What an idea it was: Take a handful of top-tier chefs fresh from Dallas' top restaurants, give them access to the best ingredients and turn them loose on pub fare. RedFork Tavern was one of the most anticipated recent openings in the scene. Local food blogs ran preview stories in the weeks that preceded the opening. EscapeHatchDallas posted a first look titled "Finally a Real Gastro Pub in Dallas."
And then the locally sourced shit hit the fan.
Not long after it opened, CraveDFW reported that Jeff Harris and Matt Balke had bailed on the concept, citing creative differences. Pegasus, Eater, and D quickly followed with their own versions of the story. The Morning News called Harris to get a quote in an attempt to discern what had happened. And then things got quiet. All you could hear was the sputtering air gushing from a place that once contained such promise. Keg's kicked, the party's over.
That silence suited Ryan Carbery. The third in line in RedFork's chain of command was left to helm a three-man kitchen alone, with only a little help on cold plates. A few weeks at full capacity while understaffed, with a continuing media buzz, might have been enough to drive the upstart into the ground.
But he survived, and he has some backup now. He hired Drew Altimore, a catering chef from Houston, to serve as his number two. RedFork sounds almost ready for a second look.
Carbery may be best known for his time at Lazare, a farm-to-table concept in the West Village that didn't survive. Carbery told me the concept was misplaced, an attempt at selling upscale fare in a neighborhood filled with college kids that wanted cheap burgers and draft beer. A one-star review in the Morning News couldn't have helped things either. (It was before my time, but the Observer had a positive experience there.)
Since Lazare, Carbery has bounced around Dallas, working catering gigs and trying to find a home. He was seduced by the RedFork concept and the opportunity to work with Harris and Balke.
"It was a ton of fun," Carbery says when asked about RedFork's opening. "We had three people that really cared, and were determined and hard working." He describes Harris as extremely humble and professional and great to work for, but stops short when I ask him why the chef left, falling back on the "creative differences" phrase that's permeated news stories covering the split.
Carbery is likely tired of answering questions about the old guard. He's got a new cook to train and a new menu that rolls out today. RedFork has gotten off to an impossibly hard start, and the kitchen is his to save.
The gastropub concept that governed the original opening remains, but the style has shifted. Carbery is devoted to the simple principles of Italian-style cooking. A long-awaited pizza oven should arrive any day to start turning out Neapolitan-style pies. RedFork will also soon serve hand-crafted charcuterie that's cured in-house. Lomo, a long-cured pork loin, and coppa, a cured pork shoulder cut, will be available first. Whole hog cooking will follow, featuring "snout to tail" plates that feature three cuts. I'm hoping for crispy guanciale, head cheese loaded with fresh dill and mustard seed, and crispy pig ears. Please.
The restaurant is still sourcing the best ingredients they can while leaning towards local and seasonal cooking. For reference check out the burger: a blend of brisket, chuck, sirloin and recently added skirt steak. Carbery says he adds that for texture. The sandwich is refined but not stuffy, and served with perfectly cooked, simply seasoned pommes-frites.
"Things have relaxed a little," Carbery says, talking about his menu changes. "You don't have to do to much to the ingredients to do something fantastic."