Having brunch at a restaurant for the first time is a risk. Will the chicken and waffles at X rival the familiar, golden-brown goodness served at Y? Or will it result in remorse and a hasty retreat back to well-tested ground? Diners perform this cost-benefit dance as they pursue something new or something better. A recent trip to Rapscallion demonstrated that some dividends, tasty as they are, may not be enough to offset the cost.
Rapscallion is the second restaurant from owners Nathan Tate, Brooks Anderson and Bradley Anderson. While the trio's first restaurant, Boulevardier, draws culinary inspiration from French bistros, Rapscallion takes a Southern approach with a modern twist. Located on Lower Greenville, the restaurant itself is an innocuous space of neutrals and softly industrial elements. Outside, a handful of umbrella-covered tables make for prime street-side seating.
A small starter menu is all about the seafood, with oysters offered by the half or full dozen, pickled Gulf shrimp ($13) and a Mexican-style seafood cocktail ($12). A distinct mental twang begins to emerge as one scans the menu and reads about buttermilk biscuits smothered in pork-head gravy ($5) and anticipatory choruses of "I'm fixin' to do some real good eatin' right here" sound at the description of the spicy chicken biscuit.
The chicken biscuit ($9) has all the trappings of blue ribbon-worthy Southern fare: the homemade biscuit, with its soft, crumbly insides and a delightfully crispy exterior; the chicken thigh fried until amber; the thinly shaved pickle. But the blue ribbon is threatened by what the chicken is tossed in: a chili-flecked oil that coats each bite in a slick sheen that begs to be broken by the acid-forward hot sauce mercifully residing at each table. The grease factor was not helped by the fact that the dish arrived a few minutes too late. In a town where fried chicken — cheap, hot fried chicken — is a readily available commodity, it made for a lukewarm reminder of the sizzling, crackling chicken served up all over town. A side of sweet potato hash proved to be just that: sauteed sweet potatoes and peppers. An honest, hardworking hash if there ever was one.
While Dallas may be positively ripe with fried chicken opportunity, there remains a disproportionately large chasm of Hot Browns. Dating back to the 1920s, the Hot Brown sandwich got its start at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, where turkey, bacon and Mornay sauce were united under the broiler in open-faced sandwich matrimony.
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Rapscallion's version ($16) honors the classic Hot Brown adornment of pimento by making a pimento Mornay. To say that this dish is rich is putting it mildly. A substantial slice of toasted pain au lait is hidden under the cheesy, red pepper flood. Tender slices of house-smoked turkey and fresh tomato keep the dish from being a really committed form of fondue. Like the chicken, this dish would have benefited from being served immediately. The black iron skillet it came on was tepid to the touch, and the Mornay had formed a seal that unfortunately failed to trap heat.
There are certain dishes that can rest without losing appeal, or even benefit from some time to sit. Fried chicken and Hot Browns are not these dishes. They need to be eaten hot, before the eater can discern just how much they are about to forever alter their adipose cells (i.e. lay on the pounds o' fat). Rapscallion does a good job at big, Southern flavors. But if the temperature of the food can serve as a measure of dining satisfaction — and it can — then this was a lukewarm brunch.
In the cost/benefit dance these discordant features of the meal make it hard to judge. Was it a one-off fluke of the kitchen? The server? The eater? Is the Hot Brown worth $16, even when hot? The answer to these questions may best be weighed in person, where the costs are real but so are the benefits.
Rapscallion, 2023 Greenville Ave., Dallas