2016 was a year of change, promise, upheaval and disappointment in the Dallas restaurant scene. Few establishments embodied that full range of emotion quite like Deep Ellum’s “elevated-southern” kitchen, Filament.
When it opened in December 2015, Filament had all sorts of exciting things going for it. It was the second restaurant for Matt McCallister, the brilliant chef behind FT33, who collaborated on the menu with the talented Cody Sharp. Filament’s wine and cocktail programs were fantastic, and the food exhibited international touches: a Japanese pancake studded with smoked southern ham, potato salad with grilled octopus. At its best, as with those two dishes, Filament was terrific.
Then 2016 happened. After glowing reviews in the Observer and Morning News, the culinary team at Filament felt pressure to live up to ambitions that they hadn’t really had; they even told the Morning News that they might have been awarded too many stars. Later, Sharp left to help with the new Zoli’s Pizza, replaced by Josh Sutcliff, who also left in a matter of months. The kitchen is now in the hands of McCallister and Josh Healy. The international accent which marked some of the dishes has vanished. Indeed, only three of the original 27 menu items are still served.
Worse still, Filament has had to face the sudden business crisis in Deep Ellum’s restaurant community. (Down the street, Luscher’s Red Hots and On the Lamb — two more highly acclaimed restaurants beloved by Dallas foodies — closed in the last two weeks.) The cocktail menu is as long as it ever was, but the food menu has been cut down: gone are the big sharing platters, gone is the “Johnny cake okonomiyaki,” added is the once secret off-menu burger.
The good news is that Filament is still a pretty good restaurant.
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True, there’s nothing too exciting about finding yet another Dallas restaurant with shrimp and grits or deviled eggs. There are only about a hundred of them. But Filament is getting its basics right, at least. On a recent visit — the day that On the Lamb had closed, which I found out by trying to eat there first — Filament’s kitchen was producing soft, fork-tender trout ($24), the “blackened” spices tasteful and well-balanced rather than an all-out assault of pepper. The jambalaya was pretty legit, too.
They’re making a Cuban sandwich for some reason ($14). But the Cuban hits all its marks: toasted crunch, good-quality ham and pickle, excellent mustard. And the freshly house-made potato chips tasted like a dose of nostalgia, crisp and warm and salt-flecked.
And the cocktails are still ace. The Farmer’s Tan ($13) is and always has been the standout, a mix of mezcal and vermouth with a few drops of chili oil on top for excitement. But we have a soft spot for the Brooklyn’s Finest ($11), a mix of cognac, rye, herby velvet falernum and unfiltered swagger.
Filament has seen a lot of turnover, menu rewriting and heightened expectations. It’s surviving into a second year as a casual neighborhood southern-food spot with skillful execution and awesome cocktails. That might not be quite what big-shot critics thought when it opened — but hey, it’s not bad.