We grow 'em big in Texas, as the saying goes. And we plate 'em big in these parts, too. No carefully tweezered arrangement of three baby carrots and a squash blossom for us: We expect a hunk of meat that could feed everybody at New York Fashion Week, with leftovers. Plus sides. So when the server at IdleRye finds it necessary to tell you that the ridiculous part of the "ridiculous sausage sandwich" is its size, you know you had better brace yourself.
IdleRye splashed into the volatile Deep Ellum dining scene (Goodbye, Filament! Hello, Junction Craft Kitchen! Goodbye, On the Lamb! Hello, Harlowe MXM!) last spring. Its three principals, all alumni of various Wolfgang Puck operations in Dallas, were savvy enough to know that they needed to offer more than your usual New American fare in an exposed-brick, industrial-chic setting.
And so they have leaned on the Polish heritage of the chef, Ray Skradzinski, to add twists like pierogis and schnitzel to more typical gastropubby offerings like mussels, steak and burgers -- in an exposed-brick, industrial-chic setting. Hey, Hungarian food seems to be working down the street at Armoury D.E., so maybe Eastern European is having its hipster moment.
Like that sausage sandwich, almost everything about this place is big -- the servings, the cavernous dining room, the open kitchen and the high-backed quilted leather booths. The fine rendition of schnitzel -- pork tenderloin pounded, coated in panko breadcrumbs and judiciously fried so it's crisp on the outside and juicy within -- is roughly the size of a Frisbee. It comes topped with lightly dressed baby arugula, plus a fried egg -- y'know, just in case. You might imagine the pan-fried chicken Milanese would be the lighter option, but it is at least as big and amped up with a butter sauce with lemon and caper and a shower of shredded Parmesan.
The flavors at IdleRye (whose name has something to do with indolence and whiskey) are often big, too. The best thing on the menu may be the most humble: the pierogi, half-moon-shaped dumplings stuffed with a mixture of mashed roasted Kennebec potato, cheddar cheese, chives and sour cream. They're boiled and then fried, creating a vivid contrast between the smooth filling and the crisp wrapper. Skradzinski spikes that potatoey, creamy mildness with a topping of intensely savory, salty-sweet caramelized onions. And there are cups of melted garlic butter and sour cream to dip it all in. Another intriguing choice from the pasta-and-dumplings section of the menu is the corn dumplings, slightly springy polenta gnocchi in a deep ragu of caramelized onions and pork butt braised with ancho-chile paste and red wine vinegar, topped with a blizzard of crispy fried garlic bits.
Besides being ridiculously large, the sausage sandwich is also crazy good. The juicy house-made pork bratwurst is meant to suggest pastrami, with intriguing notes of warm spice from the caraway seed worked into the meat and the black pepper-coriander mustard slathered on top. It's an eyeful, too, all 12 inches of it in its toasted brioche bun, dressed with zippy bright-red pickled shallots.
If you'd prefer something a little gentler on the palate and easier on the waistline, IdleRye serves up a couple of fine salads (listed on the menu under the arch heading of "Weeds"). There's baby arugula, lightly dressed in lemon juice and olive oil, topped with a crispy disk of fried pancetta and a scattering of pine nuts, bits of fig and shreds of Parmesan. And there's a light riff on the wedge salad with baby iceberg lettuce, Danish Mycella blue cheese and marinated tomatoes.
Besides the requisite mussels -- seriously, when and how did mussels become the one thing that has to be on every Dallas menu? -- IdleRye's seafood choices include some nicely fried buttermilk-battered shrimp, attractively presented in a metal frying basket with a cup of lemon-herb aioli. But here the kitchen's tic of sprinkling shredded Parm everywhere goes seriously awry. No cheese on shrimp, please. But there's also a fine moist hunk of redfish grilled over oak and nestled in a lemon-thyme beurre blanc.
The misfires here are fortunately few. I really, really wanted to like a starter called steak and greens more than I did. It's beef belly, marinated overnight, confited for 12 to 14 hours in ribeye fat, then sliced and grilled and presented on a fried slice of baguette and topped with arbol-chile aioli, plus a sauce of caramelized onions and raisins, all dressed with arugula, frisée, sliced radishes, blue cheese and crispy garlic. Whew! All that turns out to be a confusing jumble in which the substantial but reticent virtues of the beef get lost. And the grilled butcher's cut steak was sadness on a plate. The eye of ribeye was bland, and it swam in a pool of salty brown mustard-butter-cream sauce that had separated.
This vast space, with ceilings that seem to vanish into the dark recesses above you, can feel a little gloomy unless it's packed (when it can get cacophonous). The 3,400-square-foot space designed by Kuzuu Design, the firm behind FT33 and Tei-An, is meant to have a Prohibition Era-meets-steampunk vibe. With the exception of the bright open kitchen that forms the centerpiece of the room, that mostly means a lot of brown -- the brick walls, the leather seats, the bronze light fixtures and the Edison lightbulbs.
The drinks menu is also heavily into brown, with dozens of bourbons, ryes and whiskeys. The interesting selection of house cocktails leans toward bourbon- and rye-based concoctions, like the dark and addictive Vieux Carré, a combination of rye, brandy, Bénédictine and sweet vermouth. The wine list, meanwhile, is so brief that our server made fun of it one evening. It's perhaps the only thing here that could stand to be bigger.
Mark Vamos is a journalism professor at Southern Methodist University.
IdleRye (2 stars)
Price: $$$ (lunch salads and pastas $10-$14; sandwiches $10-$15; brunch starters $8-$14; brunch main dishes $10-$13; brunch sandwiches $8-$15; dinner starters and salads $8-$20; pastas and dumplings $13-$14; main dishes $15-$26; desserts $9)
Service: Servers are congenial and efficient.
Ambience: The big, high-ceiling dining room can feel cavernous, but it's handsome -- exposed-brick walls, lots of wood, steampunkish light fixtures. There are large, comfortable booths along one wall, high-tops near the entrance, and a long bar against another wall, plus a bright open kitchen in the middle and a patio out front.
Noise level: It can get seriously loud, especially when those high-tops are packed with revelers and the music is cranked up.
Location: 2826 Elm St., Dallas; 971-535-4569; idlerye.com
Hours: Monday-Wednesday 11 a.m. to midnight; Thursday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Most recent health department inspection score: 89 (July 31)
Alcohol: Full bar, some good house cocktails, dozens of bourbons, ryes and other whiskeys, and an abbreviated wine list.
5 stars: Extraordinary
4 stars: Excellent
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Fair
No stars: Poor