Sorry, I’m kind of new here,” the bartender says, apologizing when I ask for recommendations. “But tell me this, when you go to the grocery store looking for something to eat that makes you happy, what do you get?”
The bartender takes my love of bitter foods — dark chocolate, hoppy beers — and offers two whiskeys so good that, despite my preference for beer over liquor, I note the names and ponder buying bottles to have at home.
McCormack’s Big Whisky Grill, the western outpost of McCormack’s Whisky Grill in the Fan, recently moved into the former Texas de Brazil spot at Regency Square. The space is enormous, with design heavily favoring wood and tile. The place evokes a distillery, with the bar tables featuring glass tops on whiskey barrels and warehouselike beams crisscrossing the ceiling.
If you’re unfamiliar with owner Mac McCormack’s concept for all three of his restaurants, the fundamental intent is to wow you with liquor choices, especially whiskey. The Regency location doubles down on this formula with even more choices than in the Fan, offering around 2,300 different bottles of liquor — of which about 900 are varieties of whiskey. But the best improvement in this particular configuration is award-winning chef Phillip Denny, formerly of Aziza’s on Main, and Todd Brady from Dixie Chicken.
You can choose typical bar fare: nachos, burgers, fried chicken, Caesar salads. Or you can opt for more sophisticated dishes such as a seared foie gras appetizer with pineapple upside-down cake and jerk sauce ($22), or pork shank with rutabaga spaetzle ($32) as an entrée. Whatever you do, don’t skip the chicken liver ($8), served with apples and a cider vinegar gastrique, which serves as a perfect sweet and tart balance to the earthy flavor of fried liver.
Creativity abounds on the menu, showcased in such dishes as the Scotch duck egg ($14), a venison-sausage-encrusted egg with a perfectly soft yolk. The accompanying frisée and blue cheese salad initially might seem like a garnish, but provides a pungent balance to the richness of the sausage and egg. A bit more seasoning for the sausage is all this dish needs to truly excel.
The grilled whole black sea bass ($30) reminds you that you’re in a chef-driven restaurant, and the moist and flaky fish is topped with an herbal chimichurri sauce, accompanied by tomato-spiked rice and bok choy.
Whether you choose sandwiches or entrées, the portions are overly generous and executed with consistent quality. The Nashville-style hot fried chicken sandwich ($13) features a spicy breaded chicken breast topped with pickles and a cooling, creamy coleslaw. Simple but satisfying. The classic flavor combination demonstrates a kitchen that knows how to elevate simple comfort food and create a destination restaurant.
Desserts depart from the sophistication of much of the menu, calling to mind a visit to a whimsical and child-centered state fair. An Elvis empanada ($6) stuffs bananas and peanut butter into a pocket of dough, while fried Oreos ($6) draw straight from the carnival cookbook. If you’re craving elegance, a three-cheese plate ($18) might do the trick, but I honestly can’t imagine cheese as a finish to any of the substantial meals on the menu.
Back when Short Pump was still a rural community, Regency Square was the 1980s and ’90s shopping destination for the West End. Like many inner-ring, suburban areas, the mall suffers from the seemingly inexorable march of sprawl ever farther from the city center. Hopefully, McCormack’s Big Whisky Grill will contribute to Regency’s survival and won’t suffer because Richmonders have abandoned their former haunts. Its excellent food and whiskey deserve a wide and long-lasting audience. S
McCormack’s Big Whisky Grill
Mondays-Sundays 4:30 p.m.-2 a.m., brunch on Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
1420 N. Parham Road