“I could hear that crunch across the table!” said my friend the Good Doctor in mock alarm as I bit into the fried chicken. We were at Neighborhood Services, the latest project of Dallas chef-restaurateur Nick Badovinus, and it’s a wonder I could hear the Doc at all, given how the crunch was resonating inside my head.
The restaurant opened at the end of October, and by one of those happy coincidences, it looks as if it was perfectly timed to coincide with the economic crisis. As you would expect, it’s the kind of place where you feel comfortable eating fried chicken with your fingers, the sort of place people gravitate toward when times are tough. (The name comes from a category in the Dallas zoning code designating a residential-oriented business. After running across it a dozen times, Badovinus had an aha moment, and his restaurant was named.)
The operative concept at Neighborhood Services is upscale comfort food, although “upscale” gets a lot of the emphasis, given that the restaurant’s customer base includes affluent hoods like Highland Park and University Park. That’s why the burger is made from Niman Ranch beef and the menu includes ricotta-and-lobster fritters. Even so, the prices are not out of sight, with most entrées in the upper teens and mid-twenties.
On a visit when the restaurant was just over two weeks old, the Doc and I put together an eclectic meal. At the top of the worth-ordering-again list was the Fried Little Asparagus, a heap of skinny stalks in a tempura-like batter with a Meyer-lemon-and-dill aioli. Also meriting a return visit was the crisp flatbread (pictured). We got the one called Smoked/Roasted/Aged/Toasted, which came with speck, red peppers, white cheddar, and a balsamic glaze.
The Pulled Chicken Waldorf took the classic apple-celery-walnut-mayo salad in a new direction by adding moist chicken, red grapes, and dried cherries and cutting way back on the apples. It was nice enough, but more apples would have given it a sweet crispness we thought it needed. A fifties stalwart, macaroni and cheese, had been jazzed up with a trio of sharp cheeses, which moved its rating from G to R. We liked it, but a little went a long way.
After trying the hefty pork porterhouse (which was moist but awfully salty), we took a breather to visit with Badovinus, who was navigating the room, chatting with customers, many of whom were fans from his stint as chef-partner for the group that includes Hibiscus, Fireside Pies, and the Porch. Then we finished with what proved to be our favorite dish, the house-made Ding Dong.
Was it sophisticated? No. Cutting-edge? Absolutely not. It was a cupcake with a layer of mashed-up devil’s food on the bottom, white-chocolate mousse in the middle, and a mountain of Valrhona chocolate ganache on top. It provoked a five-minute debate