303 Bar and Grill's Psycho Burger

Oak Cliff's newest burger house is still searching for its identity

While the big restaurant money continues to flow north toward Highland Park, Preston Hollow and Uptown, Dallas' most interesting restaurant scene continues to slowly grow and diversify on the other side of the river. Lucia brings five-star Italian and Campo offers ravioli stuffed with brains. Hattie's updates Southern comfort, giving shrimp and grits new life, and Oddfellows sexes up fried chicken in a quiet cafe filled with the smell of expensive coffee. Mesa shows diners the other side of Mexican cuisine, and B.E.E. takes enchiladas where they've never been before.

Oak Cliff is as diverse as it is refined, offering up $35 Italian veal chops alongside $2 cups of elotes in an elegant display of socioeconomic and culinary diversity. These aren't Top Chef pantheons to expensive meat; they're humble neighborhood restaurants, and they've been quietly pushing the boundaries of local cuisine, expanding palates and expectations, and illuminating what possibly lies ahead for Dallas' dining culture.

This outer fringe is often odd. Quirky, young restaurateurs bend some rules to make their marks. Sometimes it works and some times it doesn't. Oak Cliff's latest, a casual affair billed as a beer and burger joint, bends things really far. It seems to hail from another planet.

Focus on the weird crap on the wall, not the weird crap on your plate.
Sara Kerens
Focus on the weird crap on the wall, not the weird crap on your plate.

303 Bar & Grill opened on a balmy January evening, under the glow of a neon sign tricked out with multi-colored light bulbs. A band stuffed in the corner filled the old house with deafening music, and Adam Bazaldua, a young chef out of Rathbun's Blue Plate Kitchen, manned the stove. The menu claimed he would turn out burgers made from beef, ground on site, and he'd serve them with duck-fat french fries — all in Oak Cliff's quirkiest dining room.

Black-and-white mug shots line one wall, with dark, criminal eyes casting a downward gaze. A pair of baskets, a crate of bottles, a stuffed goose with its wings splayed, a horse from a merry-go-round impaled on a pole and other random objects fill the space with an air of absolute madness. Half of the relics are inverted for whatever reason. It's as eclectic as it is disturbing.

Outside, the bones of dead animals litter the landscaping, and the remains spill inside too. A spine decorated with papery wasp nests greets you at the door, along with a child's artwork, some books and a retro telephone. If one were to storm into the bathroom and find Norman Bates washing his hands, they should be no more surprised than if they saw a horse smoking a cigarette out in the parking lot.

Two months later, a handful of light bulbs in Bar 303's carnival sign have blown out. Bazaldua left, citing creative differences with management, and Chad Starling took over after a short stint at Saint Ann Restaurant and Bar downtown. Before that he spent time in Chicago's fine-dining circuit, something his new staff is happy to brag about. It's a shame the food coming out of the kitchen doesn't align with the bartender's gushing praise.

The Buffalo rock shrimp is unlike any upstate New York plate. Fried, tiny shrimps, encased in a coating that sometimes stays on and sometimes sloughs off, meet blue cheese and the misplaced tang of honey mustard. The chicken wings are goofy, too, presenting salty and smoky drumsticks with a ranch-like dipper. The kitchen removes the knuckle from the narrow end to jazz up the presentation, but the move only makes the snacks harder to pick up and eat.

Sandwiches are cheap and generous but uninspiring. The pulled pork sops with sauce but the meat is dry and can be stringy. A cheesesteak pairs rib-eye with oozing dairy, but the flavors never come together.

A burger reads well on the menu, and pickled red onions and crisp bacon present just as they should. But the cook broke the yolk while cooking my egg, robbing my burger of that primordial ooze. My waiter never asked how I wanted the patty cooked, either (it came brownish-gray), and if the kitchen used to grind the meat in-house each morning, they're most certainly not doing it now. Wasn't this supposed to be a burger house?

The menu is taking a different tack now, offering four entrees all for the impossibly low price of $12.75. You get what you pay for. The bangers paired with mash are really andouille sausage perched on flat whipped potatoes. And while a gnocchi dish serves up fine enough dumplings, with fava beans that harken spring, the whole dish swims in a heavy, muddy sauce.

It would be nice to spin this Bar & Grill as a great place to get a drink, but it's not really that either. The beer list is small and unimaginative, and a $4 martini special instills little faith in the resident mixology. The music is even worse: During my first meal, I endured Survivor's "Burning Heart," followed by Sting's "Set Them Free," and then wiped barbecue sauce and tears from my face to Ton Loc's "Wild Thing."

Despite the train wreck, I desperately want to love this little green house on Davis Street, if only for its quirkiness. I think it's that uniqueness they need to embrace if they want to succeed; they're surrounded by much more compelling dining experiences.

The kitchen should get back to grinding beef in-house, fresh each morning, the way the original menu claimed. The practice makes a difference, and the burgers would provide a clear differentiation for a restaurant located in a neighborhood that's saturated with cheap eats. The menu could use a trim, too, allowing stronger dishes to shine.

With a smaller menu, Starling could focus on some one-off specials as wacky as the décor that invokes a months-long peyote binge. Fun riffs on bar-food classics that would court a late-night crowd would make a worthy addition to Dallas' best restaurant neighborhood. But for now, 303 Bar & Grill feels totally rudderless. It's a great place to eat some psychedelics and watch the walls move, but not a great place to eat.

