Knuckle Sandwich's Winning Formula: Cheap Cocktails and Turkey Melts
The namesake dish at Knuckle Sandwich: a monster of pulled pork, oozing pimento cheese and fried egg on slices of Texas toast ($13).
This June, a chef named Tyler Kord published A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches. In it, Kord pens a sort of manifesto for insane sandwiches, writing, “I don’t think there are any two ingredients that can’t go together,” and, “I want to make things that nobody would think to make at home because it sounds so crazy.” The recipes that follow include a roast beef and fried clam sandwich with grape jelly mayonnaise, served in a buttered hot dog bun, and a veggie burger with spicy pickled cucumbers and Velveeta.
A month before Kord’s Super Upsetting Cookbook hit shelves, a bar opened on Greenville Avenue that promised a rigorous, but only mildly upsetting, approach to putting food between slices of bread. Knuckle Sandwich, the brainchild of Andrew Brimecome and Parliament cocktail genius Eddie “Lucky” Campbell, is pretty serious about its specialty. Brimecome promised CultureMap, “We will have the best sandwiches in Dallas.”
Knuckle Sandwich prides itself on mastery of the essentials: good bread, fresh ingredients, top-quality cheese, careful construction with the ingredients stacked in just the right order. Its offerings are more about comfort than craziness.
So yes, of course, there is a burger, with an unusual and kebab-like spice mix in the patty ($13). Topped with Gouda and a gigantic onion ring, the burger is a mighty fine hunk of meat. The turkey melt ($10), on hot bread that sees a bit of butter before it hits the griddle, perfectly pairs avocado, sharp cheddar and a saucy hint of poblano peppers. The “Mile High Club” ($11) is both cleverly and accurately named, a 4-inch-tall mountain of roasted chicken, bacon and all the trimmings.
Then there’s the restaurant’s namesake, the Knuckle Sandwich itself, a monster of pulled pork, oozing pimento cheese and fried egg on big ol’ slices of Texas toast ($13). In flavor and calories, it really is a punch in the face, but a delicious one; the only thing that would make this signature sandwich better would be if it was sliced in half before serving.
In Super Upsetting Cookbook, Kord writes, “I will never make you a ham and Swiss sandwich,” his reasoning being “you can either do that at home or go to a restaurant where they don’t care about being awesome.” Fair enough, except Knuckle Sandwich has a ham and cheese which they clearly cared about making awesome ($11). The ham is actually a huge pile of prosciutto, the cheese is Gruyere and it’s all slathered in whole-grain mustard. Thick, tart dill pickles add another plus; the result tastes like a perfect Reuben for people who hate sauerkraut.
The bad news is that Knuckle Sandwich has greatly trimmed its ambitions since opening. At first, the bar offered a handful of steamed sandwiches, an odd northern deli specialty which is, yes, steamed. In fact, the full menu comprised 21 sandwiches, including a Reuben and a falafel wrap. Now Knuckle is down to 11, apparent victims of efficiency, and all the “steamers” are gone. Just days before this article went to press, the ham and cheese disappeared too.
Campbell tells me the eliminations are helping to streamline service: "At both lunchtime and dinnertime we are busier than we expected to be," he says, "so we are constantly tweaking to make things faster to make." I can’t help regretting some of the eliminations. Perhaps, if a huge lineup of crazy, time-consuming offerings isn’t an option, a rotating weekly special might be. The kitchen could produce one-night-only experiments. Maybe host an Iron Chef-style sandwich creation event.
Luckily, Knuckle Sandwich is still delivering top-notch sides and dirt-cheap cocktails. Seemingly all the sides ($2 with sandwich, $4 alone) are worth ordering — well-seasoned and crisp fries, enormous onion rings fried just right, even a comforting, gently spicy “Southwestern” quinoa with grilled corn and chipotle dressing. Generous, lightly dressed Caesar salad has a great peppery kick.
The “eternal happy hour” list of $5 cocktails focuses on lighter, more refreshing drinks, tending toward sweetness. Maybe that’s a summer thing, or maybe it’s just because the bartenders at Knuckle Sandwich know why we’re ordering $5 cocktails. It’s worth ponying up extra money, though, for the añejo old fashioned ($10), with tequila, agave syrup and a smoky touch from mole bitters.
There are more expensive drinks, too, and a very fine collection of liquor, as we’d expect from the folks behind Parliament. In fact, one of Parliament’s signature hits, the smoked Manhattan, helped inspire a similar smoke-infused cherry liqueur drink here.
So the pieces are in place for a successful bar: crowd-pleasing cocktails, very solid food. But, although business is good at peak times, weeknights can be another story. On a recent Monday night, the bar was so quiet its TV was tuned to the History Channel.
Let's give the new bar a chance. These guys are slinging very high-quality sandwiches, well-constructed and well-balanced. Though Campbell says they're still "constantly tweaking" the menu, the ingredients and care are a cut above the effort every home chef except Dagwood Bumstead is willing to invest.
So for Knuckle Sandwich, this review is meant as encouragement. Don’t hesitate to keep tweaking, experimenting and perfecting the food. Maybe even read some of Tyler Kord's super upsetting recipes and go a little crazy. If a weird new invention turns out especially gross, the chef can name it after an eccentric food critic.
Knuckle Sandwich, 3619 Greenville Ave., 469-364-1239. Open 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Wednesday and 11 to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Knuckle Sandwich has a sweet little patio fit for an afternoon cocktail.
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