The Parker House rolls at Homewood must not be denied. Pillow-soft and fragrant, they arrive delectably squished together in a little cast-iron pan, accompanied by a small glass dish drizzled with a layer of amber-hued pan drippings that taste of the best, crustiest fried chicken you’ve ever had. On top of that is a Parmesan Mornay sauce—think aristocratic cream gravy (our waiter called it “aerated,” a word you hear a lot here). I believe I speak for everyone at our table, if not the entire dining room, when I say that I could have happily eaten those rolls until I exploded.
Many chefs have a signature dish. Jean-Georges Vongerichten is famous for molten chocolate cake, Nobu Matsuhisa for black cod with miso. Dallas chef Matt McCallister is now and forever identified with Parker House rolls. Although they epitomize his upscale-casual new venue, Homewood, he actually developed them several years ago at his fancy first restaurant, FT33. In fact, you could say they epitomize the entire career of the 38-year-old chef, who a couple of years ago seemed to be riding a roller coaster on the way down. Today, the direction is definitely up.
When FT33 opened, in 2012, it was the most sought-after reservation in town. Its fiendishly complex, tweezer-driven cuisine won McCallister a place on Food & Wine’s 2014 list of the best new chefs in the country. But it wasn’t long before his convoluted techniques muscled flavor out of the way. The slippage accelerated even as McCallister opened and closed a casual, Southern-oriented venue named Filament. In the midst of the trials and errors, he took some time off to deal with the demons of addiction that had pursued him for years, about which he has been quite open. In 2018, after he had been clean for two years, he shuttered FT33. With sobriety came insight. “I finally understood,” he said when I asked, “that I wasn’t really cooking for my guests. I was cooking for my ego.” When he opened Homewood this spring, he wanted to emphasize a homier style of cuisine. The new direction is striking a chord with diners. When I made reservations a couple of weeks in advance, I could get a table only before 5:30 or after 9:30 p.m. (since my visits, a patio has opened to handle walk-ins).
The first thing you see when you walk up to the restaurant’s entrance—and, yes, I do think it’s odd that they chose a name in use by an extended-stay hotel chain; they must really like that word—are planters around the deck filled with lush greens and pungent herbs: oregano, cilantro, basil, and the big, floppy leaves of hoja santa. Inside, McCallister, in ball cap and apron, is at his usual spot at the pass-through, overseeing the kitchen; when there’s a break in the action, he might ferry dishes to a table. Behind him is the dining room, subdivided into small areas. The best perch, in my opinion, is a seat up front at the metal-clad counter next to a tall bank of windows. The tables at the back surrounded by beige wood paneling remind me of the Becks Prime burger joint that the space used to be.
But, hey, who cares about decor when there are drinks to be ordered? I toyed with the idea of a rowdy Feather & Fig (rye, blackberry vinegar, fig jam, and a whole lot more) but finally went with a soothing reposado tequila margarita. As ballast for such tipples, the menu offers a wide choice of appetizers, veering from a punchy caper-strewn beef tartare to glorious braised snow peas with rye bread crumbs. One of the prettiest is the beets, a striking magenta despite being roasted in ashes (“embered,” as the menu would have it). The brothy tahini dressing almost doubles as a soup.
Or you could go with pasta. There are five choices, but the one you shouldn’t miss is the ricotta gnocchi (another specialty created at FT33). On our visit the little cheesy puffballs had been tossed with fabulously crisp fresh asparagus, sweet pickled leeks, and mahogany-colored black garlic bread crumbs—a texture extravaganza. Utterly different was the gemelli—meaning “twins”—rolled pasta with a great chew made from heirloom emmer wheat and accessorized with razor clams, chenzo chile peppers, and spunky Spanish-style chorizo.
Left to my own devices, I could have made a whole meal of starters and sides, but Homewood also turns out some substantial animal protein. By far the best was water-dwelling: steelhead trout, an astonishing rosy-fleshed, steak-y fish that had been cooked over embers, rendering its skin so crisp it crackled. It was every bit the match for a sybaritic brown-butter hollandaise (“Aerated!” our server exclaimed). The most satisfying among the land critters I tried was the oak-smoked Hereford pork loin with toasted-peanut jus. This brown-and-white hybrid pig is named for the cattle breed it resembles, and its flesh is a delicate pink. I wished it had been more tender, but that didn’t detract from its absolutely superb accompaniment: hominy. Made in-house, the kernels were silky and smooth instead of gnarly and granular. They actually tasted like—drumroll, please—corn!
By the end of the night, you may be flagging, but hang on, because McCallister’s longtime pastry chef, Maggie Huff, is a singular talent. If you’re a cake person, get the torte, a meticulous composition of almond sponge cake, two types of chocolate ganache, and passion-fruit buttercream arranged in so many slender layers it looks like an edible bar code. If you’re a pie person, consider the rustic rhubarb galette, its superb crust punched up by a sweet, crumbly topping and a tart scoop of crème fraîche ice cream.
On my way out the door after my second visit, I kept thinking about the two restaurants that bookend McCallister’s career to date. When he launched FT33, some seven years ago, he dazzled diners with the likes of sea urchin pancakes with yuzu and bonito flakes. These days, at Homewood, he comforts them with Parker House rolls and chicken drippings. Another chef might have swung further into the comfort zone. But McCallister isn’t ready to abandon all his magic tricks. Instead, he’s finding a distinctive middle ground. “What we’re doing at Homewood now is playful and creative,” he says, “just not as showy.” This new path works for him. And judging by the response, it’s working for a lot of people, including me. Please pass the aerated Parmesan dipping sauce.
4002 Oak Lawn Ave.,
Opened April 16, 2019
This article originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “The Comforts of Homewood.” Subscribe today.