It seems as if someone is opening a new restaurant every couple of days in Dallas, and the city's rapidly evolving culinary scene is attracting some talented restaurant pros tow town. Sometimes, though, the city's old-school culinary fixtures are doing the innovating, like Phil Romano's Trinity Grove.
The same is true for Scotch & Sausage, Oak Lawn's shiny new singular-focus concept that opened its doors last week. I sat down with owner and concept whiz Dylan Elchami and Chef Trevor Ball, of Kuby's Sausage House stock, to talk about what goes into doing such a specific concept, how the first day at Scotch & Sausage went, and what it's like to usher 19 generations of sausage-making into a brand new culinary era.
What made you decide to do this kind of concept, one that's so narrow?
Dylan Elchami: There was just nothing really like it in Dallas, and I wanted to give everyone a little bit different experience. Something that was more social with communal seating, and we're open almost every hour that you could want to eat. I wanted something that was unpretentious. You can go to the bar and order, or you can wait in line and eat in. There's already been such a crazy mix of people in here - people in their business suits, and someone's grandparents sitting beside a group of young foodies. It's been cool, and we want it to have a very inviting vibe feel. We're only about halfway into the first day of Scotch & Sausage, but how's it going so far? The first day of opening a restaurant can often be very chaotic. DE: Smooth. I don't know dude, is it going smooth? I don't know how it is back there, but it's going well out here.
Ball: We're fighting a battle back in the kitchen, so it feels really crazy. We're like a duck on water. Out here in the front, it's cool calm and collected, and we're going a mile a minute in the back.
Was today, the first day Scotch & Sausage's doors were open to the public, easier or harder than you thought?
TB: We were really good about training everyone. I trained my guys to do what I know, and we've had minimal mistakes today. Sometimes we're forgetting to send out a sauce or something like that, but that's pretty much been it. Tonight's going to be the real test, the baptism by fire. But it's going to be really fun, though. I'm ready for it. It's going to be a big party, I'm just going to be cooking. But I always cook at parties, so it's cool.
So how did you guys link up and decide you were going to do a scotch and sausage concept?
DE: It's a weird story, actually. My older sister used to go to Trevor's mom's restaurant in Allen a lot, and she suggested Trevor, who was working there for a while to get it off the ground. I didn't even think we were going to have a chef, that we'd just order sausages and hire line cooks. As we got closer to opening, I knew we would need a chef, and Trevor popped up again through our operators. When I told my sister she said "wait, Trevor...Ball? That's who I told you to use at the beginning!" It just kind of worked.
TB: We also get along really well. We've both spent time in L.A. separately. I was really excited when I heard about his ideas, and I come from a very old school, European style of cooking. I love the traditional and the old school, and I was ready to bring my family's recipes into a new era. This place was similar to something that was really popular in L.A., so it was just a no-brainer. I said let's go for it.
Dylan: He really took the ball and started running with it. There's something for everyone's palate here, and this is the kind of place that I would want to hang out in Dallas, so hopefully everyone else agrees.
TB: We do our best to make your wurst. Or something.
Speaking of making wurst, Trevor, can you tell me a little bit about your own heritage as a sausage-maker and integrating your family's traditions with new recipes.
TB: I'm a 19th generation sausage-maker and chef. My grandfather, Karl Kuby, is the best sausage maker in town, I think. I also went to culinary school at Johnson & Wales, but I probably started working in my grandfather's store when I was eight years old bagging groceries for old ladies. I kind of moved my way through the ranks - working in the deli and then the bakery. When I was 15, my grandfather took me back in the kitchen and that was a really big deal. On the first day, we did a whole smoked pig, and I've been in the kitchen ever since.
Was it intimidating for you to do something that your family had done for centuries and kind of make things in your own way?
