Temperatures had begun to settle from a tolerable peak of 50 degrees one evening when a man strolled intoNeighborhood Services decked out in fur.
Bacon andover-easy egg $9
Fennel sausageflatbread $10
Lobster fritters $14
Seared scallops $19
Berkshire ribsand rings $23
Yep, a guy—and not a flamboyant sort, either, but a stiff, white-haired Park Cities type trying to ward off jacket-weather chill with a knee-length pelt. Not since the days when Broadway Joe wrapped up on the New York Jets sidelines have I witnessed anything so dandy, and never in person.
When chef-owner Nick Badovinus reclaimed the narrow space from the dust of Rouge-Buddha Bar and whatever came before, he instituted a no-reservations policy—a practice that penalizes proactive diners while laying claim to a more spontaneous set. Because those who book in advance often cruise in 15 minutes late, seating people the moment a table frees up generates greater income margins over time, at least in business terms. From a consumer's point of view, the crowds that swell around the bar waiting their turn offer unrivaled people-watching opportunities.
You know, there are some crusty-looking people in Dallas' moneyed neighborhoods, the harsh glare of entitlement showing through layers of makeup and hairspray shellacking the women (and fur coats draping the men) as they glowered at me with "who is this common slob daring to occupy our turf" glances. On weekends they bump and bang for two, sometimes three hours with younger outsiders in search of a popular destination, clamoring to be part of the scene—the entire scope of upscale Dallas jamming into a 12-by-20 bar space for the privilege of dinner.
Considering the old "time is money" equation and the amount some people are valued in "billable hours" terms, the expenditure seems downright wasteful. It's easy to justify a 20-minute wait. But two hours? The kitchen better be pretty damn good.
And it is.
They treat ordinary scallops with such care they compare favorably to diver-harvested examples, searing barely to the point where probing waves of heat touch in the middle and no further. This yields tender meat, seeping a sugary glaze and vague reminders of seawater. A buttery drizzle and hearty polenta base keep the focus simple, and slices of chorizo call to mind the bacon-wrapped shellfish of Rotary and Lion's Club days—but with a severe and intriguing difference. The restaurant's chosen chorizo rips across the palate, at first pungent then savory with a strong kick of pepper, a blend of Mexican and Spanish tradition seemingly too potent for delicate scallops. Squared off against each other, however, an interesting metamorphosis occurs. The intense sausage frightens away the sweetness developed through pan-searing and caramelization. At the same time, extraordinarily soft scallops calm the chorizo's forceful intentions.
Mussels from Maine's Blue Hill Bay present a gentle, almost shy flavor urged on by a warm and compelling broth. Based on white wine, the murky liquor picks up sherry-like overtones from shallots and roasted tomatoes. The bread plated alongside creaks from butter so thorough and spellbinding each slice tempts you not to slosh it through the broth.
Badovinus and his kitchen crew understand that aging not only breaks down the fibers of pricey prime beef, but of the somewhat lesser choice cuts as well. Though the melted fat seeping from their fillet is watery—indicative of USDA's second tier—strands of muscle melt on your tongue while deft flecks of salt and pepper explode above.
Turning their attention to pork, they create a clever combination of Berkshire ribs, slathered in a coffee-scented sauce, and chicory slaw. What's so unique about that? Well, the reduction of roasted coffee and dried ancho chili weakens into a deep, alluvial flavor—both the spice and bitterness boiled down and buried in the sediment. But a quick dip into the side of slaw unearths these lurking beasts. The sharp snap of chicory brings the sauce to life from the outside in. It's a strange and wonderful experience.
Perhaps the only setback is the two ponderous onion rings included on the plate, dull and permeated with oil. Or the chef's interpretation of Waldorf salad, to which he adds pulled chicken. The meat is nice, richly attired in such flavors as smoke and hearty stock. But it threatens to transform a well-orchestrated assembly of texture and taste into a plebeian chicken salad. Other problems, encountered on my first visit, did not recur a second time. For instance, catching the bartender's attention to clear our tab before sitting (a minor annoyance to begin with) took more than five minutes on a rare slow night, as both men held their backs to bar patrons...other than a trio of young women. We had to remind the staffer handling front desk duties of the coat rack just behind her shoulder, even after we made a show of presenting our wraps. Some modest begging was required to compel a waiter to bring wet naps with the mussels.
Nitpicking? Maybe. On the other hand, with a kitchen capable of turning out simple dishes in sublime form, guests should expect equally thoughtful service. Arriving early one Saturday evening (in order to avoid another two-hour fiasco), I overheard the maître d's pep talk to servers, which included a countdown of faults brought to his attention. Clearly restaurant management feels the same way.
But offbeat salads and service burps will not affect your overall experience—not when you dig into some of the city's best french fries, crisp, faintly bittersweet from deep caramelization and evenly seasoned. Or if you deign to order what Badovinus calls his weakest item, at least in terms of sales: an over-easy egg atop densely cured bacon and a handful of greens. Just brushed with vinaigrette, the latter steps into the Hollandaise role, bringing a light acidity and tangy brightness that plays well with the meat; butter-soaked toast sets an earthy base and the egg...it's difficult to translate the sheer beauty of oven-roasted protein so clean and even, the white easing smoothly and yoke pouring out like warm lava. And though the Old Bay-infused cocktail sauce is too bold for the chef's classic lobster fritters, the deep-fried balls of shellfish, root vegetables and homemade ricotta implode on the tongue. Even the bar menu's sausage flatbread reeks of fennel backed by a thick meatiness and countered by cooling dollops of cheese on a cracker crust.
Worth loitering in uncomfortable conditions for two hours on a Saturday night? That's a matter of personal self-worth. For those seduced by the aura of "cool" implied when people and press began blabbering about a place and crowds converge, it's definitely an experience they can flaunt for the next few weeks. Sooner or later, however, the buzz will wear off.
Those who wait—and those who return at that time—will be rewarded with one of the city's easiest, most satisfying meals. Simply put, Neighborhood Services is one impressive place.
5027 W. Lovers Lane, 214-350-5027.Open 6-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 6-11 p.m.Friday-Saturday. Bar opens at 5 p.m. $$-$$$
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Dallas dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.