You’ve got to hand it to the owners of the Standard Pour. After the departure of chef Peja Krstic, who left to take over the kitchen at Mot Hai Ba, it would be easy to imagine dialing back the culinary aspirations a bit. After all, it’s a busy Uptown bar, a girls’-night-out-scene, a date place, a crank-up-the- music cocktail palace — and one whose clientele didn’t necessarily appreciate Krstic’s more sophisticated plates. A couple of years ago, when I expressed chagrin that he’d removed from the menu a spectacular pasta dish, handmade ricotta gnudi in a frothy bacon broth, he told me, “People didn’t understand it.”
But rather than plop in any old workhorse to replace Krstic, the bar’s owners brought in another ambitious, talented chef with good ideas and serious credentials. Thirty-year-old Cody Sharp, who joined the Standard Pour last August, got his start working with the late Randall Copeland at Ava in Rockwall; later he served as assistant pastry chef at Stephan Pyles, where he was eventually put in charge of Fuego, the restaurant’s short-lived yet mind-blowing tasting menu. More recently he was sous-chef at Casa Rubia, when that restaurant earned its four-star review.
Sharp, a native of Odessa, is giving Uptown revelers — a weirdly large proportion of whom, on a recent Thursday night, were smashing young blondes poured carefully into tiny black dresses — some delicious dishes to soak up all the booze. They’re accessible enough to satisfy the blotto yet thoughtful enough to tickle the palates of sophisticates. And many are strikingly beautiful.
The butter lettuce salad is a case in point: plush leaves, carefully dressed in a spot-on mustard vinaigrette and strewn artfully with tarragon, chervil and parsley leaves, pink rings of pickled shallot and perfect chewy bits of Benton’s bacon.
Broadly speaking the plates are Modern Texan, as in deviled eggs with smooth, mustardy thick fillings topped with chopped nduja and pickled mustard seeds, or superb fried chicken taken all the way to a deeply burnished mahogany crunch. The porky braised collard greens that accompany it are as outstanding as the bird. Sharp has the rare gift of being able to coax greatness out of the most basic dishes while still honoring their simplicity.
But he knows how to tweak deliciously, too: A trio of vegan tostadas come smeared with black bean purée and topped with a confetti of spring vegetables — green beans, English peas, corn kernels, cherry tomatoes, onions and cilantro — and finished with a squiggle of salsa roja and just the right zing of lime. There’s a nice ceviche with green tomato salsa tucked under, and meaty, tangy-spicy Buffalo quail, its plate streaked with buttermilk dressing and dressed up with pickled celery.
Quail appears as a main course, too, grilled and served on a terrific farro succotash with fresh favas. Sharp has a flair for poultry; my favorite dish was half a beautifully roasted chicken, crisp-skinned, succulent and flavorful, served on a gorgeous heirloom bean salad shot through with pea tendrils and diced fingerling potatoes. Spoonfuls of vivid green pea purée and a light pan jus pulled it all together. At $18, it’s a bargain, to boot. In fact, other than two market-priced dishes, all the plates are under $20.
Feel like beef? The butcher’s cut one night was bavette (also known as flap steak), a super-flavorful cut similar to flank steak that can be tricky to prepare. Here it was done to a juicy red turn, and served sliced with charred broccoli florets on a silky celery root purée with a marchand de vin sauce. Market price was $28.
If hanging out in a bar that feels like a warm and welcoming pub (brick walls, high ceilings, wooden chairs, lived-in sofas used as banquettes) puts you in the mood for a burger, go for it: The Standard Pour’s straight- ahead, two-patty number on a challah roll with melted American cheese, aioli, bacon marmalade and house-made bread-and-butter pickles was fabulous more than once. (Though ordered at brunch one day, it was cooked way past the medium-rare requested.) It comes with wicked good fries.
Sharp’s pastry experience comes in handy; there are only two desserts, one of which was smashing: cloudlike poufs of lemon mousse topping buttermilk-pistachio gelato, with toasted pistachios for crunch and a touch of coconut. A glossy chocolate tart on a smear of cashew caramel set off brightly by blood orange sorbet impressed, too.
Alas, magic wasn’t always the order of the day. Unevenness in the cooking at brunchtime, when “chicken biscuit” turned out to be bland fried chicken breast in a clunky batter that fell off, sandwiched between heavy biscuits, reminded me that we were dining in an Uptown bar. So did a few missteps at dinner one night, when shrimp and grits came mired in an odd, thin broth, while nicely cooked arctic char fillets sat on a weirdly sauced, gloppy mélange of spring vegetables.
I’d return for brunch in a heartbeat, though: for the warm doughnuts, lemon-glazed or dusted in cinnamon sugar, just out of the fryer and so good they knocked me off the banquette.
Another thing I’d like to come back for: “Dames’ night” on Wednesday, when all unaccompanied women who make a reservation can order a three-course dinner featuring the cooking of a particular country or region, free. (Yes, you read that right!) Last week, the event was already completely booked by the time Sharp unveiled the Moroccan-themed menu on the restaurant’s Facebook page the day before.
Last, but certainly not least, the cocktails still rock. At dinner, before you even have a chance to decide on something from bar manager Brian McCullough’s long and enticing list, a complimentary aperitif (recently applejack sangria) appears to tide you over. Whatever you decide on — something classic, like a Negroni, or one of McCullough’s delicious concoctions, such as a tall, refreshing, brightly fruity Tom and Huck Tonic (Old Tom Gin, Fever Tree tonic and fresh huckleberry) — they’re well-balanced and smartly conceived. Can’t decide? Let him create something for you. Or ask for the crazy-good Gringo in a Pine Box, with Illegal Mescal, Averna (Italian bitters), Cointreau, Zirbenz (a pine liqueur), an absinthe wash and a touch of burnt rosemary.
And make it last: The wine list is a little lame.
Yes, those looking for a fine-dining experience may be disappointed: by music that can be loud, by servers that, while warm and attentive, may lack experience (especially with the drinks).
Never mind. As Dallas gastropubs go, this place rocks.
The Standard Pour (3 stars)
Price: $$$ (dinner starters $7 to $26, main courses $12 to $26, desserts $9; brunch dishes $6 to $16)
Service: Thoughtful and attentive, if not always very experienced or knowledgeable about the cocktails
Ambience: A warm and welcoming pub with exposed brick walls, high ceilings and an inviting covered patio. Lived-in sofas serve as banquettes at some of the tables.
Noise level: Fairly loud music and exuberant imbibers can make this a pretty noisy spot.
Location: 2900 McKinney Ave., Dallas; 214-935-1370; tspdallas.com
Hours: Dinner nightly 4 to 11 p.m., brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar. The wine list, tucked in the back of the cocktail menu, comes across as an afterthought, with seven whites and nine reds, none particularly distinguished.
5 stars: Extraordinary
4 stars: Excellent
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Fair
No stars: Poor