Big Plans From the Tiny Kitchen at Jonathon's Oak Cliff

A young chef ditched a local institution to find his own way. It may just be your new got-to.

For the new-around-here, asking a local for dining ideas undoubtedly yields one of only a few recommendations. You must try the tacos at Fuel City. It's, like, in a gas station or something. Or how about Wingfield's? The patties are massive, the best burger I've ever had. Angry Dog is awesome, man. And so on.

Each testimonial comes framed with a cute history, fable or gimmick. And often, each recommendation disappoints once the cheerleading fades. It's not that they aren't interesting spots — the stories and the romance alone make them worth a visit — but if you judge these icons solely on the merits of their food, they rarely live up to the hype. They're good, sure, but the greatest?

This is how I came to eat a plate of fried chicken at Bread Winners Cafe on McKinney Avenue. An out-of-town chef who spent some time in Dallas had given me a list of places to try. It included some real gems. It also had a few bombs. The chicken at Bread Winners was an attractive plate, but it seemed all dressed up with no place to go. A pan sauce — one of those classic french riffs on veal stock — stood in for gravy, and an apple compote turned out to be applesauce's understudy. History, especially with food, has its own inertia, and institutions are difficult to dethrone.

Sara Kerens

Location Info

Map

Jonathon's Oak Cliff

1111 N. Beckley Ave.
Dallas, TX 75203

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Oak Cliff & South Dallas

Details

Jonathon’s Oak Cliff Danger Dogs $6.50 Burger $10 Rosie’s Special $13 Chicken and waffles $10.50 Migas $9 Brunch kabob $7

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Jonathon Erdeljac grew up in that last Dallas favorite, working the line, managing kitchens and helping to open new links in the Bread Winners chain. He'd arrived via Houston in 1998, only to get canned from his first job before landing at Maklin's Catering Company, learning the zen of pan gravy from an old master named Eugene. Eventually he found his way to Bread Winners, where he worked more than six years, frying chicken cutlets and harboring his own dream.

"My goal was to open my own place before I turned 35," Erdeljac says.

He just made it. His certificate of occupancy on his new restaurant, Jonathon's Oak Cliff, was awarded by the city a day before his 35th birthday. His liquor license, however, would come months later, caught in City Hall's red tape.

In the weeks and months preceding their opening, Erdeljac and his wife, Christine, built out the restaurant themselves. They hung country-style kitchen cabinets over a stainless steel back-splash behind the bar. They painted, too, accenting the space with a deep green and a brown so dark it's almost black. They named the bathrooms Earnest and Reba. They hung pictures that call back to Dallas' older days.

They built a decent menu too. The beer list is a small but reasonably curated one, fashioned from brown card stock, a laser-jet printer and the world's smallest clothespin. The selection leans hard on Oskar Blues Brewery, which brought the sexy back to canned beer. Dale's Pale Ale, Mama's Little Yella Pils and Old Chub are all here. I sipped on a Left Hand Milk Stout and a Stone IPA draft during my visits. Wine is all but forgotten, mentioned at the bottom with only varietals as descriptions. Would you like the chardonnay?

Every new space has its growing pains, and a menu with prices altered with stickers indicates a team that's still working out some kinks. Erdeljac concedes there's a learning curve. He thought he knew more about opening a restaurant than he did. But even if they've increased a little since opening this May, the prices are more than fair. Jonathon's charges basement numbers for elevated diner fare.

Take that pork chop. Rosie's special will set you back 13 bucks, but it will reward you with a well-done but juicy hunk of pig, still on the bone and lacquered with a coffee-honey glaze. A bright slaw of thinly sliced fennel bulbs, lightly dressed and accented with fronds, stands in for boring mashed potatoes. This was the most expensive item on the menu during my visits.

Chicken and waffles? Ten-fifty. And topped with a fried-chicken cutlet that beats the plate at Erdeljac's old digs hands down. The pepper gravy is a tricky one. It tastes laden with swine but it's not. Fennel seed, garlic, smoked paprika and other seasonings to mimic the flavors of a country sausage.

