It’s only fifteen percent of a wandering menu, but the listings under “New Texas Smokehouse” at Clark Food & Wine in Dallas begged for a visit. It’s a chic new restaurant on Lower Greenville, a neighborhood that has been amping up its restaurant game of late. The meat-centric Blind Butcher can quench any carnivore’s appetite across the street, but it’s not barbecue. Clark Food & Wine looked to fill that void, but after three meals there, I’m not sure they serve barbecue either.
I love barbecue, but it is nice to have the opportunity to eat a little on the outskirts of the standard barbecue menu and still call it part of my job. A listing of smoked arctic char and smoked shrimp beckoned on the first visit, but one really had to commit. The smallest portion available was a half pound at $21 and $18 respectively. The lunch menu now allows orders of a quarter pound ($11 and $10), but the dinner menu retains the half pound minimums across the board which makes sharing and sampling difficult.
It wouldn’t have been hard to finish that arctic char myself. A skin so crispy it was close to cracklin’s was heavily seasoned with salt and a mustard rub. The tender flesh beneath was cooked to a cool medium. The flavors were bold and the texture variation was striking, but it was hard to find the smoke in the mix. The same went for the shrimp which gets a boost of chile flavor. That lack of smokiness makes more sense after a look at the kitchen.
Sitting in the dining room, the flames of a pizza oven flicker from the semi-open kitchen at the back of the space. That’s the only flame you’ll find. A humidity controlled cabinet called an Alto Shaam is where all the smokehouse items are cooked. It’s basically an oven that replicates sous vide cooking, and the model used by Clark Food & Wine has a box at the bottom for burning wood chips. This imparts a smoke flavor to items cooking in the cabinet, but it’s hard to call it a smoker.
That explains why the brisket on both visits didn’t have any smoky flavors. On my final visit, the texture of the tender beef and buttery fat were exemplary. I could eat that brisket all day, but it was closer to a good oven-braised brisket than it was smoked meat. With a price that started at $28 per pound and has since settled down to $22, I expected to be wowed. The pork had similar issues, but without the superb texture. The rub overwhelmed the flavor of the pork and the strands of meat were dry with less-than-tender fat on two visits.
The brisket also makes an appearance on one of four sandwiches on the lunch menu. Served on a butter roll cut lengthwise, the chopped brisket is topped with diced pickled veggies. The whole thing looked like a modern version of an Italian beef sandwich, and with the pepper gravy on top, it ate like a roast beef po-boy. Again, it was a great sandwich, but only the menu hinted at the use of smoke.
Chicken and turkey are also available for poultry lovers, but I’d stick with the half chicken (now dinner only). The turkey was bland and dry, while the chicken had a crispy skin and juicy meat. Like all the other meats, it was served on a paper-lined board with a hunk of baguette. If you order a lot of meats, you’ll end up with one hulking pile of baguette at the table. The chicken (and fish) also came with two salsas, so a stack of fresh tortillas would have been more functional than all that bread.
The sides are not what you’ll find on a typical barbecue menu, and that’s fine. If you like your meat and also want to get your greens, this is the place. Shaved brussel sprouts with shallots and a “green crunch” salad loaded with veggies were both favorites at the table. Cheese grits and fries were also good, but the braised greens and spinach (dinner only) were so salty they were hard to finish.
It sounds like a slight to recommend a visit here for the seafood and the salads, but Mr. Warder does them very well. It might be the expectations of seeing the label of “New Texas Smokehouse” attached to the brisket and pulled pork that left me disappointed. To be fair, Mr. Warder doesn’t say he runs barbecue restaurant, or even that he’s making barbecue, but by advertising Clark Food & Wine as a smokehouse of any sort, you can bet they were banking on some traffic from barbecue fans. There’s no reason for them not to come, just don’t come looking for smoke.