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11 comments
Josie
Josie

If you want good food and great service Nova down the street is awesome!

Josie
Josie

I have gone to this place twice the first time my husband bought two rounds for our party of 8 and the waitress put it on the individual checks and on ours,but last night they straight up robbed us my husbands friends bought all our drinks since it was his birthday….waitress still charged $43 fine my hubby gave her $100 bill and she never came back with the change, when we questioned her she said she had given it to us….we spoke to the manager and his response my employees don’t steal… We had only gone there both times because of convenience because we had already heard how the over charge people, but I will never go there again….the sad part is we would have given her most of the change as a tip… Drinks are over priced Waitstaff service is horrible

Guest
Guest

My review: Awkward and incompetent service, unremarkable drinks, high prices, never tried the food. When I went, there was this interesting dynamic between the staff trying to make the place a gay bar and the customers trying to enjoy their overpriced beer and Clearchannel approved rock music in peace.

OC Homie
OC Homie

What late night menu? The kitchen closes at 10 pm. Go to Nova if you're hungry after 10.I thought it was an interesting move to let the manager go ON VACATION the second week they were open. Clever. It coincided perfectly with the utterly stupid firing of the brilliant chef. The egg yolk on my burger one weekend actually burst onto my leather coat and onto my pants, netting little if any sympathy from the waitstaff. In fact, they avoided me after that. I also witnessed the progression of several bizarre untrained bartenders come and go over the next month and their suffering from the relentless abuse of the well-seasoned OC drinking crowd made for lots of drinking amusement. I can't wait to see what it's going to be next, 'cause this BS ain't gonna fly too much longer.

Cboswellcit101
Cboswellcit101

you sound like a real blast to hangout with. you must be single and quite lonely. do you put adds on craigslist for m or w because you just dont care anymore? i understand your plight...you are a douche and its just the way it is. burn in hell

OC Homie
OC Homie

I know. Nobody would help me clean up the yolk. My wife, six children, and huge extended family were quite appalled. What is this "craigslist" that you speak of and how can one put "adds" on it for the letters 'm' or 'w'? Unfortunately, my plight is not being a douche. A douche spends it's life being submerged in pussy.

I've seen hell and it wasn't really all that hot. It was more about being very, very hungry. I hope you never have to experience that.

BenefitWriters
BenefitWriters

Karna is a hard lesson to learn! The Manager's made a terrible mistake terminating the chef, Adam Bazaldua. This (embaressing) review is the Owner's Karma! Adam was blessed with a new offer, and now the Sous Chef for Stefan Pyles.Where the food and service are outstanding! Everything happens for a reason. Adam put his sweat, blood and tears into making the origional menu special. He wanted so much for this place to be special and to succeed. He hand grinded the meat, he 'loves' to cook! But that was not the focus of the owner! Who by the way fired him after opening night (within a week), He did not even have the respect to tell Adam in person. He just attached his termination notice to his pay check when Adam showed up for work! Adam had a baby on the way. Real crappy of the Owner. I am Adam's Aunt Diane, and I am one to say, you get what you deserve! Adam finally go what he deserved and that was a pay raise and a better place to be. And the Owner got what he deserved for treating Adam so awful by this review! Thanks Scott for your honesty!

BenG
BenG

Such a bummer you had a bad experience Scott. We loved it. I will say, the first visit (their 3rd day open) the staff and Bloody Mary was questionable but the Chief was kind enough to make the duck fat fried fries for me even though it wasn't on the menu for brunch. I’d say that’s going above and beyond in the service department. I loved the fries. On my second visit I had a great Bloody Mary, great service and the pancakes, as recommended by others, were great! They were fluffy and yet not so fluffy they couldn't be called pan”cakes”. I was worried it would be too sweet with syrup and BBQ sauce but I think the tang of the BBQ sauce really balanced it out. The pulled pork was a great break from traditional breakfast meats. And my over easy eggs were perfectly cooked. My other half loved the biscuits and gravy. I’m amused by the decor. You're right, it's not another boring north of the river Dallas restaurant. Me and all my dining companions discussed the art/decor with interest and loved the fireplace mantel which is a wonderful and interesting piece of art. There was a wonderful acoustic guitarist playing and it was just the right addition, not too loud. I haven't had anything but brunch there yet so I feel I can’t make an overall statement about the place but will definitely make it in for dinner soon to try the burger and have some more of those great duck fat fried fries.

Jon Daniel
Jon Daniel

Thanks for pointing out the music. All burger joints in Dallas are not required to play shitty classic rock, yet they do

Kerrie Sparks
Kerrie Sparks

I gave it two tries, once in the beginning, and just this past Sunday w/ the new menu. It was the Jack Daniel's BBQ pork stuffed pancakes that brought us in for a second try, and they were something yummy and different, but not enough to win me over from the first visit. Way too much mustard used in the BBQ sauce, it was more yellow in color than reddish-brown!

The first visit was poor service, and a very limited brunch menu, of which I had the lox eggs Benedict, and a friend and I shared the duck fat french fries (nothing special, regular old fries fried in duck fat. At least go for waffle or steak fries, jazz it up a bit).

This time around the service was still iffy, and I know the mimosas are only $3.50, - up .50 cents since my previous visit - but can you give me MORE than 2 swigs for that price!?

 
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