Acme F&B Goes Whole Hog
Chefs Colleen O'Hare and Jeana Johnson have built a solid reputation with Good 2 Go Taco, their upscale taquería in East Dallas where customers can indulge in brisket tacos while bathing in the rich smell of freshly roasted Cultivar Coffee. Brooke Humphries and Brianna Larson have a bit of a reputation, too. They're responsible for the popular Barcadia bars in Dallas and Fort Worth, the Beauty Bar and more recently the It'll Do Club, where throbbing old-school house music rouses the club set to a neon-Tetris dance floor. When the foursome came together, it amounted to a service-industry dream team. Their announcement that Acme F&B would be opening on McKinney Avenue set the Dallas fooderazzi astir.
And on a warm Tuesday evening, an enthusiastic crowd suggests everything is in place. Look at that antique wheelchair out on the patio alongside reclaimed-wood tables and corroding metal seats. There's a vintage cigarette machine by the bathrooms with their dingy tile. A wasp's nest and a stuffed pheasant watch over the dining room and lockers and rust, all illuminated by the warm glow of Edison bulbs that hang beneath the pressed tin ceilings.
The place has energy despite the somber, vintage feel. A youthful crowd in skirts and jeans sips Lillet on the rocks with a twist, a gratis aperitif — amuse booze — poured for every guest. There's bread service too, a small segment of sourdough shaped like a baguette and delivered wrapped in butcher paper sealed with a twisting red-and-white candy cane of twine.
Acme F&B has presentation down cold, from the tin ceilings to the walls to the polished staff who drop plates on your table and top off your water before it's even half-empty. They navigate the beer, wine and excellent cocktail selections with thoughtful recommendations and wax poetic about the farm-to-table principles that govern the menu they know very well.
Acme says it employs a whole-animal allocation program along with Good 2 Go taco and the illustrious burger temple Goodfriend. They buy whole cows and send the brisket off to become tacos, turn the chuck into burgers and send the fun stuff to Acme. It's a helluva story for what has the potential to be a very good restaurant, as soon as the menu catches up with the pitch.
Grilled meats, such as the beef and pork the menu refers to as "farmer's cuts," are safe bets. The vague description hedges a kitchen that has a lot of different animal parts on hand. You could be eating a blade steak one night or a more familiar loin chop the next. (You'll have to talk to your server to find out what's available that evening, or even that hour.) Order the latter and an impeccably cooked, beautifully frenched, bone-in pork chop capped in a ring of fat you'll actually want to eat comes to your table. It sits on bed of dried peas seasoned with enough ham hock flavor to make you wonder if there's too much smoky pig, and then your plate's clean.
The farmer's cut of lamb, however, needs a disclaimer. Lamb sourced from multiple farms through Local Yocal market, which supplies most of the restaurant's meat, isn't as consistent as what you buy at your grocery store. One night it's tender and mild and another, tough and gamey. A diner at my table swore she tasted blue cheese when tearing into the tiny T-bone, but I took a bite and recognized the funk. This was a lamb that lived a little longer than the shrink-wrapped pink meat you cook at home. It's a lamb that grew up and gained a surly, sultry flavor that was really quite good, so long as you have a taste for mutton.
Chicken and dumplings were not chicken and dumplings, but a roast chicken, in your choice of white or dark meat, both with hyper-crispy skin that framed flesh that was just starting to dry out. It roosts in a smooth velouté (think sauce, slightly better than Mom's gravy) with tough, over-worked gnocchi dumplings and tender Swiss chard.
The seafood on the menu bends the farm to table mantra, but that's understandable in North Texas. Oysters from Washington are expensive and tasted old and dry, but a piece of king salmon served with summer succotash is invigorating. When your server asks if you'd like it medium, say yes, and then relish in the warm, rosy hue and firm, flavorful flesh of fresh, line-caught fish. The summertime mix of corn, fava beans and peas that share the plate will destroy the veggie medley in the freezer case of your mind, forever.
Sturgeon is even better, with a nice moist center and seriously crisp crust. (Whoever is working the fish station deserves a pat on the dorsal fin.) Savoy cabbage, fresh chickpeas, big leafy bites of parsley, and a savory sofrito share space in a simple, rustic plate that's flawlessly executed.
In so many restaurants appetizers elate and mains lose momentum, but the exact opposite occurs at Acme F&B. Along with those oysters that disappoint, a crab and grapefruit gratin coiffed with a tangle of lemon-dressed frisée is confusing. The grapefruit and seafood could be best of friends on their own, but the blanket of heavy cream the mixture swims in clashes with the bright citrus.
The offal schnitzel was a letdown, too. The small pieces of meat were oily, lost some breading and seemed out of place in an otherwise beautiful plate boasting capers, arugula and a fried egg with a perfectly runny yolk. Had the kitchen "schnitzeled" a tender, pounded piece of pork, this might be one of Acme's best plates, but while the restaurant should be praised for embracing nose-to-tail cookery, there are other ways to get customers to eat organs than breading and bubbling oil.
Ditto on the croquettes used to hide sweetbreads and tongue in a suspension of runny bechamel. If a restaurant is to educate its diners on the enjoyment of offal it has to make the organ meat the center of the stage. It has to let the guts shine.
Want proof? Try the charcuterie plate. The headcheese is a loose pâté made from the cooked face of a pig. The meat is coarsely chopped, lightly seasoned and subtly supported by a fig compote — it's delicious. There's a chicken liver mousse that shares the plate too. Only earthy liver dominates the palate as the smooth texture melts away, yet it's so rich and flavorful it draws an audible sigh at first bite.
Restaurants like Lucia and Campo have proven there are adventurous diners in Dallas, ready to expand their palates and explore a style of cooking that has been mostly dormant here for decades, if not forever. They've eaten pudding thickened with pig's blood and the raw hearts of cows and licked their plates clean, but they've been stuck in bohemian Oak Cliff. Acme F&B has a chance to teach a new set of diners that eating meat isn't all about rib-eyes and fillets — there are blood and bone marrow and guts, too. A whole-animal allocation program shouldn't be about disguising organ meats, but celebrating them for what they are: interesting, flavorful cuts some might otherwise never get to know.
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