You can't turn around in Atlanta, New York, Portland – or a dozen other American cities – without bumping into New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp, Nashville hot chicken or a citified slice of buttermilk pie.
Modern Southern cooking, in other words, is hotter than hot. Six months from now, we'll probably be reading about some clever American chef who has just opened a modern Southern bistro in Paris.
Here in Dallas, the trend is exploding.
The last eight months have seen the debuts of Sugarbacon Proper Kitchen (McKinney), Rapscallion, Ida Claire (Addison), Brick and Bones, Pink Magnolia, and 18th and Vine BBQ – modern Southern places all.
The latest entry comes from Matt McCallister: In early December, the chef-owner of five-star FT33 opened Filament, with executive chef Cody Sharp in charge of the kitchen and FT33's Jeff Gregory running the dining room as managing partner.
The vibrant place – in a former machine shop (it's industrial chic, very Deep Ellum) – has been thrummingly busy from the start, from the long, buzzy bar that feels like the heart of the dining room to the open kitchen in back, with its grill going full tilt. Sit at one of the (yes, reclaimed wood) tables in back, and you feel part of the action. To me, though, the best seats are the comfortable booths closer to the front -- perfect for four, spacious enough for six. There's also an enclosed patio that looks inviting for lunch, which Filament just introduced last week.
If you're the sort of person who favors a cocktail before dinner, do indulge; the drinks here –maybe a Farmer's Tan, with its mezcal-and-chile-oil kick, or a Bottled Sazerac built for two – are snappy and fun.
Filament's entire dinner menu is composed of plates to share, and most – including some that don't look so neatly divisible – are shared easily. (On my most recent visit, a server launched into an explanation of how the small plates are like tapas, as if we had just landed in Deep Ellum from Deep Pluto. Seconds later, he was replaced by a more polished colleague.)
You might start with a dip, maybe deviled shrimp and crab. Potted and topped with crunchy black butter breadcrumbs, it's delicious spread onto house-made dill-seed lavash crackers; thin slices of Granny Smith apple add a different – and bright – crunch.
A terrific dry-aged beef tartare comes pre-loaded onto toast, squiggled with smoked mayo, topped with root-vegetable chips and showered with grated cured egg yolk. It looks like one big party toast, but it neatly pulls apart into four.
Sharp, who was last seen cooking (above his paygrade) at the Standard Pour, also lets loose with the squeeze bottle on his Johnny Cake okonomiyaki. What? Never heard of that? Where's that menu therapist when you need him?! It's basically a thick corn pancake done in the style of Japanese okonomiyaki, but loaded with shaved smoked ham and charred red cabbage rather than seafood. Sharp paints it generously with Kentuckyaki – teriyaki sauce aged in a bourbon barrel – and goes maybe a little too wild with the Duke's mayo squeeze bottle, then showers the whole thing with gossamer shavings of dried bonito that magically wave around, as if alive (the bonito is traditional on okonomiyaki). It's tasty good fun, a one-plate umami bomb.
Just as bold – and irresistible – is a plate of creamy, nicely textured grits topped with braised collard greens, spooned over generously with pot liquor and topped with a crispy-edged sunny-side up egg: soul food cubed. Meanwhile, Sharp's New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp, Creole-spiced and extravagantly bathed in butter and cooked with their heads on, have fabulous flavor.
Seeking relief from all that saucy richness?
Consider a salad of Little Gem lettuce leaves, carefully arranged with pink rings of pickled shallot, dainty croutons, a symphony of beautiful herbs and a careful drizzle of buttermilk dressing. It may not sound like much, but it was absolutely perfect. I also loved slender, well-charred wood-roasted baby carrots that did a minty dance with pickled golden raisins – so good dragged through their circle of chorizo-flavored yogurt sauce.
I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you about the Mississippi Delta tamale, a pork-filled number dropped onto splendid pinto beans and crowned with a relishy charred pepper salsa. And one of my favorite dishes is a side: softly garlicky and creamy cauliflower gratin smothered with buttery browned bread crumbs and finished with grated Florida bottarga (dried cured mullet roe).
Now and then dishes fell flat, like the wood-grilled octopus that sounded so interesting. It was well-prepared, but the potato salad it tried to flirt with didn't respond.
And with one notable exception, four larger platters, designed as family-style main courses, are less exciting. A whole grilled trout was messy to serve (impossible if you're not adept at filleting a fish), and the delicate fish was bullied by its giblet gravy.
But wow, the exception is truly exceptional: a mammoth 21-day dry-aged double-cut Heritage Berkshire pork chop, cooked gorgeously juicy pink and served in luscious slabs sliced off the bone. Sharp dresses it with warm onion-bacon marmalade and serves it with braised greens and gently charred Tokyo turnips. The $46 dish – which would easily be dinner enough for two along with a couple of small shared plates (and great to share among three or four if other dishes are involved) – is one of the most delicious things to eat in Dallas right now.
Pastry chef Maggie Huff's homey desserts hit the spot (if they didn't exactly excite) – including coconut layer cake with a nicely textured crumb, paired with wonderful house-made coconut ice cream and caramelized pineapple. If there's a blondie special on offer, you might give that a whirl: Huff sets it on sliced bananas smothered in butterscotch sauce, adding a scoop of banana ice cream and crumbled walnut toffee.
Back to Filament's liquid pleasures. Gregory's wine list is my favorite kind: concise, thoughtful and well-chosen, with some nice discoveries – including 17 selections offered by the glass. Either he or general manager Leah Moorhead have reliably been on hand to make suggestions. Just as impressive is the list of whiskeys.
So much to enjoy here: McCallister and company definitely have a Deep Ellum hit.
Filament (4 stars)
Price: $$$ (Lunch: small shareable plates $8 to $16, large plates $13 to $21. Brunch dishes $6 to $21. Dinner: small shareable plates $6 to $16, large shareable plates $25 to $46. Desserts $7 to $9)
Service: Generally excellent, with a few missteps (heavens, no, I don't want that Heritage pork chop done medium-well as you're suggesting!)
Ambience: Industrial chic and lofty, in a former machine shop in Deep Ellum
Noise level: Pretty noisy, even when not full. Conversation can be somewhat difficult.
Location: 2626 Main St., Dallas; 214-760-1080; filamentdallas.com
Hours: Lunch Monday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; brunch Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner Sunday-Thursday 5 to 11 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5 p.m. to midnight; snacks daily 2:30 to 5 p.m.
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar, with a concise, midsize, thoughtful wine list, interesting beers (bottles and cans), excellent cocktails and an awesome whiskey list
5 stars: Extraordinary
4 stars: Excellent
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Fair
No stars: Poor
Average dinner per person
$ -- $14 and under
$$ -- $15 to $30
$$$ -- $31 to $50
$$$$ -- More than $50