Whiskey, bourbon and moonshine, yup, moonshine, are more than just a theme at the new Rack House Tavern and Kitchen in Arlington Heights.
A rack house or rick house is where whiskey barrels are stored for aging at a distillery. Here imported, domestic and regional choices are ready to enjoy. And you can taste without imbibing as several dishes, sides and sauces are spiked with whiskey and bourbon.
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Rack House Kitchen & Tavern222 E. Algonquin Road, Arlington Heights
(847) 640-7225, rackhousetavern.com
Cuisine: American and Southern barbecue
Setting: Casual with spacious dining room, adjoining bar and outdoor terrace
Entrees: $9 to $18
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday to Friday; 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to midnight Sunday
Walking into the space formerly occupied by Boston Blackies at 222 E. Algonquin Road, you'll notice the layout with a separation of bar and dining with big-screen televisions is much the same, yet Rack House has its own laid-back, friendly vibe. Laid back, not slow. My party was greeted by a hostess right away, soon after being seated our server introduced herself and our food and drinks were served promptly. I didn't feel rushed.
The extensive drinks list made my head swim so we decided we needed to order some food first. The dining menu is every bit as extensive. Appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps, burgers and smokehouse favorites make the choosing difficult. We picked the Caprese Bites to start. Fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil sit stacked on small rounds of garlic toast. Topped with a balsamic-pomegranate reduction and herb oil, the bites seemed to melt in my mouth. They were pretty, fragrant and delicious.
Back to choosing a beverage. When a restaurant breaks down its offerings by Scotch, Irish, Canadian and Single malts, not to mention homegrown options, you know it's serious about whiskey and bourbon. I like to think this list makes it easy for connoisseurs to spot what they like and leads novices down the path to becoming one.
If you have questions, ask, because the staff is ready and willing to offer information and consider choices with you. Still can't decide on one beer or one whiskey? Try a flight of three choices.
Opting for something light and with less alcohol with dinner our server made beer suggestions and outlined the options knowledgeably. I enjoyed the smooth amber aleness of my Krankshaft Kölsch from Chicago while my friend loved her white wheat-style Allagash White from Portland, Maine.
For neither the whiskey drinker nor the beer fan, the full bar offers Rack House twists on iconic cocktails and a nicely rounded wine selection. There are also specialty drinks such as the Original Moonshine made of White Lightning Moonshine straight up or on the rocks and the Dolly Parton made from Ole Smoky Apple Pie Moonshine, ginger beer and cherry.
According to the menu, the barbecue dishes are hardwood slow smoked. The menu also instructs how to know your meat has really been smoked. Hint: Look for the authentic pink hue, even in the barbecue chicken. All Rack House barbecue entrees come with honey-butter cornbread, coleslaw and a choice of side. The a la carte sides keep the sour mash, Southern flavor going with sautéed spinach, red pepper pilaf, coleslaw, tater tots, bourbon-baked beans, collard greens and bacon, and mac n' cheese, to name a few.
My friend ordered the Carolina pork, a delightful platter of pulled smoked pork with a slightly vinegar kick served alongside coleslaw and honey-butter cornbread. You can try a flight of the smokehouse choosing from ribs, brisket, chicken and the Carolina pork. It's a great way to sample if you can't decide or to share with your table.
I opted for the blackened salmon salad with mixed greens, capers, red onion, feta, tomatoes, cucumber, deviled eggs and a citrus vinaigrette. The fish was crusty and black while still moist inside. Everything was as fresh as fresh can be.
For dessert, beignets with a berry sauce made a tasty finish, but weren't out of this world. Next time I'll try the Lemon Cream Cake or Chocolate Chip Cookie Skillet. There's also fried Twinkies with whiskey strawberry sauce to consider.
The Rack House offers daily specials for both drinks and dinner. A large covered outdoor seating area opens this month, making a return visit a must.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.