Bar review: Whiskey’s a go-go at Catcher and the Rye in Palm Harbor

Photo by Douglas R. Clifford/tbt* (2017) Catcher and the Rye is set up in an old-timey space in historic downtown Palm Harbor.

I fancy myself a whiskey enthusiast, which can be as interesting to hear about as someone’s garden gnome collection, barring a listener of similar persuasion.

I’m okay with the small degree of insufferable attitude that comes with being a whiskey nerd, especially if it occasionally takes me to excellent whiskey bars that I would have missed were I not actively scouring for them, like Palm Harbor’s Catcher and the Rye restaurant.

The bars that come to mind when thinking about great whiskey selection in the bay area are high-end hot spots in downtown St. Pete and Tampa — bars that wouldn’t be out of place in the Manhattan of J.D. Salinger’s iconic novel.

Ironically (and compellingly), Catcher and the Rye forgoes the urban, upscale vibe of the modern whiskey bar altogether, delivering instead a healthy dose of Old Florida charm, which puts it comfortably at home in Palm Harbor’s quaint downtown area.

Catcher is located in a corner lot, next door to Two Lions Winery & Palm Harbor Brewery (same place, if you’re wondering). Catcher is spacious and makes good use of an open-air layout, wherein a central bar and dining room area blends into a wraparound patio, fresh air blowing freely throughout the interior.

If you wonder what I mean by Old Florida charm, picture walking past some tall grass up to a patio constructed of crushed sea shells, with Adirondack chairs facing a small patch of lawn. Walking up the steps into what appears to be a converted, old, flat-roofed home, you pass by a friendly cat posted at the entrance.

Inside, the vibe isn’t dissimilar to an average mom-and-pop bar and grill, save for an impressive array of bottles behind the bar, stacked and displayed in homemade shelving crafted from recycled pallets.

When Catcher and the Rye opened just over a year ago, the idea was a strong emphasis on whiskey of all kinds, especially rye. I think it’s fair to say that the Catcher folks have done just that.

The whiskey (and whisky — Catcher’s menu properly makes the distinction between Canadian/scotch/Japanese and American/rye/bourbon spellings) menu is outstanding by any measure, made even more impressive by the fact that this is a family-friendly Palm Harbor restaurant and not a fancy cocktail bar populated by terrible hipsters like myself.

The bar ages three of its own Knob Creek whiskeys in house and serves them in tailored old-fashioneds, offers pre-selected flights of various whiskey styles and stocks more than 100 labels behind the bar, ranging from old standbys and high-end splurges to lesser-known brands well worth discovering.

Of course, the bar menu isn’t limited to whiskey. There are about two dozen wines on hand, as well as a very good selection of beers on draft, including many local options from breweries like Cycle, de Bine, Crooked Thumb, Escape, Two Henrys and Tampa Bay Brewing Company. Naturally, Alltech Lexington’s Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale is also on draft.

There are a handful of tempting house cocktails not involving whiskey, but I couldn’t resist trying the smoked old-fashioned, which consists of Buffalo Trace, house-made chai bitters and a flamed orange peel, served in a glass smoked over a slice of cedar. It’s a top seller at Catcher, and I didn’t have any trouble understanding why.

For my money, this is the place to do some whiskey exploring. The menu gives helpful and on-point information for the major styles of whiskey, even explaining the difference between Tennessee whiskey and its close cousin, bourbon (Cliffs Notes: charcoal filtration). The prices are great across the board, and they’re downright unbelievable on Wednesday nights, when all whiskeys priced $10 and above are half off, as are bottles of wine.

Can’t justify a $22 glass of Whistle Pig Old World Marriage? Wash down your Wednesday night dinner with an $11 glass instead.

Catcher and the Rye is an easy pick for downtown Palm Harbor drinking and dining, but if you’re serious — or seriously curious — about your whiskey, then consider it a can’t-miss. The prices alone make it a winner, but it’s clear that the bar program was put together by real whiskey fans, delivering an experience that goes beyond just a good selection.

Contact Justin Grant at Follow @WordsWithJG.

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