On the other hand, the fried oysters are huge. At first glance, I thought they were fried chicken strips. Hobbs buys select-grade Texas oysters, coats them in tapioca starch and cornmeal, fries them, and serves the beasts with two sauces: one, an aioli spiked with Sriracha; the other, a thick, semisweet green sauce composed of Steen’s Louisiana cane sugar, dill, parsley, tarragon, cilantro, and a touch of Spanish anchovy. Dip one end of the oyster into the spicy sauce and the other into the slightly sweet green mixture, and the combination sends electric shocks across your taste buds.
The squash puppies, made with shredded yellow squash, could be a dessert. The golden orbs split open to reveal a cakelike texture, a perfect surface to absorb Texas Honey Guild-scented butter or jalapeño jelly.
The ham salad and pimento cheese plate swept me back to my childhood faster than my therapist could ever hope to. After one bite, I was 5 years old. But the pimento cheese of my youth was not made with sharp Tillamook cheddar, Colby Jack, and cream cheese with finely chopped fresh jalapeños. Nor was my grandmother’s ham salad equal parts picnic ham and mortadella bound with mayonnaise and chopped cornichons. But the yeasty aroma of the angel biscuits, which look and taste more like roll than biscuit, was vintage Arthur Kramer Elementary School.
Fried chicken is the big seller at Sissy’s. Pieces are brined for 24 hours, a process that allows the saline solution to penetrate the meat all the way to the bone. Each piece is dipped in buttermilk and egg and rolled in flour, baking powder, chili powder, sugar, and other “secret spices,” and then cooked in a pressure fryer. The result is a lusciously moist meat and a crunchy crust. An entrée portion consists of two pieces and a side of slaw or whipped potatoes. Go with the skin-on spuds. They may look like masonry cement, but Hobbs combines waxy and starchy potatoes—Idaho, red creamers, Yukon gold—which creates a naturally light mixture. The only moisture he provides is a drop of milk and a pile of butter.
I liked the fried chicken, but it was my least favorite of the entrées. The Cajun-style shrimp and grits is easily the best I’ve eaten in Dallas. The stone-ground grits from Homestead Gristmill, in Waco, are covered with a rusty red tomato sauce highlighted with piquillo pepper, Tasso ham, coarse-grained andouille sausage, and large shrimp. I found the best way to eat this dish is to cut up the shrimp, ask for a spoon, and eat the grits like you would a chunky soup. Each bite is filled with thick, buttery grits, spicy sausage and shrimp, and a semisweet kick from the peppers.
On my last visit, the roasted red fish was served with a side of crawfish in a buerre blanc and a Creole-style stew (maque-choux) made with fresh hominy, chopped sweet pepper, and tomatoes. Each component of the dish offered a unique texture and taste. The sassy, sweet tomato sauce took the edge off the starchy hominy, and, together, they heightened the flavor of the delicate fish. Hobbs plans to switch from hominy to fresh corn when it becomes available.
Hobbs turns out a stellar chicken-fried top sirloin steak with cream gravy and a feisty pork T-bone smothered in caramelized onion and mushroom gravy. Hold a bite in your mouth for a second, and you’ll taste a bourbon backbeat. Sides include crunchy fried okra, squash casserole, and collard greens. But save the calories for a basket of cream biscuits. Hobbs cuts butter into a low-protein flour, which produces a light and airy, almost crumbly, texture inside, with a thin crunch on the surface. They’re served hot, and they’re perfect for sopping up sauces.
Desserts ranged from dismal to decadent. I was unimpressed by the bourbon balls, which were nothing more than dry cake dipped in bland chocolate. Buttermilk pecan pie is appropriately thick and gooey, with plenty of Texas pecans on top. The chocolate cake billed as “better than sex” was just that for me, but not so for two of my companions. The tall sheet cake, made with a soft Dutch cocoa, is baked in a water bath, which creates an ethereal texture that allows you to enjoy the rich, crunchy peanut butter sauce and whipped crème fraîche without feeling like you’ve eaten a box of rocks.
The service, like the biscuits, can be a bit flaky. I urge you to choose a bottle of Champagne and sit a spell. You won’t mind. The place is fun and always rocking. Garza’s finally the star of her own show. And even though this show isn’t on television, she commands everybody’s attention.