The Slow Bone
To many, eating barbecue is a religious experience. Dallas has a colorful history of mom-and-pop joints that have passed from generation to generation. Sonny Bryan’s (William Jennings “Red” Bryan) and Dickey’s (Travis Dickey) are the business success models, but the heart of soulful barbecue beats in the smokers of small joints with large woodpiles out back.
Jack Perkins, the man behind Maple & Motor Burgers & Beer, took a risk when he decided to go into the barbecue business. Perkins had already proved he could handle a burger joint, and he wanted to master the art of barbecue. He had witnessed the recent success of Diane and Justin Fourton (Pecan Lodge) and Aaron Franklin (Franklin’s in Austin), who fast-tracked the traditional learning curve of smoked meats. They started with no experience and developed a cult following fast.
Perkins, friends with the Fourtons, set up shop on Irving Boulevard near the Design District, and—under the watchful eyes of barbecue snobs and skeptics— opened in April. There were lines out the door. The afternoon Perkins opened, an employee overloaded the smoker, and the meat was mangled by a rotating metal shaft. He had to close for the day. The told-you-so’s snickered.
But Perkins didn’t miss a beat. He reloaded 24 hours later and is now serving some of the best brisket in Dallas. The funky joint attracts a loyal congregation who feast on brisket, sausage, pork spare ribs, chicken, and pork loin stuffed with fennel sausage.
Grab a tray, choose your meats, and move down to the innovative side dishes, such as green-bean casserole with mushrooms and fresh cream; sweet-pea salad with cubed cheddar, pimento, and mayonnaise; and grilled cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
If Perkins is around, ask him what he thinks about the share-the-love world of the new barbecue business. “It’s a meritocracy,” Perkins says. “If your food is good, you’re accepted in the community. It is how the world should be.” Amen to that.
Spoon Bar & Kitchen
What a banner year for chef John Tesar. his small, stylish seafood restaurant made national and international headlines. Bon Appétit named Spoon one of the 50 best new restaurants in America. Esquire deemed it “the most exciting new seafood restaurant in America.” Condé Nast Traveler claims it is one of the 70 best new restaurants in the world. Could there be a finer plate of Alaskan halibut with parsley emulsion, tomato Picholine olive vinaigrette, wild watercress, and toasted quinoa on Neptune? If not, then I proclaim Spoon the best seafood restaurant in this solar system.
It’s about time national (and intergalactic) food writers paid attention to the food coming out of the kitchens in Dallas. The swordfish shipped to Dallas is just as fresh as the swordfish sent to Las Vegas. Ask Tesar; he has cheffed in both cities. No other chef in Dallas prepares a more elegant seafood dish.
The dining room of the 60-seat restaurant is sophisticated and welcoming. The lights are low, and Carrera marble-top tables are set with Bernardaud china, stemmed Riedel crystal glasses, and candle holders made of French porcelain. Service is stellar. If you long for the good old days of white-tablecloth dining, you’ll appreciate the pace. The high standards do not translate into a formal dining experience. The music playing faintly in the background includes Petty and Hendrix. Diners wearing jeans equal the number in fancy little black dresses and designer ties.
Tesar spends most of his time in the kitchen with his trademark thick-rimmed black glasses perched on his forehead. Plates of classic seafood with a modern twist are delivered to tables where they are met with a chorus of oohs and ahhs from the diners. You cannot help but ask your neighbors what they are eating. If they’re sampling one of the eight to 10 crudo offerings, order your own. I’ve tried all of them—Hawaiian big-eye tuna, uni, yellowtail, scallop ceviche, spiny lobster, cuttlefish, and geoduck—and would do it again.
Dessert at Spoon is a lavish, three-course presentation. It begins with a demitasse of warm milk-chocolate mousse covered with caramel foam and ends with a rectangular plate lined with tiny, one-bite wonders, which include a white peppermint strip with the Spoon logo that melts instantly on the tongue. It, like Spoon, is a transcendent experience.