The beef burger was forgettable, even for only a Hamilton. I swapped the standard lettuce, tomato and onions with the toppings meant for the ground chicken and turkey burger. But the pickled onions, arugula and provolone, even paired with a fresh whole-grain bun, couldn't save a patty that was bland and dry. I watched a chicken pot pie I wished I'd ordered whisked to another table nearby.

The left side of Jonathon's evening menu plays on a trend I hope Dallas sees more of: breakfast for dinner. Eggs all day long. Sure, the breakfast menu offering waffles, pancakes, grits and other morning favorites says the service ends at 10, but other items endure, all the way through dinner.

Migas taste light on an otherwise heavy menu. The Tex-Mex preparation features egg whites and turkey sausage, and it makes light use of cheddar cheese and a pairing of soft, seasoned potatoes — healthier than traditional migas, but not in a way that makes you feel like you're eating healthy. It's a good cheat.

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16 comments
Theresa Witt
Theresa Witt

Just so proud of my nephew Jonathon and so happy that his customers are enjoying his food. I know his Aunt Theresa and Uncle Frank in West Virginia would be satifying their taste buds if only we lived closer. Much Love to both of you Jon and Christine keep up the hard work I know it will all pay off...xoxoxoxo

josef
josef

We visited today for the first time. We had a senior citizen with us and were awaiting for one party member. Even though they had tables available, some prancing waiter in no such words sent us packing outside in the 100 degree weather... I can't remember when was the last time we were treated in such a rude fashion. It was embarrassing, it was demeaning, and their oh-so-much-cooler-than-thou waiter is oblivious to the power of the Internet and social media...

AlexAdam90209
AlexAdam90209

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NOW 100% WORKING

Jbailey214
Jbailey214

We have become huge fans, going twice a week. Some of the most amazing dishes show great range. He makes the BEST eggs benedict I've ever had. The chicken and waffles and club sandwich are decadent treats that are amazing. On the lighter side, he does some awesome salads.

Jana D
Jana D

Great artcle Scott. I'm looking forward to trying that chicken pot pie you should've ordered once the cooler months start trickling in.

And I agree with the other poster....you've been asking the wrong people for recommendations. Come talk to me, I have a few hidden gems that may be able to handle you.

ts
ts

I really like Jonathon's and was just there this last Sunday. The only criticism I would have is that the portions are actually too large. I realize that probably sounds like a weird criticism, but it's something that puts me off personally.

Pinchejefe
Pinchejefe

If the best recommendations you're getting are fuel city and wingfield's, youre not asking the right people...

Tahini
Tahini

Why does everyone who carries dale's carry those three and miss their two best offerings (G'Knight and Gubna)?

doppelstranger
doppelstranger

I know they have a policy against seating anyone before the entire party has arrived during Saturday and Sunday brunch due to incomplete parties being seated and then taking half an hour or more for the rest of the party to arrive all while an entire party waits for a table. However I doubt you were told you HAD to wait outside. I was there today as well and I know they were on a wait and one of the waiters told a party they couldn't have a table because there were two parties ahead of them and no one was told they had to wait outside. Both of the other parties found a place to wait inside.

They're still working out the kinks in the system and despite the negative experience you had today it would certainly be unfair for you to think the owners Christine and Jonathon are anything less than wonderfully nice people who want to make every one of their customer or potential customers happy.

Sparkysales
Sparkysales

Why did the prancing waiter make you wait outside?

Scott Reitz
Scott Reitz

I almost wrote about all the left over containers I watched people carry out the front door.

Jana D
Jana D

You're forgetting Ten FIdy! Never has motor oil tasted so good!

Jonathon
Jonathon

Because Gubna and G'Knight are seasonal, but I agree Gubna is def my favorite of the bunch!

doppelstranger
doppelstranger

I highly recommend the breakfast tacos and the club sandwich.

Tahini
Tahini

Both G'knight and Gubna are year-round releases. Gubna has only been year-round since 2010, though.

 
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