grilled chicken ($9.99) suffers from being a tad dry, and the Texas grilled cheese ($7.99) dooms its twin stars of cheddar and provolone to second billing behind the brisket and caramelized onions, the bourbon BBQ cheddar burger ($8.99) is a clear winner as it delivers a nice bourbon-y tang in a sauce slathered all over its 8-ounce burger patty.
Most unexpectedly, XII pays welcome attention to its sides, too. The hefty onion rings and rustic mashed potatoes earned high marks. And then there are its baked beans, lolling in a bath of "Mom's Bourbon" and packing a stellar taste mix of tart and honey-sweet smoke.
Who knew that a couple of sips of Texas Whiskey could act as a sorbet-like palate cleanser, leaving room for dessert? The funnel cake fries ($4.99) are little slam dunks of flavor; each baton of deep-fried dough pops in the mouth, leaving a chin smear of confectioners' sugar and raspberry dipping sauce behind.
XII had a daunting task: Prove to the most jaded of sports bar junkies that it was out to revolutionize the familiar concept. It may be too early to tell if it's succeeding -- XII Whiskey Bar & Grill has only been open a couple of months -- but after only one sip of the Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon, I was ready to join the revolution.