This post is part of our Hidden Gems series, which is brought to you by Basil Hayden's bourbon. Spicy, unexpected, and full of potential. Just like your plans tonight.
When you walk into Char No. 4, there are two things you notice, both of which start with B: bacon and bourbon. The smell of the smoky, thick-cut bacon is the kind that'll probably stick to your hair until at least tomorrow morning, in a campfire kind of way. And the bottles, which includes a special bourbon collection, are lined up neatly on a pretty backlit bar.
We've been to Char No.4 before for lunch, but decided to check it out on a chilly November evening. The front bar space is cozy with its row of stools and a few other corners for seating. The binder menu lists over 150 American whiskeys, as well as four all-bourbon cocktails. The Spicy Buck ($11), made with spicy gingerale, is kind of like a Dark and Stormy but with bourbon instead of rum. The Fig Leaf ($9), which you'd expect to be all fig-jammy and fussy sweet, is refreshing and crisp from the splash of lemon juice and still has the fig essence, but doesn't kill the bourbon flavor.
But even if you're not bourbon-obsessed, you'll probably like Char No. 4. That is, if you support fried food, barbecue, and/or pork. Which brings us to our other "B" word. Bacon! The thick-cut bacon appetizer with apple walnut salad ($11) is intense—as in, the four of us sharing it had to work to finish it. The plump, juicy slabs of Hampshire pork belly had those great caramelized, crunchy edges. You'll probably need to take breather bites, which is where the salad comes in. The tissue paper-thin slices of Macouns and Honeycrisps are dressed with a grilled onion vinaigrette, mixed up with walnut bits and parsley flecks. We could have easily eaten a bowl-ful.
Now onto a third B: the barbecue. Chef-owner Matt Greco brings some legit barbecue cred to the Char No. 4 kitchen. He grew up in Texas, smoking meat alongside his dad and uses only white oak in his Louisiana-made Backwoods Smoker, which is actually the same wood used in bourbon caskets. The meat for his brisket sandwich ($12) is first rubbed with brown sugar, salt, black pepper, and some "secret spices," then goes into the smoker for 14 hours. It comes out juicy and tender, and gets smashed inside a sourdough roll with magenta shreds of tangy pickled cabbage.
The Shrimp and Grits ($14) is another favorite. The bowl of creamy grits are topped with plump shrimp and a layer of crispy microgreens and scallions. I haven't seen many green-colored things in Shrimp and Grits dishes before, but was a fan of the bright crunch in between creamy bites.
Most of the menu is gluten-free (even the bourbon since the distilling process gets rid of the gluten) which you might not even think about or notice. Matt Greco's wife sticks to a gluten-free diet and made sure that even the sweet potato gnocchi ($15) is made with a non-wheat flour. Now, anyone who's experimented with gluten-free gnocchi before knows the results are usually sad. But these little nuggets, filled with sweet potato mash, have a crispy fried skin and are so poppable (oops, did I just eat three?) in a tater tots kind of way, especially with bites of the sauteed hen of the woods mushrooms and wilted spinach leaves.
For dessert, if you have any room left, try the homemade butter pecan ice cream ($7), which comes with a shot of bourbon. Even without the shot, it's good, but everything here gets a little better with a shot of bourbon.