Bang a Gong
There are two ways to digest Django on the Parkway: with music or without music. Django must be consumed this way because Django entwines two personalities that come into relief only when the music is sifted out.
This Addison venue, now thoroughly washed in burnt brick-red stucco substance on the exterior, was once the great destination seafood restaurant Lombardi Mare. In this persona, it was elegantly designed by Paul Draper with flourishes of thick etched glass, black and white floor tile, colorful fish schools slumming on the walls, wood paneling, fish heads near the kitchen and butcher-paper table coverings with crayons.
Now there is lots of black, sheer purplish curtain gauze separating the bar from the dining-dance area, a DJ command post and neon. There are also low-slung couches and carpet in leopard-skin patterns. The glass bowls filled with water that once hung above the bar in slings--goldfish flitting about within but mostly hunkering motionless on the bottom as if they were too drunk to throw up--now hold clear beads and little plastic animals. This is a touch of no relevance except perhaps as a snide wink at the seafood ghost that would still haunt the place if there were anything inside worth terrifying.
Hit Django early, before the sky goes dark and the music turns live, and you'll find a barren warehouse with old '80s hits--Duran Duran and Depeche Mode--spurting from black speaker boxes and ricocheting around the empty room, as if their purpose was to beat an appetite into you, or maybe out of you.
But food isn't the gig. It's a convenience, like ashtrays, toothpicks or condom machines in the latrine. Witness the shrimp cocktail salad, described as ceviche-style in the menu. It's a lacing of diced tomato, avocado, onion and cilantro flushed with lime. It's supposed to come with water crackers over which to tumble the stuff. But as our server noted after delivering the hash in an oval ramekin posted on a plate, the kitchen was out of water crackers and the chef was out securing reinforcements: a crack operation this. Pebbled with shrimp that were undoubtedly poached instead of "cooked" in a bath of lime juice "ceviche-style," the mix held thin slices of lime that rose out of the cocktail dorsal-like. Yet with all of this lime posturing, the cocktail was distressingly weak in acidity. Even more distressing, the cocktail was warm; not the warmth of intention, but room-temperature warm, as if it had been squatting somewhere for a length of time, maybe where the water crackers used to be.
But let's be clear on what Django is and what it is not. Django is a bar, a dance hall, a live music venue, a special-events spread. Django is not a sacrament to the culinary bitch goddess; it's an incidental prayer to her. "We didn't want to get nonsensical about it or try to prove anything," says consulting chef Peter Tarantino. "The food is very simple. Yet we didn't go too far south on it and just do chicken wings and chips and salsa either."
But how far south does it go? Named after Django Reinhardt, the Belgium-born gypsy jazz guitarist who crafted masterful guitar solos despite having permanently damaged two fingers in a 1928 caravan fire, Django flaunts a menu divided into swing sections: strings (appetizers); woodwinds (entrées), brass (pizza, fries) and percussion (dessert). Brass contains a section titled "the performance of Mr. Potato," fry baskets with various potato cuts and toppings--a kazoo section in this Atkins era.
Our server shilled for the Django dip (strings), a smooth artichoke, herbs and Parmesan blended into a stiff cream. It arrives in a large ramekin resting in the center of a bowl dusted with paprika. Shriveled and pimpled pasta wafers, cut and curved like a crop of witch schnozzles, are planted around the ramekin. They are soft and pliable, a little spongy even, as if stale. Dip flavors are rich and tangy, and the dip portion is generous; so generous we ran out of chips and requested backup. But like the water crackers, the kitchen was depleted--this with a dining room population of six.
Entrées carried on with this frayed-edge motif. They come with a choice of fries, fruit cup or salad. The dinner salad, a toss of greens, kalamata olives and a single pepperoncini pod, all slathered in thick vinaigrette, had romaine ribs that were pitted and brown. But this was minor static compared with the fruit cup: a simple cluster of strawberries in various stages of rot. This woodwind didn't toot.
Rock 'n (prime) rib is essentially a French dip lathered with smoked provolone and sautéed onions. The bottom portion of the kaiser roll was soggy and disintegrating: not much of a hindrance when you're going to dredge it through a dish of jus anyway, but it made the sandwich cumbersome to hoist. Meat slices were rich but greasy, and the jus floated white globules of fat that punched out of the murky brown sludge like pearl sequins.
Piano panino, a grilled portobello mushroom sandwich with roma tomatoes, onions, mozzarella and basil pressed between rosemary flatbread, was also cumbersome and difficult to operate. The sandwich was so thick it had to be partially disassembled to get the jaws around it. The mushrooms could have been grilled down a bit more, too, to concentrate the earthy flavors and marry the disparate elements more effectively.
Django creator Teena McMills, a former partner in the Red Jacket club on Greenville Avenue, says she intended Django to be a re-creation of Caravan of Dreams with Beau Nash service and the zest of Greenville Avenue. Her quest is to generate appeal among a broad demographic slice with an edge to titillate the young and a nostalgic bent to bring in the Rogaine users with Botox-lipped companions on their arms.
On a bustling Friday night, a birthday party is in full swing with lollipops on the tables and helium-swollen balloons, monogrammed with "Over the Hill," hovering above the chairs. Here Django has actualized its broad demographic target in one convenient metaphor. Maylee Thomas, a Dallas-based singer with a billowing mane that sensually flops and waves with every bleat and strut, was smoothly bellowing '70s and '80s hits bruised with little throaty blues-type things in front of her tight five-piece band. People were swarming the square wood-tile dance patch. Traces of cigar and cigarette fumes escaped the pull of ventilation-system currents, invoking nostalgic memories of Dallas when it welcomed nicotine vices along with the jiggling silicone kind while noshing.
Somehow, the food tasted much better when sizzled with this live-wire buzz. Pizza (improvisational pizza session) was fitted onto rosemary flatbread with Italian sausage and optional bell pepper, onions, olives and mushrooms. It melded well and skidded the mouth with a burst of pepper heat on the finish. Though it was a bit gray in the center instead of the expected rosy pink, the Django blues burger was juicy and rich and leaked a zesty blue cheese drool over the grill-charred edges. Even the shrimp cocktail salad, fanned with water crackers this time, was cool and managed a bit more lime presence.
Django isn't a place to go eat. It's a place to loosen feet, prick up ears and slosh cubes in a tumbler. If you get hungry, pluck at the menu band. Just keep in mind that what you get might fly well south of Buffalo wings.
5100 Belt Line Road, Addison, 972-789-1700. Open 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Wednesday-Friday, 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Sunday. $$
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Dallas dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.