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Maker's Mark is definitely better during lunch and dinner. I've eaten there four times, and on two occasions the service was sublime. The food, however, was never anything special. That's part of the bigger problem here: Maker's Mark has delusions of sophistication but can't live up to its affectations on any level. It's an attractive place that I really wanted to like, but it's simply not very likable.
Serviceable, yes. At lunch, there's a sandwich menu with the standard burgers, chicken and a Carolina-style chopped-pork number with a bourbon barbecue sauce that didn't live up to my expectations or the server's glowing recommendation.
The dining room was packed with suits and secretaries on the afternoon when I ate lunch with Franklin and Shelby. After ordering the burger, Shelby pronounced it simply "ordinary." He was more impressed with the coleslaw — though probably not in a way that Maker's Mark might have hoped. "It tastes like KFC's," Shelby said of the slaw, "and that's a good thing." He might, in fact, have detected a trend: Sandwiches come with a choice of steak fries or tater tots — and those tots taste just like the ones at Sonic. Franklin ordered a chop salad, lovingly described on the menu as a gorgeous array of greens, crimini mushrooms, warm bacon, eggs, hearts of palm, blue-cheese crumbles and Maker's Mark dressing. "How could something that sounded so exciting be so boring?" he whined after it arrived.
Things were better at dinner, once the haughty hostess handed us our thick menus and slinked away. I was dining with Bob and Jennifer, and they admired the spartan beauty of the dining room but were blown away by the raucousness in the bar — on the other side of the room — where a former Cordish chef was holding court at full volume. He wasn't the only noisy patron yukking it up.
"That's the problem with this place," Bob said. "It aspires to be a fine-dining venue, but like everything else in the P&L District, it's really all about the bar business."
We started the meal with this restaurant's onion loaf: a heap of flash-fried, crunchy onion rings baked in a loaf pan and served with the sweet house barbecue sauce. Pretty good, but honestly, an onion ring is an onion ring. More offbeat is the plate of fried chicken breasts and a waffle. This Southern classic gets a pretty decent treatment here, the chicken breasts dipped in a light, tempura-style batter and heaped in a mound of mashed potatoes on top of a thick buttermilk waffle (which was, unfortunately, barely lukewarm). Jennifer ordered that and liked it, though she hoped the fried chicken would be the old-fashioned pan-fried version, like Stroud's serves.
Bob was impressed by four thick, beautifully seared scallops with a soothing pancetta-vermouth beurre blanc. At our server's suggestion, I ordered one of the Maker's Mark steaks, dry-aged for 14 days and not terribly costly, though the side dishes were à la carte. The 14-ounce Kansas City Strip was excellent, really juicy and tender, sided by chive-whipped potatoes that would have been better if they had been hotter.
For dessert, we shared a heaping bowl of freshly made beignets, which were lighter than clouds and dusted with powdered sugar and served with three sauces — dark chocolate, raspberry and a crème anglaise. It was a lovely, Louisiana-style finale for a thoroughly Midwestern meal. It helped that our server that night had been especially polished and the manager, a native of Russia, accommodating and sweet.