By ROBIN GARR
Yum, I love me some fine diner fare. That’s fine “diner,” now, not fine “dining,” which I like, too, but which might be a little out of place in the noisy and very casual environs of The Silver Dollar, whose retro-style sign out front blares “Whiskey By The Drink.”
Now that I think about it, Chef Jonathan Schwartz and sous chef Dave Hawkins do an estimable job of fine cooking, too, but they keep it in the blue-collar style of Bakersfield, Calif., a dusty Central Valley town where agriculture and oil, the Dust Bowl diaspora and the Chicano diaspora meet and blend in an environment that gave birth to the Bakersfield Sound in country music and, it goes without saying, honky-tonk saloons.
The Silver Dollar resembles a honky-tonk, all right, complete with authentic Bakersfield Sound music played on vinyl records. But it’s a tongue-in-cheek vibe, an upscale, affectionate emulation of a down-and-dirty honky-tonk cleaned up sufficiently to be a hit in hip Clifton.
The old firehouse makes a splendid venue for casual dining, the long and narrow structure that once housed fire engines now making a comfortable home to sturdy booths and a 42-foot-long bar, long enough to seat 30 or so, reportedly made with pinewood taken from the Old Crow Distillery near Frankfort. In the kind of pleasant weather we’ve been having lately, they’re quick to roll up the big engine-house doors, making the interior almost as airy as the attractive patio in the back.
Drop by during the evening, and you can enjoy Schwartz’s and Hawkins’ full menu, which hallows the Bakersfield with an eclectic selection of blue-collar Anglo dishes and California Latino-style fare, along with more than a little taste of Kentucky mixed in. It comes at blue-collar prices, too, with evening entrees starting at an affordable $14 (for grilled chicken thighs), and most are $20 or under, although if you’re feeling expansive you can push the tab to $32 (for an 18-ounce bone-in strip steak). Sandwiches and bar snacks are $10 or less. Speaking of the bar, as you’d expect, the liquor selection is expansive, with about 50 bourbons, a bunch of tequilas, and a creative cocktail list taking full advantage of both spirits. There’s a decent beer list and a very short wine list.
Recently The Silver Dollar added a Sunday brunch, and it didn’t take me long to find my way in to check it out. Brunch is served from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays, but bear Kentucky’s rather puritanical Sunday drinks laws in mind if you want an adult libation: Alcohol isn’t served until 1 p.m.
The brunch menu is a bit shorter than the dinner list, but it still offers a good selection of varied tastes, and the pries are right, with more than 20 brunch starters, sandwiches and plates topping out at $14 (for shrimp and grits or coffee-and-spice-rubbed flank steak and two henfruit), and many options in the single digits.
We had zero complaints about food or service in a hearty meal that included an excellent fish nopales ceviche ($9) with fresh corvina in small dice tossed with pickled radish, jalapeño and cactus; a memorable ration of spicy chili (Texas beef or vegetarian bean, $10 either way) wrapped in a net of luscious hash browns reminiscent of Waffle House’s “scattered and smothered,” in a good way, and filling sides of house-cut french fries ($4) and juicy, tart tomato salad ($3).
A filling brunch for two came to $34.98, plus a $7.02 tip.
The Silver Dollar Is Loved By The Stars
Actor John Cusack rolled through Louisville on Derby Day and stopped at The Silver Dollar to watch the Floyd Mayweather-Miguel Cotto boxing match on TV and apparently dug the Frankfort Avenue eatery. “Silver Dollar bar in Louisville rocks!” he tweeted around midnight. We agree, Mr. Cusack. Definitely.
The Silver Dollar, 1761 Frankfort Ave.; 502.259.9540; www.whiskeybythedrink.com