Haute Bar Food Is Getting Hot

But only when the chefs in charge deliver what their menus promise.

Like all things culinary, burgers, sandwiches and chicken wings — the core building blocks of human nutrition — are subject to a high degree of variability. A paper-wrapped sandwich from your corner deli is nothing like the creation cradled in locally baked bread at East Hampton Sandwich Company, which has little in common with the "sandwich" that might be dreamed up by a chef who's read too much Modernist Cuisine.

That's not to say one is inherently better than the other. A simple sandwich made with good bread and meat can make your day, while a talented chef's deconstructed peanut butter and jelly can stick to the roof of your brain for years.

A drive-in burger might taste better than it really is, if it evokes a station wagon filled with childhood friends and mustard stains. And if you haven't experienced a chefy burger that ushers tears with every juicy drip, then you clearly aren't fat enough.

At Boxwood, go for the turkey burger.
Catherine Downes
At Boxwood, go for the turkey burger.
Boxwood wings.
Catherine Downes
Boxwood wings.


Boxwood Tap and Grill

2901 Thomas Ave., 214-220-2901, boxwoodtg.com. 4 p.m.-2 a.m. daily. $$

Wings $7, $12

Sliders $9

Burger $11

Beet salad $10

Grilled salmon $18

The Corner Bar

4830 McKinney Ave., 214-219-8002. 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-2 a.m. Sunday. $$

Mini corn dogs $5

Spicer's Greens $9

Wings $10

Burger $7

Ribs $12

Bars — those that offer karaoke and live music, sell shots of Fireball and hasten sex among strangers — generally cling to the more pedestrian realm of these culinary endeavors. Beef patties are ordered pre-formed and flavor-free. Wings are pulled out of a freezer bag before they end up on a plate alongside wilted celery. Ranch dressing is ladled from a months-old gallon jug, and customers who order a salad roll the dice with their intestinal well-being.

Bar owners might reason that people who slam whiskey infused with synthetic cinnamon can't have a refined palate and wouldn't know the difference. Or maybe it's just more profitable to use weeks-old oil to cook stockpiled ingredients covered with frost in the freezer. It's even likely that the only reason the bar you're sitting at now is serving anything other than canned beer is because the government regulating their alcohol permit mandates it. Whatever the case, bar food is seldom better than hospital food.

The trend may be shifting though, even if it's moving as slowly as that salad dressing in the walk-in. A few bar owners in Dallas have been taking a closer look at their menus, even going as far as hiring chefs to draw in customers. Last year, Ten Bells Tavern opened in Oak Cliff, announcing that a chef would roll out an arsenal of house-pickled eggs and sandwiches stuffed with french fries. They've since earned a reputation for exemplary pub grub that may have eclipsed their quaint patio and bloke-worthy beer selection. Other bars have since taken a hard look at the steam tray of drying orange cheese sauce in their kitchens, though not always with the same results.

Earlier this year The Corner Bar came under new ownership, and Jason Czaja, who previously cooked at Shinsei, the Japanese fusion restaurant on Inwood Road, was tasked with developing the menu. More recently, Boxwood Tap and Grill opened up in the former TABC space on Thomas Avenue in Uptown. Jason Wade runs the kitchen there; he once served as sous chef at Plano's spot for elevated bar food, Whiskey Cake. When these chefs deliver what their menus describe, you'll be left to balance a round and happy belly on wobbly legs. When they don't, you'll wish you'd just gone to a restaurant and closed the evening with your favorite dive.

Boxwood doesn't feel like a restaurant. A sea of baseball caps fills the main room, each aligned with the appropriate flat-screen, and at the end of the bar an aggressive customer's hand cups a blonde's mostly covered backside. The business set in button-down shirts is here as well, and there are so many orders for Tito's and soda you might become suspicious that these customers are all watching their weight. (Pro tip: Soda water has fewer calories than tonic.)

This is not the type of place you'd expect to see a plate of roasted beets with shooter marbles of goat cheese dusted with minced fresh herbs. A massive nest of well-dressed arugula makes for a solid salad, even if the herbs clutter what are otherwise clean and simple flavors.

There's a prosciutto and melon salad but it's so much more, with cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon joining berries, feta and thinly sliced cucumber. It's a combination that shouldn't work so well yet does, although it's a shame the ham was sliced so thin it was completely missing during one of my visits.

Boxwood doesn't shill healthfulness exclusively, even though they serve a solid turkey burger. There are tender wings served with fresh-tasting ranch that will quickly fill in the grooves on your six-pack. And there is pulled pork and slaw heaped onto springy buns that test the boundary of where sandwiches begin and sliders end.

There's also a burger served on a dense bun that feels like a sham on both fronts. The menu promises 8 ounces of chuck, but you'll get two thin patties that look like they're stretching for four each. They're likely so thin because they've gotten to know the grill a bit too well, and the dry, white bread standing in for what the menu calls a challah bun only adds to the nagging suspicion that you've ordered a dud. Boxwood might be the only bar in the history of bars that serves a turkey burger that's more delicious than their beef burger. If the action was intentional the world might be a better place.

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My Voice Nation Help

Haute bar food is merely the equivalent of the designer cocktail and craft beer movement, what I call hospitality gentrification. The quality of the fare may be better or worse, but one thing is consistent: the price will be higher. Ten or twelve bucks for a plate of chicken wings that used to go for five. Same with a burger, beef, turkey, or otherwise. Rents go up, so prices go up, but you have to give the suckers a "fair shake for their suger" , as Bing Crosby once put it to Bob Hope in a "road" picture. The image is what passes for a "fair shake" these days. A full paragraph description of an item on a menu will suffice. And of course, a nice review helps. Frankly I miss Frankie's in Uptown. They had a killer menu that wasn't pretentious or overly expensive. Drinks were reasonable too. These days that's going to be hard to replace.

scott.reitz moderator editor

@mann2c55 What you see as gentrification I see as a return to quality, and a move away from processed food. A lot of what you eat at bars is artificially cheap. This isn't as much about foie gras medallion on every burger as it is getting a burger made with decent beef.