I was intrigued in Dallas a few days back – walking, then driving, then riding a 1926 wooden trolley through Uptown along the wonderful McKinney Avenue – to spy something new called Del Frisco’s Grille. As a longtime fan of Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouses, I wanted to know what this Grille (with one location in Dallas, plus one in New York City) was all about. Last night, looking down at the serving line from the second floor dining and drinking area, I think I started to understand.
Two stories, two bars, two patios – things tend to come in twos around Del Frisco’s Grille. And as GM Sabrina Scully and executive chef Aaron Henschen explained during our radio taping together, this new, hip but less fancy, less expensive and more-devoted-to-fun concept is a way of luring in younger people, along with folks of any age who feel or live younger. The two bars play a major role in that, keeping their energy front and center, right along with “bar food” home runs like these cheesesteak eggrolls – a rework from the company’s oh-so-popular Sullivan’s Steakhouses.
In fact, you might say that if Del Frisco’s Double Eagle and Sullivan’s had a baby (whatever gender issues might be involved in two steakhouses doing that), their offspring would be young and hip and fun, just like Del Frisco’s Grille. For me, Chef Aaron put the whole thing in perspective with his Pimento Cheese Fritters. I don’t know how a New Yorker will react, but here in Texas it’s the perfect upgrade on a flavor we’ve enjoyed all our lives. That creamy dipping sauce, by the way, is a really good chipotle aioli.
Like most restaurants this classy, Del Frisco’s Grille would never dream of serving “pizzas,” even if they’re exactly the kind of thing many want at one of the bars while watching football, basketball or baseball on the TVs. So they serve “flatbreads” instead, making them their own menu category. The list starts with this basic roasted tomato and cheese (yes, like pizza margherita), but then goes wandering through white clam, pulled roasted chicken, wild mushroom and even garlic shrimp.
Ever since my father threw together pizzas from a box every Sunday night while we watched Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (on our black-and-white TV!), I’ve had a serious love/longing for the mushroom variety. So that was the second flatbread I ordered. The cheese this time out is fontina rather than bubbly mozzarella, along with four varieties of wild mushroom, caramelized onions and the final peppery accent of arugula. A perfect marriage, on a light, crunchy, chewy crust from dough made in-house twice daily, sayeth the chef.
This being a Del Frisco’s, the same prime steaks are served at the Grille as at any Double Eagle – a carefully selected handful anyway. But there’s also what I call the comfort food component, each dish with a major to minor twist on some tradition: from veal meatloaf with wild mushrooms to “stroganoff” repositioned around a big hunk of hyper-tender beef short rib. All such blasts from the past make mac and cheese (jalapeno-bacon, no less) one of the most perfect sides imaginable.
And of course, since virtually every table has a nice view of the bar (where the tropical martini called the VIP happens constantly), there are burgers and fries on the menu. We caught up with these fries last night, no doubt on their way to an elicit rendezvous with some burger. Both beef burgers feature two four-ounce patties (yes, rather than a single eight-ounce, in a wink-wink doff of the hat to fast food) but we’re also excited to try the Grille’s “lamb burger,” which goes a little bit Greek (yay!) with roasted tomato, arugula and cooling cucumber-yogurt tzatziki sauce.
One thing you learn cooking for people who try to “eat healthier” – whether that’s an individual or a generation – is that you’d better not cut back on dessert. Here is the Grille’s crazy-good coconut cream pie. At least it’s sort of a pie, with that individual wraparound “crust” of crumbled vanilla wafers. And yes, all that stuff poking upward like modern architecture is shaved white chocolate, like a whole other dessert hitching a ride on top of this one. From early to late, Del Frisco’s Grille in Dallas is packing them in – no doubt inspiring their customers, and me, to do pretty much the same.