Local Oak Kicks it Family Style
The burger, with mayo, egg and, of course, bacon.
Staring down at a plate like this, it's easy to forget you're in a new Oak Cliff restaurant. Picture two massive slabs of seared meatloaf, inundated by a lava flow of red gravy, with a plop of simple mashed potatoes and a pile of green beans desperately fighting for any remaining real estate. It's a casual take on meat and two sides that would be just at home on your childhood dinner table.
"Mom's Meatloaf," as it's billed on the menu, could mean anything, depending on your mother's kitchen habits. At Local Oak, where owner Felix Garcia's mother is responsible for the inspiration, "Mom's Meatloaf" translates literally to bacon — heaps of bacon. You can smell bacon wafting up from the plate, see bits of pink and fat throughout the beef and taste bacon with every bite. It might be too much bacon, actually, but even your own mother's meatloaf wasn't perfect and you don't have to clear your dishes here. There's also beer.
Local Oak opened last fall, after Garcia and his partners, Alycen Cuellar and Paul Delgado, decided to renovate a building used by the previous owners as a storage space. They restored electricity and water service. They tore down walls, tore up carpet, refinished floors and built out a brand new kitchen. If this seems like a lot of work, consider the third phase of the streetcar project that will connect Oak Cliff to downtown and will practically drop riders (if there are any riders) at the bar's front door. They also ended up with a stylish neighborhood bar and restaurant.
This may be the first time you've eaten Mom's Meatloaf under the glow of glass lampshades shaped like a giant acorns. The bar stops short of a squirrel-themed motif, but it borrows its name from the massive oak tree that lumbers just outside the door. Pinewood paneling pulled from the previous office space is repurposed as the ceiling over the bar, and there are TVs that people for the most part don't seem too bothered with. There's also an odd phone booth that looks like it was stolen from the 1970s. There's no phone, but customers still shut themselves in the wooden box with their cellphones to make a call — Bring Your Own Connectivity.
Combined with the quirky outdoor patio filled with colorful seating, the space has plenty of charm to lure in customers from the neighborhood. But it's the food that's keeping them there. The refreshingly short 12-item menu takes multiple queues from that meatloaf plate. Dishes skew toward simple and honest tavern fare for one, and for two, there's a lot more bacon.
"We love bacon," says Paul Delgado, the man behind the melting cheese, steaming wings and buttery sandwiches that come out of the kitchen. Despite that he runs the kitchen, Delgado shrugs off the title chef, preferring to refer to himself as a good cook — with extra emphasis on the oooood — in an interview. Delgado cooked at Chuy's for decades before bouncing between a few restaurants including Taco Joint and Hacienda on Henderson. He's also really in to bacon.
It's tucked inside a BLT that's grilled with melting cheese and plopped beside the huevos rancheros served for brunch. It's placed atop burgers (gooood burgers) that somehow taste better than they should, and it's chopped and heaped on Cobb salads. It's even candied and served in a metal bucket, if you'd like to get to know your bacon more directly. Bring backup if you do.
There's another way to get your pork at Local Oak, but it depends on your love of canned swine. Texas Surfers pair lightly seared Spam with a creamy red cabbage slaw and finely diced pineapple with chiles for a sweet heat. It's all tucked in a graciously buttered and toasted soft white roll and it may be some of the best drunk food to be had in Dallas these days.
The enchiladas are surprisingly good, too, which you might think has something to do with Delgado's previous work experience. The only problem with the assumption is that this rendition is better than the ones served at most Tex-Mex restaurants in Dallas. Forget cheese blankets and sour cream sauces used in excess. Delgado employs a fresh made salsa verde that stands up fine on its own, and sour cream reduced to a tempered squiggle. The chicken that hides inside the corn tortilla can be a little dry, but the restraint makes up for it. Imagine enjoying a beer after eating an entire enchilada plate. Imagine enjoying anything.
Local Oak does not serve the oversized, juicy patties that cause palpitations in some enthusiasts, but their burger is respectable. It's served on a soft, squishy bun, with mayonnaise dressed up with herbs, an egg with a runny yolk and, of course, more bacon.
In many ways the menu at Local Oak isn't much different from the bar menus offered at the other taverns around town, but there's an earnest quality to the cooking here that tends to grab your attention. Scratch-made condiments and sauces mixed with humble plates like grilled cheese sandwiches show a spot that's willing to let simple dishes be simple for their own sake. There is no #Dallas here.
And the locals obviously approve, as evidenced by the dining room. It's filled with customers of various demographics from around the neighborhood. They come to eat breaded chicken wings that are impossibly juicy, and chili, served in a bowl by itself or on top of Fritos chips and dressed with cheese. They come as families to brunch on the weekends and they come after sundown to drink.
And when you drop by you'll likely fit in too. Try the tacos that are served as a special on Mondays. Delgado fries tortillas from the factory down the street into crispy taco shells and then fills them with meat, lettuce, diced tomatoes and cheese. They're probably a lot like the tacos your mom served ages ago, but this is not your mom's house. You could make a second home of it, though, if you wanted to.
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