As we checked in with the hostess, my friend turned to me and, with a thick, sarcastic drawl, whispered, “Yee. Haw.” I arched my eyebrow in agreement. It was our first reaction to celebrity chef Stephan Pyles’ new Stampede 66, a celebration of the Texas mythos in all its jingle-jangle-jingle glory. A jaded view? Perhaps. If, like me, you’ve lived in Dallas most of your life, then you’ve probably been burned by Texas-themed eateries one too many times. Most border on theme-park tackiness.
The fashionable crowd—dressed in everything from suits and ties to jeans and boots—echoed the restaurant’s bravado and, best of all, its approachability.
That’s what I love most about Pyles’ latest creation. There’s no debating the chef’s talent. FromRouth Street Cafe to Star Canyon to his eponymous restaurant, his track record speaks for itself. But Stampede 66 is Pyles’ most accessible concept to date. He and executive chef Jon Thompson are providing Dallas the food it wants to eat: a winning mix of classic Southern cuisine and Mexican dishes, all dressed to the cowboy nines.
You’ll recognize everything on the menu. My first taste was one of my all-time favorites: fried green tomatoes. A tower of crunchy, tart, unripe tomato slices alternated with slightly gooey mozzarella from Deep Ellum’s Mozzarella Company, accompanied by pickled peppers and chow-chow foam. We followed that with two home-cooking classics: meatloaf and fried chicken. The venison meatloaf was so moist it fell just short of crumbling apart. Fried Brussels sprout leaves, roasted lightly with olive oil and sherry vinegar, added a nice, bitter crunch, while a side of mac and cheese was exactly what mac and cheese is supposed to be. As for the fried chicken, Pyles’ version may be the best I’ve had in Dallas. Once fried, the meat gets an injection of honey, giving the bird a slightly sweet flavor. The breading was golden and crunchy. Served with a side of velvety mashed potato tots, buttermilk biscuits, and “Gun Barrel” ham hock gravy, it’s Stampede 66’s most requested dish.
On subsequent visits, the comfort-food hits kept coming: shrimp and grits, smoked chicken and dumplings, and sliced barbecue brisket. Fanned across a wooden plate with a side of potato salad and a Mason jar of house-made bread and butter pickles, it was one of the most elegant plates of barbecue I’ve ever had. That’s another thing: don’t think of Stampede 66 as home cooking. Pyles’ recipes may be steeped in tradition, but they exhibit gourmet touches and stylish aplomb.
In his hands, a common 8-ounce burger was uncommonly inventive, featuring a smear of house-made pimento cheese and a cornbread brioche bun. It was a delicious, knife-and-fork mess. More substantial dishes included the smoked pork chop with green chile hominy and the bone-in cowboy rib-eye with blue cheese spoon bread. Both paired well with Stampede 66’s reasonable and well-chosen wine list featuring 30 labels of Texas wine.
On my last visit to Stampede 66 I sat at the bar and took in the boisterous scene. The restaurant was packed. Spirits were fl owing. Dainty ladies with diamond rings were licking their fingers after setting down a piece of fried chicken. Everywhere I looked I saw people having fun. Pyles has given us a unique Dallas restaurant that appeals to tourists and locals alike. There’s no better place to take your out-of-town guests to experience a lot of Texana without sacrificing good tastes.
As I scraped the salted caramel from the bottom of my heavenly butterscotch pudding, I looked up at one of Stampede 66’s television screens. As if on cue, a quote from Kinky Friedman fl ashed across it: “If you ain’t Texan, I ain’t got time for you.” I tipped my imaginary Stetson.
For more information about Stampede 66, visit our online restaurant guide.