For some reason I can't get over the root beer float at Eno's.
I know it's not a difficult thing to make—unless, of course, you follow my old method of plunging ice cream into a mug of root beer and watching it fizz and boil over the rim. I know it's something you outgrow by the time you hit, well, my age. But there's something addictive in the simple pleasure of sitting in that building on a bright afternoon, spooning up globs of bubbly brown vanilla. Makes you want to go back for more.
Besides, the root beer float says everything you need to know about this Bishop Arts pizza joint. They don't intend for guests to get snooty about the food service. But they take it seriously enough themselves to use Blue Bell Homemade ice cream and Thomas Kemper root beer.
This ethic carries through to their service. One of the appetizer items listed on their menu is a ramekin of marinated olives. It's a fairly simple proposition, one would think—although my waitress did stop to warn me that some of the olives contain pits.
"You'll want to watch for that," she said.
My waitress on another occasion started in, as if she was my girlfriend of three weeks, even employing cute little inflections in her voice. When I mentioned that I'd been staring at the dessert-card listing for root beer float throughout dinner, she drew a broad smile and sang, "It's good," dragging out the "oo" part, adding an extra syllable along the way. At first I wasn't sure if the staff was treating me like an old friend or a lost kindergartner. But since they seem so genuinely lacking in condescension, I settled on the former.
And if that's the case, then Eno's is the sort of restaurant that belongs in every neighborhood. The menu is easily manageable, the beer list surprisingly diverse, and the pizza isn't bad either. My Eno's Special sagged in the middle, but its thin crust burned to a beautiful bittersweet crispness at the edges. While the pie lacked in promised spice, the combination of cured meat and mushrooms flowed from either end of the musty spectrum, meeting neatly in the middle. They don't go over the top, in seasoning or amount of ingredients—and that's a welcome thing.
Yet I consider their pizza as comfortably lodged in Dallas' upper echelon, a solid B or perhaps B-plus. The cheese is mundane, and if they pull the pie too early from the oven (as happens too often), the crust suffers from soggy texture and dull flavor. Other menu items, however, more than take up the slack.
The kitchen's version of bouillabaisse, for instance, presents a hodgepodge of meat and shellfish—no rascasse or monkfish, just sausage and shrimp. The waitress apologized when I placed my order, letting me know there'd be no mussels in the soup. They were looking for a more reliable purveyor, she explained. Yes, a handful of fresh mussels would add depth and smooth out some of the broth's brackish nature, but it's still a completely satisfying bowl. The sharp bite of garlic and more subtle bitterness of greens set the stage, although the broth also gives off impressions similar to fennel and duskier spice. In the absence of seafood (besides shrimp), they boost the amount of sausage, and it's a robust and savory version, pan-seared in order to bring out more of the character. Hefty slices of mushroom are added late in the game, so they cling to a murky flavor and firm texture.
Generally I'm opposed to salads, at least when trying to assess the tone of a restaurant—unless, of course, they make their own dressings. But Eno's selection is surprising: The supreme is reminiscent of pizza toppings, with bacon, ham, olives and peppers; chopped Italian includes more bacon and ham, along with roasted endive and artichoke hearts; their Streetside is meatless, but includes a heavy enough toss of feta to offset the greens. And then there's something called the General Store, a masculine assortment of pungent blue cheese, red and yellow tomatoes, onion and—here's the kicker—pork belly. The combination is like a back-alley rumble with a sweet, made-for-TV ending. The alley image seems an apt one, given the dingy, gray-brown balsamic vinaigrette coating the entire lot, a dressing toughened by rendered pork fat. That's right, drippings from their peppered pork belly. It gives the dressing an almost paste-like quality and picks up on dense flavors with the olive oil and aged vinegar. Every bite, even of bland iceberg lettuce, carries with it a rich, tangy, meaty belt.
Eno's represents quite a change from the building's Cosmo Rouge Bistro Lounge days. Instead of manufacturing cool through curtains and color and hip drinks, Eno's relies on craft beers and locally sourced ingredients. Somewhere I'd seen the place anointed as a "gastro-tavern," in the annoying parlance of self-styled "foodies."
And, yes, there are one or two precious moments appreciated only by guys wearing polo shirts with collars flipped up, retro style. The menu listing for "gastro butter" comes to mind here—a few ounces of butter drizzled with truffle oil. I expected a local craft product or some farm butter imported from France, but this is no better than Land o' Lakes (not a bad brand, mind you, just a common one). Unless "gastro" has come to mean "affected," what's so gourmet about it?
Despite a reliance on local farmers for many of the restaurant's key ingredients, blatant reminders of their "gastro" status seem out of place. But they also expose the edge this place navigates. While Eno's looks and feels very neighborly, it could just as easily teeter into a trendy "look at me, I'm in Bishop Arts" trap.
For now, however, the restaurant walks this line with confidence. While it attract poseurs aplenty, people from the surrounding area also wander by after church on Sundays or gather for a drink on the way home from work during the week. During one of my visits, there was even a tipsy woman clinging to some guy, complaining "I met your girlfriend the other day..."
Hey, it functions as street theater, as well as a drawing card and a neighborhood joint.
This kind of atmosphere is what makes Eno's so appealing. You can settle in, know you're not going to spend too much money (unless they upsell you to one of the pricier micro-brews) and enjoy a really good meal.
Of course for me, it's all about the root beer float. Were some celebrity chef to put this childhood treat on a menu, they'd manage to spoil the thing—mint-lavender foam, crème fraîche and toasted pumpkin seed oil or whatever. Eno's simply jams a load of ice cream into a mug and pours root beer on top.
And if you slurp up the latter before finishing all that Blue Bell, a kind waitress will probably ask if you need a refill.
Enos Pizza Tavern 407 N. Bishop St., 214-943-9200. Open 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 11:30 a.m-midnight Thursday-Friday, 4 p.m.-midnight Saturday, noon-10 p.m. Sunday. $$
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