Dee Lincoln's Steak and Burger Bar: Great Steak, But Do We Need More Red Meat?
Dee Lincoln could have opened any kind of restaurant on Howell Street, but she decided to stick with what she knows best. The restaurant maven is widely known as a co-founder of the Del Frisco's empire, built almost entirely on a foundation of well-seared beef. And while Dallas needs another steak and burger place like it needs another freeway, red meat somehow continues to work here, so long as it's served smoked, slabbed or stuffed between buns.
Lincoln left Del Frisco's in 2010 to open Dee Lincoln's Tasting Room and Bubble Bar, first in Cowboys Stadium and then at Rosewood Court in Uptown. The Bubble Bar features a modern American menu and plenty of cocktails and Champagne, at price points that pull on designer purse strings. Her third restaurant returns to her red-meat roots, offering updated steakhouse fare with fancy burgers, no credit line required.
The approach is hardly a novel one. Both Nick and Sam's and Del Frisco's have opened casual spin-offs of their high-end steakhouses to counter a wobbling economy and court younger customers, and both have gone on to open multiple locations. For now, at least, the formula works.
It's easy to be seduced by the model with a steak as good as the one at Dee Lincoln's Steak and Burger Bar. Order the rib-eye, which is the best value on the menu. It arrives cooked as you've asked, flecked with a little parsley and nothing else, and it celebrates the primal flavors of butter, salt and the lusty char of intensely seared beef. The ribbon of fat that runs through the center of the steak is as tempting as the meat that surrounds it; the charred bits along the outside are even more so.
If you ever look up from your steak, you might expect to find yourself transported to one of Dallas' famously opulent steakhouses, but a quick scan of the room will confirm your inability to teleport. Lincoln took over the space that used to hold JoJo, a quirky French restaurant that closed shortly after opening. Now dark walls accented with a burnt sienna dominate what was once a light and bright dining room. The bones are the same but the skin feels a bit more sinister. Music from indie bands and bass-heavy pop give the space a youthful spin.
"You can do anything you want here," says a bearded bartender, fiddling with glassware beneath the bar top. "You can party it up, you can bring a lady out on a date." He points toward the dark and quiet patio, buttoned up in vinyl until next spring. (Squint hard enough and you can conjure the perfect place for a fourth date.) A few moments later, a pair of women, one wearing a fedora, walk through the front door and head to a table. They're visibly drunk, especially Ms. Fedora. They seem to be of the "party it up" variety.
Two older women sip wine in front of plates that were finished long ago and still not cleared. A guy in a backward ball cap saws through a rib-eye, its massive bone protruding a foot from the plate, while munching onion rings the size of French cuffs. It's a decent space to dine, especially compared with the second bar, which wraps around the kitchen at the back of the restaurant. Sit there and you'll find yourself sitting alone. The chairs and bar are mismatched in height so that you can't comfortably rest your feet on the rail nor your elbows on the bar top, and even when there are burgers spitting flames and smoke from the grill, the kitchen show is lethargic.
If those burgers stood up to the quality of those beautiful and outstanding steaks, Dee Lincoln's ode to carnivorous indulgence might become legendary in the time it takes to toast a bun. As it stands now, they're merely good. Local Yocal Farms provides the meat already ground, and it's packed into patties in the kitchen before being consistently over-cooked on the grill. Whether topped with lettuce, tomato and cheddar, or crispy onions and a sweet molasses glaze, the results are the same: a burger that is good enough to leave you with a smile but falls well short of ground-beef utopia.
Grinding that beef in house would help, and you might expect that from a burger restaurant that cuts its own fries from Kennebec potatoes. Those fries, while fine enough, bump the cost of a burger up to $19. The experience doesn't quite measure up to the price tag.
Much of the menu has the same way of delivering just enough to keep you sated but not enough to wow you. The fried green tomatoes are breaded in cornmeal and perfectly fried, but they're topped with a confusing combination of goat cheese, balsamic glaze, pomegranate seeds and enough micro greens to compose a small salad. Shrimp dressed as hush puppies and perched in remoulade sauce are near perfect, but they're also just fried shrimp — a little boring.
The roast chicken, a great indicator of a kitchen's skill set, is a letdown. The flesh is dry; the skin is soft and rubbery and tastes like something a home cook might accomplish after a bad day at work. Take a pass on the desserts, too. Tough beignets are a letdown, but a dry chocolate cake that's drenched in a sweet sauce made from Coca-Cola is punishing. Then another steak floats past, and you wish you'd stuck to seared meat and sides.
Dee Lincoln, in other words, does best what she's done all along. The wedge salad is somehow charming, dressed in sweet vinaigrette and garnished with soft blue cheese, oven-roasted tomatoes, pancetta cooked in perfect crisp disks and then, for good measure, a little extra crunchy bacon. Other sides, including the Brussels sprouts and fries served along that seared rib-eye, might have you crushing on Lincoln's casual little steakhouse.
How long that affection lasts may depend on the rest of the kitchen's ability to catch everything up with the steaks. Lincoln wants to court a younger crowd with a comfortable atmosphere and wine list that doesn't read like the cellar notes at Marc Cuban's mansion, but her menu prices aren't much cheaper than those of the stuffy meat dens she's trying to differ from. Diners have plenty of steakhouses and burger restaurants to choose from in Dallas. Without exceptional cooking across the entire menu, Dee Lincoln's latest is just another one of them.
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