Good to Go is a column where our food writers explore Dallas’ restaurant scene through takeout orders, delivery boxes and reheated leftovers.
Let’s start with the big news: We found french fries that travel well and taste good reheated.
It’s something of a miracle, of course. Even good fries — even, say, a carton from McDonald’s — taste a little spongy and sad after a half-hour. I never thought, as a restaurant critic living in a world of takeout food and diseased-induced isolation, that I would be telling readers to get in their cars and go buy a box of fries.
But the folks at Manhattan Project Beer Company have mastered the ancient riddle of the good leftover fry. Here’s how.
First, they cut the potatoes a little more thickly than usual. These are not quite steak fries, but they’re thick enough that you can register the potato’s soft texture in the center.
Second, the cooks fry these guys a little bit longer than usual, exploring the borderlands just past crispy on the road to crunchy. Third, there’s an abundance of those tiny little nubs and shards of extra-crunchy potato at the bottom of the box.
Finally, the whole $6 basket gets showered with parsley and flaky salt.
When we got home, carrying a haul of six-packs and a bag of takeout food, the fries weren’t exactly hot, but they still had their crispness and the huge flavor punch that comes with salt, herbs and beef tallow. I dunked most of mine in a cup of curry-spiced aioli (for an extra 50 cents) and almost felt like I was in Belgium. Except for the quarantine thing.
Manhattan Project has become a versatile one-stop shop for all of the major food groups: arepas, fries, beer and coffee. The eclectic “global street food” menu also boasts some fried chicken and hummus. That combination might not make geographic sense — but it all pairs well with beer.
Co-owner Misty Sanford says the fries are the heart of the food menu. The kitchen uses a Belgian technique, going into the fryer twice with a chill period in between. Sanford admits she’ll snack on a batch two hours after it’s cooked. I reheated some leftover fries in the oven the day after ordering; the longer, greasier ones had gotten limp, but the shorter fries were still spot-on.
As for the arepas, Sanford explains: “We didn’t want a sandwich or a burger. But we wanted something handheld, something that the filling could change seasonally to fit what’s happening on our menu with our beer. Arepas fit perfectly with that.”
Barbacoa meat is braised in Black Matter, Manhattan Project’s coffee stout, and the dough itself is made by blending corn masa with pilsner beer, not water. I regret not ordering the simple arepa filled with a slice of pickled green tomato and a blanket of white cheddar, but there’s deep, hours-of-cooking flavor in the barbacoa meat, which is garnished with cotija cheese and cilantro.
The black bean and avocado arepa is at least as good, and both carry the intoxicating aroma of corn. A meal-sized portion is either two arepas by themselves or one with a side dish. (All arepas are $4 each.)
Business at Manhattan Project is going well — and by well, we mean that taproom sales dropped by only 20% in March.
“I think when the first announcement came down, we all got a little bit frightened, but the community really came out in support for beer to go,” Sanford says.
Being in the beer business is a double-edged sword: Quarantining drinkers need to stock up on their home supply, but bar sales crash. That’s a shift in business model, and it’s also expensive. Beer cans cost money.
Some limited releases Manhattan Project planned to serve at its taproom are being pushed to growler bars for public release. But just about everything else is being canned; last week the brewery filled 73,000 cans.
“The biggest hit that we’re experiencing is with margins, because cans are expensive,” Sanford says. “It’s a lot cheaper to put beers in kegs. While we’re making money, our margins are a lot thinner.”
But there’s a flip side: Manhattan Project has too many cans to supply Dallas. So Sanford is finalizing a deal to self-distribute her beers to a handful of stores in Houston. She says the deal may begin as soon as next month.
It’s rare, and honestly kind of wonderful, to see a local business turning our current state of disaster into a feel-good expansion opportunity. For Manhattan Project, that might come true. The brewery’s concern now is that, as isolation continues, enthusiasm (or pocket money) for going out and buying beer may dwindle. They plan to counter that with some kind of event series, even if it’s just customers waving at each other from safe distances.
“I think that’s the thing we see each day,” Sanford says. “People are so excited just to see another human.”