Ask for an order of burnt ends and a pint of beer - maybe a Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale - and you're all set to begin an evening at 18th and Vine BBQ.
Burnt ends are a signature barbecue treat from Kansas City, where this 3-month-old spot on an otherwise lonely stretch of Maple Avenue has roots: Pitmaster Matt Dallman hails from there. So does the Boulevard ale. The restaurant takes its name from the corner that's the heart of KC's jazz and barbecue district.
Ah, here come those burnt ends. They're not quite as barky, chewy and caramelized as the rich, melty nubbins you might be handed when you get to the front of the line at someplace like Cattleack or Lockhart Smokehouse, but they're hard to resist. Cubed, saucy and nearly the texture of pork belly, they're more like burnt ends that were created by design, rather than the accidental charred ends of a brisket about to be sliced. They're served with thin-sliced dilly cucumber pickles and pink pickled onions.
For a barbecue joint, 18th and Vine is pretty swanky. No white tablecloths, but the high-ceilinged dining room in the freestanding, houselike space has comfortable booths, oversized portraits of jazz greats, a warm vibe, attentive (if not always cohesive) service and even – if you're in the mood – thoughtful, cheffy plates. Reservations are accepted (even recommended at dinnertime for the dining room), and there's a proper wine list.
The cheffy plates, like a terrific one composed of barbecue quail arranged with halved, wood-grilled Tokyo turnips and Brussels sprouts plus cranberries and a swirl of tangy pomegranate sauce, come care of Scott Gottlich, who co-owns the place with Dallman and his wife, Kimi Dallman, a Dallas native. Gottlich was the longtime chef-owner (with his wife, Gina) of the elegant French restaurant Bijoux, which closed last year.
There are a few other fancy main courses, like seared grouper on a sunchoke purée strewn with heirloom beets and woodland mushrooms and finished with a swoosh of pan jus and drizzle of parsley oil. But the chef-meets-pitmaster story works best with the dishes that favor the pit over the sous-vide bath, such as a barbecue cauliflower "steak," half a mopped- then-smoked head served on buttery cauliflower purée ringed with (again) parsley oil. It's a delicious dish to dangle in front of a vegetarian you're trying to entice to join you in a barbecue pursuit.
It's not the only such dish: 18th and Vine's fried okra, served with an amped-up Thousand Island dipping sauce, is among the best around. Fried whole in its cornmeal batter, each piece is wonderfully craggy and crunchy.
Meanwhile, some of us came for barbecue, and Dallman - who smokes his meats mostly over a mixture of oak and hickory - doesn't disappoint.
His ribs, with a slightly sweet, lightly spicy glaze, are as tender as you want them to be, with excellent flavor. Brisket, ordered fatty, was luscious, with the right whisper of smoke and nicely textured bark. None of it needed sauce, but if you wanted it, the sauce was super: nicely spicy, bright and tangy with just a touch of sweetness. Pulled pork, smoked chicken – everything sampled was very good. Not transformative, but spot-on.
So were the sides, from porky braised collard greens to sweet-and-smoky pit beans to fresh, vibrant coleslaw to rich and cheddar-cheesy jalapeño grits.
Yet 18th and Vine still feels like a work in progress. With a menu that seems pulled in two directions, it's somewhat hard to know how to order. Should you focus on the cheffy plates or the 'cue? It seems natural to go for some of each - but doing so can result in an awkward situation, with tables that are too small too accommodate family-style stuff in the middle, and ridiculously tiny share-plates that make a spare rib look like something that came from a brontosaurus.
The service ranges from attentive and professional to head-in-the-clouds senseless. "Have you dined with us before?" we were asked one night. Yes, we have. Too bad: We're going to torture you with a detailed explication of our concept anyway.
The cooking sometimes hits some kinks as well. One night a 44 Farms strip steak, marinated three days with herbs, olive oil, garlic and shallots in a sous-vide bag then charred on the wood grill, had a pronounced and off-putting funk. (Gottlich has since replaced it with another dish.) Brisket stroganoff, which sounded so good with its house-made noodles, was neither cheffy nor soulful, just gloppy. A tempting starter – barbecue salmon dip with some nice lavash – was marred by unincorporated chunks of cream cheese, and an iceberg-forward chopped salad with hearts of palm and avocado dressed in a viscous vinaigrette tasted like something you'd eat in D/FW Terminal C.
Still, the place has good bones, lovable 'cue, some fine dishes and plenty of charm. For dessert, fried apple pies or house-made cookies hit the spot; I enjoyed a dried fig crostata as well. The wine list is decent; a 2013 Stolpman Vineyards La Cuadrilla red Rhône-style blend from California's Ballard Canyon for $13 per glass or $46 per bottle worked well with the smoky fare. Upstairs there's a cozy jazz lounge paneled in rich wood – the Roost – that looks like it'll be a cool place to grab a bite and a drink and check out the music; lately it's been busy with holiday parties. Most nights a DJ spins vinyl, but beginning in mid-January, the Dave Mosch Quartet is booked to play jazz every other Wednesday.
The Dallmans' and Gottlich's baby is a worthy addition to the scene, to be sure. It'll be smoky good fun to see how it grows up.
Price: $$-$$$ (starters and salads $6 to $13; barbecue $12 for half a pound of brisket or half a slab of ribs to $20 for a full pound of brisket or full slab of ribs; sandwiches $12 to $14 lunchtime only; dinner main courses $18 to $29; desserts $6.50 to $9)
Service: All over the place, depending on the server. At its best, it's warm and professional. At its worst, it has its head in the clouds.
Ambience: The attractive, high-ceilinged main dining room has comfortable booths and banquettes but tables that may be too small; oversized photos of jazz greats decorate the walls. A separate bar room looks inviting at lunchtime; a cozy upstairs lounge, the Roost, beckons for late-night nibbles, drinks and tunes.
Noise level: Hard surfaces made the dining room somewhat noisy, though not terribly so.
Location: 4100 Maple Ave., Dallas; 214-443-8335; 18thandvinebbq.com
Hours: Sunday-Wednesday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar, with 10 local and Kansas City beers on draft. A one-page, vintageless, mostly American wine list features a couple of sparklers, 10 whites and 14 reds offered by the glass ($10 to $20) or bottle ($25 to $80), and others offered only by the bottle ($36 to $140).
5 stars: Extraordinary
No stars: Poor
Average dinner per person
$ $14 and under
$$ $15 to $30
$$$ $31 to $50
$$$$ More than $50