TB: I'm not going to lie, I have big shoes to fill. I have a lot of help and support from my family. My mother and my grandfather have both been in here, and they're available to advise me on everything I need. Most of the recipes I can do okay on my own, but I've gotta get mom's approval. And I did. Mom gave me the thumbs up, Karl Kuby Sr. said we were good to go, and they love the fact that I've brought our tradition to a new level. The sausages we make here in-house, like wild boar bulgogi sausage and a jalapeno-quail sausage, they're so different. I've wrapped California, Texas, and Colorado into this place.
What do you think it really takes to make a good sausage?
TB: The one thing that makes great sausage is fat, for sure. But that makes everything better. I also always say that you can make anything good with salt, pepper, and a bunch of love. I've been doing it for so long that it's just in my blood. At six years old, I could roll my own sausages with my grandpa.
Do you make everything in-house, including the accoutrements on the side?
DE: We serve our sausages with the four traditional toppings that you'll find in Germany - sweet peppers, hot peppers, caramelized onions, and sauerkraut. My kitchen is built for efficiency, so it doesn't really make sense for us to do all of that in-house. Like our bread. It's baked fresh every day, but it's coming from a bakery down the street. Eventually we plan to scale to a point where we can do everything in-house, but we're just trying to get off the ground first. Nothing here comes from a package or a frozen bag and ends up on a plate.
What about the fries, which you both claim are the best in the city? I hear that's a pretty complicated process.
TB: It takes about 90 minutes to cook our fries, and it's a three-cook process. We blanch and then freeze them, then par-fry them and freeze again. Then, they go back into the fryer for a third time. You have to freeze the fries each time for 30 minutes between each step, so it takes about an hour and a half to get one box done. It's a lot of labor, but it's worth it. It's the best chip you've ever had on the outside, and mashed potatoes on the inside. It's greatness, really.
The menu is really simple. Was it hard to stay true to what you're doing?
TB: Definitely. Every day is a battle. I would come in every single day with all these ideas, and we've actually evolved a little bit from what we originally envisioned. But we've got to get really great at what we know we can already do, and continue to expand and grow, before we keep getting crazy with the changes.
Let's talk a little bit about the booze, which is obviously a crucial element of the restaurant here.
DE: Our whiskey program is so different from anything else you'll find here. We buy whiskeys that plant a tree in our name for every bottle we buy. We even have our own brick in the Jim Beam distillery, and we've got over 20 scotches and whiskys that are distributed only to us in the entire state of Texas. We've done our research to make this bar something different, and that's meant seeking out really unique whiskeys.
What all are you guys making in-house?
TB: We make four sausages in-house, and the rest are made by Kuby's in Dallas, or Siggy's in Tulsa. It's cool because the guy who actually founded Siegi's Sausage Factory studied under my grandfather, so it's all connected.
Looking at the menu, there's a ton of wild game. How did you craft those unique and usually lean proteins into sausages?
TB: Just with a lot of different flavors and spices. For example, the boerewors is a traditional South African sausage. Here, we make it with Texas antelope and Texas wines, so it's really like South Africa coming to Texas. It's more lean, and it keeps with the tradition of making sausage, just with a bunch of good local flavors.
What's your favorite on the menu?
TB: Our most popular sausage amongst the staff and just in these first few hours is the Devil Dog, a bacon-wrapped hot dog. And that's just straight up, L.A. street food. The kind you get after coming out of a night at the bars. The White Lightning, made with pork and veal, is just really delicious. We also love the bierwurst, which is soaked in Shiner for a little more extra Texas love, and the peach-quail sausage. It's got this really Hill Country feel, something that you'd eat at a place in Fredericksburg. But really, our menu is kind of a trip around the world.
I have to ask about The Blind Butcher. It's really the only other concept in town that's doing something similar to what you guys have going on. Do you think that's really a one-to-one comparison, or are you guys doing something dramatically different?
TB: You know, I love The Blind Butcher. I really do. I love Oliver, I think he's a genius. And all his food is really great. When we were doing the menu, I never looked at The Blind Butcher's menu because I didn't want to get ideas from them and take away from what they were doing.
