For a long time now, the bar menu at The Libertine Bar has been pretty stagnant -- a salty bowl of jalapeño soup, some hog wings, a passable burger, a massive and economical cheese board. The food was good enough that you'd place an order if you were there, maybe before hitting a show at the Granada, or because the fiscal prudence associated with half-price food night was an overwhelming draw. The Libertine Bar was not by any means a dining destination; it was a place to drink and, if you needed it, to refuel.
Over the past few months, however, the kitchen has gotten a significant overhaul. First Josh Black, best known for his time alongside Matt McCallister at dearly departed Campo, was hired as a temporary chef, and promptly reworked most of the menu. Black then hired his replacement and current chef Richard Sipovic, who says he's made a few changes to how the kitchen runs but has otherwise kept Black's menu intact.
The biggest change? Sipovic convinced the owners to pick up some new hardware. "It's a heck of a nice grinder," he said, when asked about the new machinery. Sipovic works with a meat purveyor who delivers a custom blend of beef, then grinds the meat for the burgers onsite.
While staples like those hog wings, a hangar steak sandwich and a grilled cheese sandwich are still on the menu, there's plenty of new stuff. Wild boar meatballs do their best to take care of Texas' feral pig problem, and a corn chowder takes the place of the jalapeño soup that had gotten a little stale.
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I stopped in recently and tried the chicken and waffles, which are anything but mundane. Sipovic debones chicken thighs and confits them in bacon fat before they're breaded and fried. The thighs then join waffles drizzled with maple syrup that's tricked out with smoked jalapeño, lime juice and honey. My waffles were a little limp and floppy, and I wish all that bacon fat had lent a more life to those chicken thighs, but the lime juice in that syrup provided a nice snap.
I got the burger, too, and despite being three shades overcooked, it was tastier than the majority of bar burgers in Dallas. Freshly ground meat, when carefully blended, has a bigger, beefier flavor -- a bit like a burger with the volume turned up to twelve.
Sipovic wasn't present the night I dined, and has only been behind the pass about a month, so he's obviously still honing his dishes. But it's easy to see the bar food at Libertine has been energized for the better. It was probably necessary, as new restaurants like Blind Butcher and HG Sply Co. continue to sculpt the Lower Greenville dining scene, and the nearby Truck Yard and Mudsmith provide an alternative place to sit and drink.
Either way, Sipovic says, he's happy because his new job let's him cook the foods he likes to eat. "I'm a farm boy from central Illinois," he said. "This is my food."