Short Orders: Kel's Restaurant
5337 Forest Lane
Kel's exists in a geography warp. To cross its threshold is to enter a much smaller Dallas--not yet sprawling and still largely southern in nature. There's no particular thought put into decor, other than a partially hidden Kel's-themed mural that seems rather tone deaf. Staff members also shrug off features such as, oh, tidiness and presentation.
For those in the Inwood-Forest area, it serves the same role as a small town diner, the type of place where you toss pretense into a rumpled pile in the back seat before heading inside. When I last stopped by for breakfast, a wizened waitress named Fran or Flo or some old waitress name chatted with customer clad in jeans and a well-worn t-shirt. "Did you get rid of the Mercedes?" she asked at one point.
Despite appearances, Kel's is a Dallas place. And for some reason this city just can't get diner fare right--at least not very often.
Now, I know the restaurant has a rather strong following. But let's face it: their breakfasts pale in comparison to legendary diner cooking...at least when you approach them after a night of relative sobriety. Eggs over easy lose the balance between clean, fluffy white and warm running yolk, and the absence of seasoning or pan residue leave nothing to fall back on. Hash browns also lack interest, unless you specify crispy. The "breakfast steak"--essentially a scaled down chicken fried portion--features a nice, golden crust and decent meat.
But again, the kitchen refused to add punch. Just a little pepper in the batter--something.
Of course, they prepare things home style. And perhaps it's fortunate they understand this to mean a reserved hand in the kitchen, rather than a Marge Simpsonesque "the secret ingredient is salt" scenario. On the other hand, food critics generally leave tableside shakers alone. In this case, however, two passes of pepper couldn't save bland, pasty white gravy.
Yet Kel's never claims to be fancy--neither in decor nor the kitchen. Nor do they aspire to refine basic dishes by even the slightest degree. What they attempt is simple: basic filler in a throwback atmosphere that makes you want to slouch in the booth and hold out your half-empty cup of coffee for a refill. Wake up grouchy? Staff members will break your mood quickly.
As for breakfast itself, well, people who laud the quality are really overselling Kel's. Thier cooking doesn't stand close scrutiny, sans nostalgia, familiarity or anything else that might soften one's critical skills. Roam the southern or midwestern states, you'll find diners serving far more interesting morning meals. You'll also encounter much, much worse. The kitchen approaches breakfast in straightforward, comfortable fashion, that's it.
If you want something more, follow the crowds to Bread Winners, pay for the privilege and just hope quality matches the price. Regulars at Kel's won't mind at all.
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.