Friday, January 28, 2022 Jan 28, 2022
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Restaurant Review

Haywire’s Texas Homage Doesn’t Quite Measure Up

It has grand ambitions, but the Legacy West dining hall in Plano is a big miss.
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Lone Star System: Texas-inspired menu items include venison chili with buttered cornbread. Kevin Marple

Front Burner Restaurants—the group behind Sixty Vines, Ida Claire, Whiskey Cake Kitchen & Bar, and others—decided to go big when it opened Haywire, its most ambitious concept yet. Built from the ground up, flush against the new Legacy Hall in Plano, the massive structure attempts to conjure the wide-open spaces of West Texas. And, oh, is it vast.

Haywire’s cavernous, shambling, 600-seat labyrinth—with a pastry kitchen, a wine cellar, and a gleaming open kitchen that buzzes with energy—spreads over three floors, a bar on every one. At the foot of the grand stairs, a mounted longhorn head reigns, impassive, near decorative stacked firewood that rises toward the ceiling. At the back of the second-floor main dining room, a sitting enclave, with a vintage leather couch under a shelf of eight-tracks and other retro regalia, offers a view that includes floor-to-ceiling windows and seating options of every kind. On the third-floor roof deck, an Airstream trailer and wall-size photographs offer a convincing illusion of Marfa. The Texas-inspired restaurant gets the proportions right, aiming for the myth and hitting it with ease. It is as immense as the prairie, as boundless as the sky.

Whether Haywire can deliver on what that outsize ambition implies is another matter.

Steaks such as the 33-ounce tomahawk rib-eye from A Bar N Ranch.

Parts of the brunch were some of the best homages I’ve had. The kitchen’s take on pretzel kolaches are round, dark, and soft, holding nubs of nicely seasoned jalapeño-cheddar sausage with a side of queso blanco. Coffeecake comes presented in a coffee can, heavy and rich with sour cream and butter, ready to spread with whipped cinnamon butter. A decadent stack of pancakes is like a cake you can cut into wedges, with its bouffant billow of whipped cream, its scatter of spiced Texas pecans. The pancakes are dense and rich, with an old-fashioned, almost yeast-raised flavor and extra nuance from brown butter—just a step up from a chuck-wagon breakfast. These make you dream of the range.

There are also round cakes of cornbread whose sweetness picks up the luxuriant heat of uncommonly good chili with tender chunks of venison. Excellent stone-ground goat cheese grits with a light rosemary aroma reminded me of an early taste impression of Texas, when I first visited the Homestead Heritage mill in Waco, hard by the Brazos River. Tangy, juicy fried green tomatoes come under a well-seasoned crust. The plate-size slice of pecan pie with a cinnamon-roll crust seems like a misguided idea. It isn’t.

Haywire doesn’t make it easy on itself. The restaurant was conceived as somewhat of a twin to Front Burner’s Ranch at Las Colinas. The menu, save the addition of brunch, is virtually identical. But whereas the sourcing at The Ranch remains unspoken, here it is explicit, spelled out in a block of text at the menu’s bottom listing several dozen Texas purveyors. It offers a very pretty picture of Texas, an homage to field and farm and gulf. But that block of text raises the stakes: The Ranch, by not showing its work, could outdo expectations. Here, the pressure is on to not do the reverse. The kitchen has to impress.

At lunch, the Redneck burger with cheddar and a savory onion marmalade on a house-made challah bun lets you get one bite in before it gushes like ripe fruit, the juices sluicing down your chin. The ostentatiously marbled A Bar N Ranch Wagyu chuck and skirt patty hits all the right umami notes, but the challah’s soft loft is not enough to hold it all in. Thursday’s prime rib sandwich—layers of thin-cut A Bar N Ranch prime rib au jus style on a house-made hoagie roll, dolled up with horseradish cream, pickled onions, and Fresno peppers—was also a gusher. These were not necessarily the best ways to showcase boutique meat, given their imminent collapse. (Meanwhile, the similarly sourced C.A.B. burger at sister-restaurant Sixty Vines is one of the best I’ve eaten—solid, sublime, and impeccably coherent.)

So it went. The image Haywire strives to create lost focus when pieces were not solidly constructed. At brunch, I found the most divine corned beef, but I didn’t feel the same way about the dressing-drenched wedge salad; the terrible seafood campechana, sweet as ketchup; and the famed meatloaf, which was moist but bland.

Gulf shrimp and grits.

Perhaps the most dramatic instance came at dinner, when friends and I dined by candlelight, in a room that had taken on a softer mood. The 33-ounce A Bar N Ranch tomahawk rib-eye, the most extravagant of the boutique steaks, flirts with the $100 mark and comes on a board, flanked by sides. My friends remembered the impressive wood-fire-grilled tomahawk at Tim Byres’ now-closed Smoke in Plano, the best steak they had tasted, a piece of meat so remarkable, it had left an indelible impression. They salivated.

But the restaurant got in its own way. Our server brought out an iPad on which are listed the six wines available as Coravin pours, a sophisticated anti-oxidation system that siphons wine directly through the cork. Those familiar with Sixty Vines will recognize the restaurant’s respect for wine. This means you can gloat over the bucket-list dream of a $206 glass of Château d’Yquem or a $256 glass of Château Mouton Rothschild to accompany your steak. Or, in our case, Napa’s Darioush Signature, with terrific dark-cherry notes and a mouthwatering acidity—a selection that massively upstaged the meat. What would have happened, I wondered, had we sprung for the Château d’Yquem instead?

The steak, sliced from the bone, was unevenly cooked, with little of the expected contrast of colors, the pink-red against ebony of a proper medium-rare. One bite from the center told us everything we needed to know about the pedigree. But the mammoth cut was under-seasoned, and what crust there was had no pop of salt. The flavor remained maddeningly elusive, as satisfying as looking at the cut from across the room. I’ve had vastly better treatments of what has now become a Dallas darling in the realm of ranch-to-table meat.

I had hoped, when I first saw its interior, that Haywire might represent what I see emerging as a dynamic, new Texan aesthetic: rooted in the ranch, but current, less Fort Worth’s Reata and more San Antonio’s textured but powerfully modern Hotel Emma.

Ultimately, Haywire only partially succeeds in capturing the imagination. The space remains an unclaimed prairie. There was no transportive myth-making. Just myths, really.

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