I'm not sure if it's a trend or a genuine movement, but something feels different about Dallas' newest gastropubs. It feels like reinvention. It's not just about gathering freshly-farmed Swiss chard, pigs that had names 10 hours before you ate them or local beer anymore. Now there are iconic foods like the pig head carnitas at CBD Provisions and the ranchero beans at Stampede 66. It feels more like an identity.
Over at Clark Food & Wine Co, there's a roll of butcher paper hanging high on the wall with the day's cured meat specials. Texas chicken comes smoked, half or full. Jelly jars are filled with pickled vegetables, the ginger beer is homemade, and Edison bulbs burn brightly over Texas spirits. It feels like Dallas.
The same goes for Clark's burger, which comes with white cheddar, "sloppy sauce," fresh pickles, and -- the best part -- speck as crispy as a stained glass window. The menu also says it comes on a "butter bun" (I imagined butter formed into a bun shape). It comes with a too-tiny cup of house jardinera, with spicy, pickled carrots, jalapenos, and cauliflower. Stuff some of those into your burger, and it feels like you took a bite of Dean Fearing's arm. Everything feels like iconic, new Dallas: There are pickled jalapenos by default! There's smoked catfish dip!
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My burger was cooked spot-on medium rare, and the vinegary, spicy pickles left the pops of movie explosions in my head. It was somewhere in between a mind full of tanginess and a mouth full of good spice. The crispy speck was immediately more exciting the bacon, which is a phrase I never imagined saying. I now need spicy speck on most things, including my morning cereal. The sloppy sauce added that rich creaminess to cool the pickled fire. The flavors you're getting are fresh and unpredictable. Is it weird to call the burger exciting? It's an exciting burger.
A couple of complaints followed me home: The burger was promised to be "grilled," but didn't have that smoky, charred-grill flavor that you imagine with the name. Also, one of the drawbacks of this new movement of carefully-crafted Texas cuisine: The $12 burger. This one came without a side, which means you're throwing down $17 + drink + tip for a burger experience. I'm all for paying for my good ingredients, but at what point does it become pretentious? This one was worth it, but I can't help but think of Off-Site Kitchen's under-four-buck Rembrandt of a burger.
Either way, this version is great and worth the few extra burger bucks. It also feels like part of a greater movement towards a more recognizable food identity.
Clark Food & Wine Co is on a street, which is 1920 Greenville Ave, Dallas, TX 75206. Ask for extra crispy speck for meal and use it as utensils. No one ever complained about a speck fork.