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Restaurant Review: Filament

Matt McCallister's take on modern Southern cuisine brings incandescence to an industrial space.
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GOOD AS NEW: Matt McCallister’s casual restaurant infuses a former machine shop with rough-hewn charm.

Restaurant Review: Filament

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Matt McCallister long had his eye on this space in Deep Ellum, his sights set on a casual sister to his FT33 in the Design District, his forager aesthetic turned toward the South. Like the warrior goddess Athena, sprung from her father’s head, or the hot sauce McCallister barrel-aged for nine months prior to opening, Filament seemed to emerge supernaturally, fully formed. It felt from the start as though it had been open far longer—minor glitches aside, a smooth rollout in a gritty place. 

At some point each night I was there, the lights of a cop car or ambulance splashed through the windows of the enclosed patio that looks onto the street, fluttering against the exposed brick wall, still graffiti-tagged, that flanks the long corridor that is the restaurant’s fluid nerve center. The place buzzed. And the food coursed with energy, as though a current ran through it.

Executive chef Cody Sharp grew up in West Texas with an appreciation for “the way things were done and how things would grow.” He meets McCallister in a shared respect for ingredients and a reverence for the highly regional foodways of the South. Approached via small plates, their menu epitomizes the cuisine, polished and soulful, that’s being dubbed “modern Southern.” 

[inline_image id=”1″ align=”” crop=”tall”]Herby horseradish ranch cascades from generous pieces of fried “hot” catfish served on thick, Pullman-style bread. The fish is so tender, so mild-flavored it seems milk-bathed, and the horseradish and hot sauce do a smart, synchronized two-step in a dish riffing on heat. Stone-ground grits sourced from a tiny artisanal producer in the Delta join braised greens whose tangy pot liquor commingles with the magnanimous richness of a sunny-side-up fried egg—just enough luxe to achieve deliciousness without overt decadence. Dishes that could be unsung, nobly treated, turn magnetic. Hoppin’ John made with Anson Mills heirloom peas looks ordinary enough, but the peas are creamy-textured gems, and the aroma of freshly shaved black truffle grabs you with the power of a confident handshake, its pungency connecting with the undertow of something funky in the bay laurel-aged Delta Blues rice. 

On a menu I mostly loved, I had a few quarrels. A side of roasted winter squash with ricotta, pear, and candied pepitas had a sweet profile, veering toward granola-yogurt parfait, that made it an awkward fit with others, defeating its purported destiny. The coarse grind of a dry-aged beef tartare left it more clunky than silky, reminding me of its origin as an assemblage of scraps—albeit admirably sourced and house-dry-aged scraps. A cauliflower gratin was wonderfully creamy but supported my hunch that I’m doomed never to detect what minuscule shavings of bottarga (dried mullet roe) add to a dish. And I know the okonomiyaki johnnycake is a signature, the bonito shavings on top dancing invitingly like frilly underwater algae. But the feelings at our table regarding the pale, floppy pancake under swizzles of Duke’s mayo and “Kentuckyaki” sauce, so much umami-rich seasoning, were lukewarm. It was more like a communion wafer than the Japanese classic, a plump, browned flavor-freighter. 

[inline_image id=”2″ align=”r” crop=”tall”]At some point each night, I fell in love with something from the grill. I hadn’t noticed it on my first visit—the wood grill arcing against the open kitchen’s back wall. We felt, halfway through that first evening, otherwise marked by smooth service, that we’d been forgotten. Water glasses left empty whereas they’d been seamlessly refilled, a void opening since the last small plate had vanished. It was the rotisserie, our server explained. The beast that fires many of the small plates and all of the mains had gotten backed up. A 30-minute hiatus between courses set the bar high: whatever came next bore an extra burden to impress.

The heritage double-cut pork chop that arrived—monstrous, juicy, perfectly cooked for such a thick cut, with slices fanned to show off the feat—obliterated the wait. Its collard greens had a gentle heat, charred Tokyo turnips added earthiness, and a bacon marmalade with pearl onions had given its soul up to soft, roasted sweetness. It was a dream of a dish.

The timing never quite hummed in this former machinist’s shop; each visit we waited for our mains. But I never minded being on the rotisserie’s time. Whole trout, its skin charred deep black in places and smoke in its flesh, wasn’t pretty, but I loved it the most, strewn with herbs and carrot tops, flanked by charred lemon, and laid over a bed of Delta Blues rice laced with a smoked-giblet gravy whose unusual tanginess completed an unexpected flavor circle. (It’s since been replaced by a filet; no messy deboning required.) Wagyu flank steak melted in the mouth, its juices mingling on a plate where a light, classic Bordelaise sauce, thickets of smoked mushrooms, and slender fingerling potatoes brought civility to the meat’s brute fire-pit char. The wounds of ferociously charred broccolini were balmed with a creamy gribiche sauce studded with piquant capers; an accenting handful of almonds had been given a rough chop. These dishes brought big flavors but were balanced.

Sharp, who cooked over wood at the now-closed Restaurant Ava, at Stephan Pyles, and at Casa Rubia, doesn’t care for gas grills. “You’re adding grill marks,” he says, “but you’re not really adding anything else.” His dishes, marked by fire, evoke a childhood faith in something primal. The prices of the four large plates off the grill considerably outlap the smaller plates (the catfish at $13, beef cuts climbing to $60). But bring friends. Cocktails bow to the grill, too, the smoky notes of bourbon and mescal playing admirably well with the food (more, I found, than the selection of wines by the glass). 

Pastry chef Maggie Huff, whose desserts at FT33 are fittingly fancier, adds her part to the artisanry. She’s behind the meat pies’ buttery crusts, which flake obligingly (and outshine their filling); the bronzed sails of dill-seed lavosh that ferry feather-light deviled shrimp and crab; the blistered potato-whey rolls we slathered with butter. Juicy New Orleans-style barbecued Gulf shrimp, whose broth scorched like a backdraft fire and lingered like smoke, came with charred sourdough whose tangy excellence was so evident even under the heat that we petitioned for more.

[inline_image id=”3″ align=”r” crop=”wide”]Huff’s desserts have the rare quality of being utterly classic, solidly Southern, but so balanced as to seem light. The kind that vanishes though you thought yourself sated. Her cakes—buttery, moist, not too sweet—are like the best birthday cake you’ve had. Cake you love, plain and simple. Like the red velvet with whipped cream cheese frosting and crunchy bits of toasted cake crumb. Or the coconut cake with caramelized pineapple compote made sultry with a rich scoop of toasted-coconut ice cream. Buttermilk pie, already lovable with a thin, biscuit-like crust and remarkably delicate filling, surprises with Campari granita hidden amid the plate’s grapefruit supremes.

In general, dishes aren’t as heavy as they could be. Not even when a meal is anchored by the low-country heritage grains Sharp loves and a tour of Huff’s fabulous baking. There’s a balance of parts—a judicious hand with bacon, touches of acid where they’re needed, a crunch, a temperature difference, a slight bitterness. The result: your palate stays interested and not overwhelmed. You’re reminded that the true food of the South is lighter and more daring than you think. Filament’s polish is welcome. But at heart, its premise is simple, its truth incandescent: this is just really good food.


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