Dodge City Distillery works hard to evoke the Old West. Whiskey barrels and cow skulls dot the restaurant, menu items sport old-timey names and a map of the Santa Fe Trail spans one stuccoed wall.
But the history isn’t just décor-deep. Dodge City Distillery came about when co-owner Joe Effertz Jr., drove out to Dodge City, Kan., awhile back to meet with clients. He was already toying with a distillery-restaurant concept when a bit of the town’s lore captured his imagination.
You see, G.M. Hoover’s whiskey bar opened in 1872, becoming Dodge City’s first business, according to the Ford County Historical Society. It served the burgeoning town, nearby Fort Dodge and travelers on the Santa Fe Trail.
“Dodge City started with someone selling cups of whiskey,” says Effertz, whose past credits include The Fieldhouse, Barley’s Brewhaus and Pony Express Brewing. He’s also a former shareholder in K.C. Hopps Ltd. “It was the perfect name for a distillery restaurant.”
Dodge City Distillery opened in August 2011 and is owned by WXYZ Restaurant Group, a venture Efferts founded with Derek Betz, and a handful of Dodge City investors. It’s on the southeast corner of 119th Street and South Black Bob Road—close enough to the Santa Fe Trail that Effertz hopes it will soon earn an official trail marker.
The Saturday night crowd on our recent visit was more interested in food than history, though. Couples, families and groups filled the wraparound patio, expansive bar and booth-lined dining room. Only the event space in back was empty.
The menu prompted us to order glasses of water — as part of the restaurant’s efforts to win Green Restaurant Association certification, it only serves water upon request. It also eschews Styrofoam, recycles glass and cardboard and irrigates the landscaping from a rain barrel.
Want something stronger? Then try a cocktail with Miss Kitty’s Velvet Vodka, which is distilled just a few miles down the road and sold at the restaurant and in retail stores. Effertz also plans to launch a bourbon, 100 percent corn “white lightning” and silver and gold tequilas. He’s experimenting with fruit-infused vodkas, too, and plans to serve them on tap — once he finishes making the custom taps.
Effertz, a local farmboy whose family still raises crops on the southern edge of Kansas City, also welded some of the restaurant’s tables and liquor shelves and crafted the basket-weave patterned paneling above the bar from whiskey barrel staves.
Spirits work their way into dishes like Miss Kitty’s forbidden olives, vodka-soaked Spanish olives stuffed with peppers, garlic and blue cheese. Other sampler plates and appetizers ($3 to $12) include the “pear of aces,” slices of pear and gorgonzola melted over sourdough and drizzled with honey, and beef “saloon sliders.”
There are salads and soups ($3 to $12) such as the wild whiskey beef chili, and hickory-grilled burgers and other sandwiches ($9 to $12). But we went straight for the entrees ($11 to $28), all of which come with two side dishes such as crisp-tender green beans and creamy garlic mashed potatoes. There’s plenty of meat-and-potatoes fare, like prime rib, steaks and house-made sausages, of course.
But you can also choose something lighter, perhaps the grilled trout or margarita chicken. Then order the bourbon apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream or another house-made dessert ($6 to $7), and you’ll be ready to hit the trail.
Anne Brockhoff is a regular contributor to FYI|Food. She blogs at fooddrinklife.wordpress.