When Oddfellows brought in chef Anastacia Quiñones to introduce a dinner menu, Bishop Arts had no idea what it was in for. The all-day-breakfast diner, famous for coffee, waffles and hipster patrons, is now even better at dinnertime, with a list of light, veggie-focused dishes that pair perfectly with springtime weather.
Indeed, the fabled brunches that drove gentrifying Oak Cliff types to stand in hourlong lines Sunday mornings are getting a little uneven. The service is, too. Out of context, that would be frightening news for this Bishop Arts institution. But dinner at Oddfellows has been so thoroughly transformed that one can’t help hoping Quiñones and her crew feel liberated to serve whatever the hell they want, at any time of day.
A crab tostadita starter ($12) nicely illustrates the quality of the new dinner menu: tostadas small enough to be glorified crackers, piled up with crab meat, avocados and lettuce. It’s a refreshing, bright bite of food, big enough for a weight-watching meal, and everything is made to sing by the invisible yet strongly felt addition of jalapeños to the dressing.
Farro is on the menu in three places, including a risotto, with good reason: The kitchen does this tough-to-cook grain consistently right. Try the farro salad ($9), with avocado, pea shoots and tangy lemony dressing, plus a few bonus slices of cucumber and radish. Is there a better way to greet summer?
A capellini pasta dish with invigorating house-made arugula pesto and half-molten chunks of mozzarella is another patio fare winner ($18). Need something more gluttonous? Go for the shrimp and grits ($16), with rich pimento cheese mixed into the grits and a pile of chorizo in the middle of the plate for good measure. Admittedly, grease from the chorizo pools at the bottom of the plate.
Interestingly, this fabled breakfast specialist is having a harder time nailing its core repertoire. Huevos rancheros ($12) look exactly and confusingly like eggplant Parmesan, with the fried egg under the tomato sauce. That's OK, but the kitchen's rendition will not excite every diner. The spice in the dish is more a flavor that hangs around in the background rather than a source of heat.
Oddfellows gets the crispy batter right for its fried chicken and waffles ($16), but the single chicken thigh sitting in the middle of the waffle looks a little lonely. (Are we being greedy? Maybe a bit.) A BLT with avocado and fried green tomatoes isn’t special; those fried green tomatoes upset the texture and temperature balances that make this one of the most beloved of all sandwiches ($12).
Speaking of sandwiches, Oddfellows does have one that stands tall: the burger ($15). This is a specimen where the meat is the true star, well-seasoned and simply presented, the better to admire the handiwork of both kitchen and cow. The fries are crisp and addicting, too.
Another solid brunch choice is the gigantic everything bagel ($12), served gently toasted with house cream cheese, a portion of smoked salmon speckled with dill and a colorful, delightful salad of good cherry tomatoes, zucchini and capers. The salad is finished off with a few enormous cranks from the pepper mill. That energetic salad, and the sheer size of the bagel, more than justify the price.
The dessert list is short, sweet and all $8. I indulged in a fresh, hot strawberry rhubarb crumble, which was generously laden with fruit and not so big on the crumble part. That's not a complaint.
This, however, is a complaint: Don’t sit on the patio. Sure, it’s a pretty space, fantastic for taking in good weather. But service outside is so glacially slow that Oddfellows feels like a café in Paris. That rhubarb crumble, for instance, came to the table late enough that the scoop of vanilla ice cream on top was already completely melted. On another visit, it somehow took 20 minutes to toast and plate a bagel.
Service lapses at Oddfellows are more consistent than just one waiter having a bad day. At one patio table, we waited for menus because we had been seated in a no-server's-land. On seemingly every visit asking for the bill was an ordeal; a table of women one night began loudly complaining about their service, too. I even felt neglected sitting at the bar, which is unimaginable at many Dallas restaurants.
One day, when my table had empty water glasses and plates, I watched a waiter make two separate 360-degree loops around our table, close enough to touch but with his gaze fixed firmly off in the distance, deliberately avoiding the kind of eye contact that might invite us to ask for water refills and dessert. Even getting those waters when we first sat down had taken 15 minutes.
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Training and retaining staff is hard, especially in the current restaurant industry climate, but the good news is that these issues are resolvable. Oddfellows' ownership is engaged, and its new kitchen leadership is clearly passionate about the fantastic stuff it's serving in the evenings. If a bit of that energy can make its way to the servers, along with some organization skills, this restaurant easily leaps from good to excellent.
Brunch at Oddfellows means coffee made with care and anything from a bowl of oatmeal to one of Oak Cliff’s better burgers. That’s nothing new. What’s exciting in 2017 are the dinners, dialed in so precisely to the seasons and executed with an eye to beautiful simplicity. Quiñones and her team are in a groove, and it's a celebration of good produce and good weather.
But those diners afraid of new menus or vegetables can take heart. They'll still whip up a bowl of blue-spiked macaroni and cheese and top it with buffalo fried chicken tenders ($15). And it'll still be glorious. Some things should never change.
Oddfellows, 316 W. 7th St., 214-944-5958. Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m Monday-Saturday and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday