After Junction Craft Kitchen closed in Deep Ellum in April 2018, chef Josh Harmon didn’t know if he would stick around. He’d tried his take on his funky, edgy, creative food, and it hadn’t worked out.
“I was bummed out,” he says. But chefs like Misti Norris and Regino Rojas picked him up. He helped open Petra and the Beast with Norris two years ago, when it was still in pop-up mode, and Sundays were the casual-but-funky night. He also worked with Rojas on the Purepecha Room, the small tasting menu room behind Revolver Taco Lounge.
“Misti said, ‘You’ve gotta get your pickles out there, your ferments out there,’” he says. At Junction, he had treated Deep Ellum like Brooklyn, with the result of essentially feeding chefs. “You could only go there on special occasions or if you knew what koji was. Pickling, curing, fermenting—I wanted to do all those things,” he says. The best way to do it on a scale that was affordable was what he sought. The best way was sandwiches. “Once I dialed into it, it became Butler’s Cabinet.”
Harmon turned down Legacy Food Hall, choosing Fort Worth’s Crockett Row instead. The menu started with bacon pâté and Cheez Whiz: American food, but with vinegars, mustards, fish sauce, and cured and smoked meats all made in-house. I went there when I wanted to feel challenged again about what a sandwich could be. (Not to mention it was the only outlet other than Norris’ Petra for anything on Brockstar Bread and had a killer house-made charcuterie board.) Butler’s Cabinet quickly had to adapt to a college student crowd that wasn’t sure it wanted some of the funkier things and certainly wanted a turkey-avocado-Swiss. But it’s been making some of the most interesting sandwiches around. Almost immediately, the idea of Butler’s Cabinet seemed re-produceable.
This brings us to the present. To, as Harmon calls it, “this Belmont thing.”
In late 2019 or early 2020, we can expect the Belmont Hotel to reopen in a new guise. Part of that will include a second version of Butler’s Cabinet (Coyle Cafe by BC), which will be more like the original menu: “Really fun, peculiar sandwiches,” Harmon says. And drinks like the one with fig syrup, spices, and condensed milk or a sweet-potato latte with Apple Jacks cereal-milk. (You know, cereal milk.) You can expect more on this later. Coyle Cafe will essentially double as room service (breakfast and lunch) for the hotel, which will be, “sort of lush,” according to Harmon.
This is where we tease the fact that the remodel will also include a new restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Smoke. Harmon is doing that, too. They had to cut the smoker out of the restaurant and will be forced to demo the rest as the smoke damage was so bad. But that is behind them. And this is where it gets interesting.
“The menu is really based on old food,” Harmon says, of the place they will call The Dallas Room, after its original name. What he means by this is that it will offer a plunge, a la Harmon, into the days of old-fashioned dining. He was reading, scouring the menus from grand, classic hotels like the Waldorf Astoria, the Stanley, the Ritz Carlton in New York. Fermentation isn’t merely a current trend.
On the old menus, he said, “you see a ton of it.” There was influence from all over the world, like curries, and practically everything you could imagine as being pickled. “It’s almost like the food the young, new chefs are doing now. The food my peers are cooking now,” Harmon says. This, it seemed, was the golden opportunity for him to insert himself. “I wanna take this grandeur that was of the big, beautiful hotels of that time,” Harmon says. And then do it his way, which means koji and house-dry-aged meats.
And so on the menu you can expect:
“Lots of things synonymous with worldly accoutrements,” Harmon says, noting that relishes often had their own sections on the menus. “It seemed like these little bites, almost like banchan,” he said, referring to the often pickled accoutrements that accompany Korean dishes. “It would be olives or brined celery or pickled hearts of celery, pickled black-eyed peas, sardines. They were things that you could order along with your food. Like coming in and getting a couple amuse-bouche. ‘I’ll get a couple martinis, some sardines.’ So we’re doing Today’s Relishes. Things we’ve had fermenting or fresh radishes we’re slathering with house-made butter and salt. It’ll be something really classic.”
Small plates they’re calling hors d’oeuvres, like a beef tartare with Ethiopian hot sauce on a grilled flatbread. Escargot with the herby Middle Eastern zhoug instead of parsley butter on house-made bread.
He’s planning on house-dried prunes stuffed with Korean blood sausage and spiked with Haitian chile paste. Expect an unusual one with pickled shrimp with clotted cream, fried hazelnuts tossed in cane syrup and Korean chile flakes and lots of fresh dill. (“I usually hate the dishes five minutes after we make them,” he says. Not this one.)
A variation on a Burmese tea salad, with cabbage, peanuts, tomatoes—sour and crunchy—comes with a historic Harlequin dressing with a chopped egg in it and scallions. He’ll source 44 Farms hanger steak, koji-aged, with an old-school au poivre based on a home-made date miso. It’ll be served with a potato gratin with stacked layers that will involve escargot and get laced with garlic butter; or as Harmon says, “this old-school style steak and potatoes situation.”
Desserts might be a classic French pastry that substitutes whey caramel for the traditional caramel. Or a replica of what Harmon saw on menus as “luncheon cake,” and which his mom (who will make it) dreamed up as a confection of cake, crunchy honeycomb, and potato chips drizzled with condensed milk. (A sort of nod to New York City’s MilkBar.) Or yet again, a buttered-popcorn tart with sugarplums.
All of this Harmon calls “super-French, old American, but with lots of new twists.”
“I wanna make something that’s more lasting, that will be there forever. That isn’t going to be burnt out. That isn’t going to do a trend.” Ultimately, he says, “We hope people will come in and see it and say, ‘Hey! Wow! This is fun!’,” he says.
It’s a model which, if I had to define it, would be similar to what you might recognize in chefs like Husk’s Sean Brock and the Korean-Kentuckyian Edward Lee. The closest we have might be Rapscallion. Though the mix of old and new are larded through the food of David Uygur at Macellaio and Misti Norris at Petra and the Beast. (As Harmon put it: “I took Southern food and added a bunch of Korean to it.”)
And the Belmont itself? He believes its potential is a remodeled, historic hotel-restaurant from his native L.A.
“The coolest thing in Valencia. A magical vibe-creator. It created a culture in Los Angeles,” he said. “It felt so genuine, like being part of a movement.”
Rooms will be remodeled, with new, unique furniture in each. They’ve planned to add parking. “They’re gonna rebuild the entrance,” Harmon says, returning to vestiges of the old Belmont’s drive-in circle, which should provide an easy walk-up. “We want it to be accessible.”
Their goal is to resurrect, in a new age, something that has been dormant.