Chicken Scratch’s Tim Byres and his fried chicken. photography by Kevin Marple

Business Lunch: Chicken Scratch

Smoke chef Tim Byres gets gourmet with fried chicken.

Fried chicken is having its moment in Dallas, though some would argue that it’s never strayed far from the spotlight. Sure, diners have always been able to lick their fingers with greasy delight at downhome spots such as Babe’s Chicken Dinner House and Celebration Restaurant. But that’s home cooking de rigueur.

Surprisingly, the crispy picnic favorite is popping up in some of the city’s finest kitchens such as Fearing’s, Oddfellows, and the newly opened Sissy’s Southern Kitchen & Bar. At these restaurants, pedigreed chefs lend fried chicken a gourmet touch while never straying too far from the dish’s humble origins.

Add chef Tim Byres to that deep-fried mix. Recently honored as the People’s Best New Chef: Southwest by Food & Wine magazine, Byres is chef and co-owner of Smoke in Oak Cliff. There he dazzles diners with his heritage-influenced cuisine, featuring house-smoked meats and seasonal, local produce. Byres is used to reinventing rustic fare: braised lamb shank with green lentils, pit roasted cabrito with tamarind goat’s milk cajeta, and coffee-cured beef brisket, to name a bit of Smoke’s delicous menu.

For his latest endeavor, Byres turns his attention to fried chicken. Chicken Scratch is the type of place that elicits an “it’s so Austin” response, as if quirky and hip were limited only to the Hill Country. Setting next to a trailer park on the border of Oak Cliff and West Dallas, the restaurant is way cooler than it could ever be described in words. Sharing its space with sibling bar The Foundry, Chicken Scratch’s oversized gravel patio is dotted with picnic tables and anchored by a bandshell made of wood pallets—a crazy Dali-esque work of art—where local bands perform at night. A line of bisected shipping containers outfitted with second-hand couches and chairs make for cozy retreats. Inside the restaurant, the smart repurposed decor continues with a chandelier made of plastic milk crates and even a swing
in the corner.

And then there’s the food. Byres fries his chicken in cast-iron skillets. The crust takes on a rich, deep gold hue and is finished with a bit of oregano vinegar honey. It’s slightly sweet, crackling perfection. Whether you prefer white or dark meat, the chicken is always succulent. Pecan-smoked rotisserie chicken is likewise moist and delicious, though not quite as addictive as its fried cousin. That same chicken is stuffed in moist, tasty tamales.

Sides and salads were a bit spotty. Collard greens stewed in chiles was the standout, with a nice peppery kick. Mashed potatoes and mac ‘n’ cheese were adequate at best. For vegetarians, the quinoa salad with pickled veggies was a hearty, meatless alternative, though a bit heavy-handed with the dressing. Dessert is limited to family-friendly popsicles in flavors such as kiwi, strawberry banana, and cantaloupe. But, personally, I say sit down with one of Byres’ crumbly, fresh-baked biscuits and top it off with the aforementioned honey. It’s a homey yet sweetly gourmet way to end the meal—that and licking your fingers, of course.