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.”
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.
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.
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.