Plain Good

Hector's on Henderson puts all its glitz on the plate

Out there in the cyber yards there's a place called slick.com (political satire at its best!), a repository of assorted detritus and tripe. Here's something useful: "The Code of Dalton." "The Code of Dalton" lists a number of felonies and misdemeanors, outrages not covered by criminal codes. For example, under "A-Hole Crimes," blaming one's flatulence on a household pet is a misdemeanor, while saying, "But you have such a pretty face," to a fat woman is a felony. Under crimes of pretension, it is illegal for a wine snob to blurt, "It has a good nose," unless the bottle does, in fact, have a nice chiseled schnoz.

Culinary crimes are tucked in Section IV under the heading "Criminal Cuisine." Felonies include labeling any food "fun size"; selling, transporting or possessing any packaged foodstuff with the word "helper" in its name; and claiming to be a vegetarian while clinging to the belief that chicken and fish are not meat.

Then there is this crime: "offering liver and onions to a child." There, recoil in horror, and be mindful of this when dining at Hector's on Henderson. You could easily be seduced into offering a child the chicken-fried chicken livers in caramelized cipolline onions, but you'd be a usurper, a corruptor, a thief making off with youthful innocence well before its expiration date. You'd be flogged in public by a French chef with a batter whip, a head of garlic strapped to your mouth to mute your cries of agony.

Minimalism at its best: Hector's saves its energy for the plate.
Tom Jenkins
Minimalism at its best: Hector's saves its energy for the plate.

Location Info

Map

Hector's on Henderson

2929 N. Henderson Ave.
Dallas, TX 75206

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: East Dallas & Lakewood

Details

Chicken livers $8.50
Celery soup $7.25
Quail $9.50
Cobb salad $8.50
Ostrich burger $10.50
Pork chop $23.25
Diver scallops $20.50
Plum cake $8

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Sometimes crime pays, though. The livers arrive on a long white plate, three points of gnarled organ punctuation, evenly spaced, resting in dark dribble. They're topped with sprouts fastened to wavy stems that crown the liver knots like highly teased hair.

Liver isn't so much a revulsion generator because of its taste. It creeps the spine because of its appearance and texture. Beef liver is packaged in plastic tubs. It resembles bruised slime with a Coppertone tan. After a thorough cooking with onions the slime part dissipates.

Chicken livers are little different. Pull one out of a chicken body cavity and give it the once-over in your palm and you'll be convinced that after a couple of years of Wheaties it, too, would grow handsomely into a plastic tub.

These are better. There's a beauty to this trio. The onions swim in and out of the thick molasses vinaigrette that hems and haws with sweetness and a sharp paper-cut bite right at the base of the liver crust. Get a few sprouts in with the bite and it even has a pungent aromatic element to it. One problem: The livers themselves are a bit bland. "That's what liver and onions are, rube," you say. But dress them up in the culinary equivalent of fishnets and a hair lily and you expect the fry crust to be a bit more risqué.

For that, perhaps it's best to order the pork chop lollipop. Pork licking aside, this menu heading unleashes horrific mental images. Imagine sucking on a Tootsie Pop and when you fragment the cherry hard candy to sink your molars into the chewy Tootsie Roll center you strike...pork. Offering this to children should be a "Code of Dalton" capital crime. But here's the thing: The name comes from the fact that the pork chop rests on the plate on a blunted meat end with the chop bone sticking straight up out of the plate--like a lollipop handle. Smooth, delicious whipped sweet potatoes in chestnut butter swirl nearby. A curving bubbled strip of "ruby port paint," smelling suspiciously like raspberry, is baked into one end. Though a bit too pink, the meat is moist, juicy and well-seasoned.

But it's best to shill for the ostrich burger. First, how is it possible that a bird has meat as red and punch-bruise purple as a mammal with hoofs and a five-bedroom stomach? Bird meat should be beige. Duck tawny maybe. But this? The bread, with grill bar stripes, is saturated with juices, the kind of drip that comes from a bovine cardiac cluster bomb. The burger is thick, more globe-like than pressed and tapered. It's hearty, with a richness that is understated instead of ponderous, with subtle layers of gaminess that rise to the surface before receding and lingering through the finish. A side of thin sweet-potato fries dabbed with habañero mayo defies convention: They're thicker than the common orange shoestrings fried into brittle twigs. This tiny touch makes them more luxurious to nip and chew, almost like eating cake.

The product of Hector Garcia, longtime Riviera manager and very short-time partner with Susie Priore in Iris (a severance executed in a lawyerly fashion, the rumor goes), Hector's is bold in a way few Dallas restaurants ever dare. It's glitz-less. Drenched in gray and black with bare walls (save for some dramatic paintings on one end) and spare lighting fixtures, Hector's isn't pretty. It's minimalist, but not the high-concept minimalism that inspires self-important menu essays. This is the minimalism of resourcefulness and dedication to plate dynamics, a tactic that is so refreshing it makes you hungry. It's almost as if the place were sprayed with pretty-people repellent before the doors were thrown open. There's no vibe other than mundane conversations and well-executed sustenance. You just know any "hip" references that might come up at Hector's center exclusively on the mechanics of the pelvis.

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