Maysville: Bourbon and Good Food
Sean Josephs — whose wife, Mani Dawes, runs the excellent Tia Pol tapas bar in Chelsea — is himself the proprietor of the buzzy Southern-accented Brooklyn whiskey (and occasionally whisky) bar called Char No. 4. Now he has opened this stylish offshoot, on the edge of Manhattan's Flatiron District, and though the food is a little less down-home than Char No. 4's, the whiskey collection is equally impressive. That won't surprise anyone who knows Josephs' predilection for this great distillate, or who realizes that Maysville, Ky., is the Ohio River port town where, at least according to some historians, bourbon was first made.
The dining room is lighter and more open than that at its Brooklyn counterpart, with an entire wall covered with mirrored shelves holding bottles of beautiful spirits in hues of amber, honey-gold, caramel, and syrup-brown. The facing wall pays tribute to another great Kentucky product, thoroughbred horses, in deft mural-size sketches by Dawes' mother.
Maysville's menu is short — half a dozen appetizers, a like number of main courses, a separate seafood items (the boiled, chilled Gulf shrimp with chiles and cilantro are excellent). Chef Kyle Knall is an Alabaman who worked for Frank Stitt in Birmingham before coming to New York City to become sous-chef at Gramercy Tavern. He shows influences from both places in his menu: a Tavern-y salad of root vegetables and barley with whipped goat cheese gets crunch from shards of sunflower brittle; crispy duck breast with shaved foie gras goes south with white sweet potatoes and (a collards substitute?) kale on the side; bay scallops and shrimp with fennel and celery root swim in a ham hock broth. A bar menu offers other delights, including a small hermetic jar of whitefish pâté that is impossible to stop eating, especially slathered on the restaurant's great grilled toasts (but skip the fried frogs' legs, nicely crisp but watery and bland inside).
There are some intreresting wines at healthy prices (including a nice collection of older red Rhônes in the $130 to $450 range), but of course the main draw here is stronger stuff. About 80 bourbons, 15 ryes, 10 Tennessee whiskeys, and almost 20 other variations on the theme (Berkshire New England corn whiskey, Pine Barrens single malt, etc.) — not to mention roughly 40 examples of single-malt and blended scotch, three Canadians, a dozen Irish whiskeys, two from Japan, and even one from India (Amrut single-malt). The studious aficionado of distliled grain could spend a lot of time and money and probably shave a few years off his liver's life span by sitting too long at Maysville's long, appealing bar.