DE: I think it might have also been a little bit of a coincidence. They started their project right around the same time we started ours, and I didn't even know they were doing sausages until a few months after they opened. But sausage is on-trend, and a lot of places are starting to do that.
TB: But what we've got is so different, I don't think you can even compare the two. Things are more simple here. They've got their poutine program and all kinds of creative stuff, and we're just doing sausage sandwiches. They're more focused on doing small-batch sausages, and we're more interested in having a product that's consistent and our customers knowing that they can always come here and get what they want.
So there's no competition or post-shift rumbles going down between Scotch & Sausage and The Blind Butcher?
TB: No way. We have so much respect for them.
DE: I actually think if we were next door to them, we'd both do more business. That's just how it goes. Some people are going to like our place, some people are going to like Blind Butcher. And a lot of people are going to love us both.
What made the idea of serving scotch and sausage together make sense?
DE: I don't know, we just really liked the name. It sounded so cool together, and then we had to figure out how to bill it. Scotch & Sausage wasn't going to be the name three or four months ago, and we'd originally decided to go away from putting them together in such a big way. But today, I saw people drinking scotch and eating sausages together, so I guess it works.
Do you think Dallasites are big scotch drinkers?
TB: I do, and I think it's only going to get more popular. Scotch and whiskey are kind of the trendy spirits right now. Vodka is just used to get drunk these days, it's not really for mixologists to make interesting cocktails. I think tequila will be the next step from here, but we wanted to explore this trend and see how far it goes in a place that loves to drink, especially whiskey.
So can you only get whiskey here? I think a lot of people would be kind of confused by that.
DE: If you want a vodka soda, we'll make you a vodka soda. If you want a shot of tequila, we have it. But we promote scotch and whiskey. We've sold a few $80 shots of tequila today, actually, which has been kind of remarkable.
I'm sorry, what? $80 shots of tequila?
DE: Yeah. You're supposed to drink it like a scotch, though. It's more of a sipping tequila. But it's done in a really old-school way. They use the tuaca stone pulled by a burro to make the tequila from the agave. But I also want people to know that we have whiskey for the people, for everyone. We have over 20 whiskeys for five dollars, so it's approachable for everyone. We have everything from $5 to $80.
No Kentucky Deluxe behind the counter?
TB: Nope, don't think so. What even is that?
These kinds of niche concepts are always interesting to me. Did you think it would be difficult or challenging to make people understand a restaurant that is so focused and specific?
DE: It's really hard to explain to people what you're doing in the process, but I think now that we're open, people are going to get it. When you walk in the door, you understand. We have a hybrid fast-casual kind of thing going on, and it's almost like a barbecue restaurant. People order and get a number, then walk back into the seating area and it's full service. You don't have to wait if you don't want to, but you can also stay here for hours and chill. We don't want to put rules on anything for our customers. We have rules that we follow with our food and drink programs, but everything else is laid back.
What made this location perfect?
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DE: I think Oak Lawn feels like L.A. The traffic, homeless people on the street, and people and suits in ties in the same spot. It's a melting pot in Oak Lawn -- you have the artists and designers from the Design District, the gay community in Cedar Springs, party people in Uptown, and the really affluent crowds from Highland Park. Everyone comes here for one reason or another. This concept was built for that kind of mix of people. This building needed more work than any of the spots I had looked at, but I knew that it was the one.
Assuming that all goes well, what do you think we'll be seeing change in the next six months at Scotch & Sausage? Or is it just too early to tell?
DE: For a lot of things, it's too early to tell. But I can tell you that we're going to expand our floor space and have big plans for some live music. We'll have DJs coming in during the late night. But for the most part, we're just trying to make what we think is already good even better.
TB: And maybe a day off for me. That would be cool. But really, that kitchen is my baby. I need to be here taking care of it.