By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
In 2001, the Prison got new owners, downscaled its menu and was transmuted into the Prison Bars & Grill, where the distinguishing feature was karaoke on Thursday and Sunday evenings. It closed in 2003 perhaps because, as the McKinney Courier-Gazette reported, it did not have a history of good food and good service. Prisons seldom do. Now the landmark pen is for sale.
Poppy's Garden Café is also in a historic McKinney building, a creaky old house plugged into the core of McKinney's historic district. It used to be a restaurant called The Sweet Tomato. The Sweet Tomato closed for a peculiar reason: Business was thriving. "Business has never stopped; business has been good," manager Kim Garcia said in the McKinney Courier-Gazette. "Let me put it this way, we'll be going out like 'Seinfeld.'"
Out went the Tomato. This past August, the old house was taken by Jim and Carrie Garner, former Cici's Pizza franchisees. Poppy's is described as a general restaurant with "some Thai components;" a good descriptor now that New American has been worn down to a meaningless hash where nothing is American save for the chef.
These Thai components include Thai beef jerky with cilantro chili sauce, pad Thai and Thai braised short ribs. The wreath around the short ribs certainly isn't Thai-like: green onion polenta, green beans and roasted cipollini. The polenta is loose but delicious. The short ribs are shellacked in an unctuous brown glaze that's a blend of demi-glacé, soy, sherry, orange, honey and lemongrass. Yet after long moments in the maw, it's impossible to tease out any traces of the Thai constituency. Plus, the meat is laden with gobbets of fat and gristle, and there are no compelling flavors to compensate. Couldn't the kitchen have at least crowned the ribs in peanut sauce or braised them in ginger?
No, because the ginger is reserved for the crème brûlée. It comes in a boat. The crisp scorched sugar lid is warm. It is crowned with three raspberries and chunks of candied ginger. This must be the Thai component. Scatter the fragments, punch through the crust and plumb the custard. Notice it's cold instead of cool. It's stiff and porous, like a fine elementary school paste. It coats the mouth in fur. This brûlée was preformed and aged in the chiller.
Pad Thai was better. Tangled with about a half-dozen shrimp, the noodles are supple and separate and the sauce coats them smoothly and elegantly. Instead of peanut butter, the peanuts are crushed and sprinkled throughout. Sewn in with the noodles are strands of carrot, cuts of scallion, bits of egg and bean sprouts. A wedge of lime rests on the edge of the plate.
Here's a peculiarity: the "wine down." Included on the menu, the wine down is a menu of 20 wines, half by the glass for $5, the other half by the bottle for $20. The wine down is only available between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Menu verbiage insists that the wines-by-the-glass list cannot be had by the bottle and wines by the bottle cannot be had by the glass. What's the thinking here? "We wanted people to get educated," says general manager Junior Wakefield. Wakefield says that most of the people hit Poppy's with hopes of quenching a white Zinfandel thirst. He wants to steer them into something new cheaply and easily--hence the rules.
Still the inflexibility seems counterproductive, though Wakefield says if a glass bewitches you they'll let you pull a whole bottle. We probed the wine down on one visit: a glass of Mia's Pinot Noir. The wine had an off waft, as if it had been open for some time and had begun to tarnish.
We had other wine troubles, though this was mostly in the dispensing rituals. On a Saturday evening, in a vibrant but not heavily booked dining room, 20 minutes passed before a server noticed us. She scribbled an order for Sprite. She left before we could request a wine list (the "wine down" was down as it was beyond 7 p.m., the hour at which all wine education must stop and the great lager down ensues). Ten more minutes spooled off with no sign of a server; we went to the bar and ordered a bottle of Wild Horse Pinot Noir after the bartender showed the list.
It was never delivered. No one stopped by to inquire about a dinner order. Should we go to the kitchen to place our food order? While that Wild Horse was still a stray?