The first thing to know about Brick and Bones is that it's a dive bar. This 4-month-old joint in deepest Deep Ellum has few pretensions to anything else. The long, narrow room is dominated by a bar; a few mismatched tables and chairs are scattered about. The decor is merely gestural: a few old wooden doors suspended from the ceiling, a wall decorated with folk-arty images from the Mexican card game lotería.
The second thing to know about Brick and Bones is that it's a dive bar. The music is loud, and you'll have to shout to make yourself heard. Order a sauvignon blanc and your server, who's otherwise really sweet and attentive, may bring you a cabernet sauvignon. It's also dark in here -- which is a good thing because there are sticky spots on some of the tables; you probably wouldn't want to see more clearly. Better to blur your vision with one of the jokily named cocktails like the Boris Badenov. It involves cognac, two separate amaros, bitters, and the use of a cigarette lighter both to toast a big slice of lemon peel and to ignite its oils, blowtorch-style, as they are expressed over the drink. Which, let it be said, is pretty good -- darkly alcoholic, fragrant and not too sweet.
The third thing to know about Brick and Bones is that it's a dive bar. The food menu is almost comically brief, basically fried chicken plus a handful of appetizers and sides. But if you're expecting dive-bar food, you're in for a pleasant surprise. There's a chicken-frying genius in the kitchen turning out some of the best yardbird in town. Those lotería images are no accident: Chef Rey Morales gives his chicken a Mexican twist with a brine that includes four different chiles plus cinnamon and clove. It's juicy, judiciously salty and a little spicy, but what really makes it special is his light hand with the batter, which has a fine, delicate crunch. The finished chicken gets a light dusting of regular and smoked paprika and salt. There's a spicier version, too, drizzled with hot oil after frying, plus chicken and waffles.
If even this chicken seems too heavy, there's also something called naked chicken (and sexy chicken in its spicy variant), which is fried with no coating. I suppose it's there for the gluten-free crowd, but its charms are lost on me.
The fourth thing to know about Brick and Bones is that it's a dive bar. That's basically it for entrees, with the exception of a vegan pasta that the menu grudgingly suggests is available "on request." If you have no other appetizer, pounce on the chicken chicharrones -- fabulous, addictive deep-fried hunks of chicken skin with a salsa verde dipping sauce. That skin, chopped, is also a crunchy surprise at the bottom of the savory and creamy deviled eggs, whose whites are a lurid pink thanks to a soak in beet juice. If you've had enough gallus domesticus for one evening, there are some fine jalapeño biscuits and gravy, some greens and some salads.
There is, however, no dessert. Did I mention that Brick and Bones is a dive bar?
Mark Vamos is a professor of journalism at Southern Methodist University.
Brick and Bones (2 stars)
Price: $$ (appetizers, side dishes and salads $3 to $8, main courses $7 to $25)
Service: The young servers are sweet and friendly, and very enthusiastic about the chicken.
Ambience: A fairly bare-bones watering hole. The dark room is dominated by a long bar, with a few mismatched tables and chairs scattered about. There's some Mexican folk art on the walls, and old wooden doors are suspended from the ceiling.
Noise level: The music is cranked up loud, making conversation difficult.
Location: 2713 Elm St., Dallas. 469-914-6776; facebook.com/BrickandBonesDeepEllum
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., Sunday 6 p.m. to midnight
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar, with a list of elaborate and inventive house cocktails. A dozen or so wines are offered by the glass (including some you don't see everywhere, such as grüner veltliner), along with two dozen beers.
5 stars: Extraordinary
4 stars: Excellent
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Fair
No stars: Poor