On any given night inside Wayward Sons on Greenville Avenue, the crowd can be anything from quiet to rowdy and everything in between. One Wednesday evening saw several large parties; at least one on corporate credit, another long-haired, short-skirted squad ordering shots and singing “Happy Birthday.” A second visit yielded far less noise, more couples and more than a handful of vegans. Not quite knowing what to expect when you walk into a place is sometimes part of the fun, and that pretty much describes the experience at Wayward Sons. When asked to define his restaurant, executive chef Graham Dodds calls Wayward Sons local-focused, modern Texas cuisine. And with brisket, local cheeses and even tamales on the menu, that certainly makes sense. But then there’s that much-talked-about vegetarian charcuterie board. Ain’t nothing “Texan” about that. There’s also an intimidatingly large hunk of meaty lasagna. So it’s a good thing Dodds doesn’t seem too concerned about fitting into a particular box when it comes to his cooking, or his restaurant.
Again, not to be swayed by the latest restaurant trends, there’s another thing notably absent from Wayward Sons: a flashy interior design team. Dodds' answer? “ We did it ourselves.” They repurposed existing materials, brought in huge wooden beams from Austin, and let the design evolve as they went. Somehow, like the menu, that organic — pardon the pun — method of creativity just works. Dodds has managed to do what other chefs and their teams haven’t been able to without outside help: make the place look good. It feels sort of winter-cabin-chic; there are some industrial pieces in play, but not too many. The walls are splashed in white, which makes the slightly imported woods pop. Pastel-hued plaid covers the booths that line the walls, softening the harsh metals and wood that surround. Subtle nods to the vegetable-blessed menu are everywhere; if you squint slightly you’ll notice the planters above the kitchen sort of resemble deer heads studding the wall, their “antlers” made of bright green ferns. Like the menu, the interior’s not trying too hard.
The cocktail list, beginning with the aptly named Wayward Son — a light, gin-based drink with herbs, veggies and spice — is priced across-the-board at $12 and includes several classics like a dark and stormy, a margarita, a negroni and, of course, an old fashioned, each with a modern twist or two. All ingredients are locally sourced or made in-house. Beers come in three categories: Local, As Seen on TV and For the Table, the latter featuring big beers perfect for sharing. Little bottles start at $4 for a PBR and top out at twice that for a Wells “Bombardier” English Ale. Beers sized for sharing are sometimes available by the glass but otherwise range between $12-$24 per big bottle. Wines are by the glass only and run between $9 and $22 per pour.
There’s a garden on the patio right outside, where Dodds has been diligently growing greens for many of the restaurant’s current and future dishes. You might find such greens in one of the unique salads on the menu. They’re light, priced between $9 and $13, and delicious. The hazelnut crusted goat cheese salad with frisée, beef bacon and candied kumquats packed a 1-2, salty-sweet punch to the palate. The starters list ($9-22) is studded with intriguing selections like cheese fondue, purple potato tostones topped with tender cabrito ($14), and that fun-to-eat array of veggie charcuterie ($22). Certain sides steal the show for a bit, especially the tender Brussels sprout leaves with apple butter and apple mostarda ($8), and some sinfully rich Homestead Heritage grits with goat cheese and mushroom ragoût ($9).
In such a meat-obsessed town, why all the vegetable talk? Originally, it was because one of the partners is vegan. But Dodds just saw that as an opportunity. “It’s a huge creative challenge, and my focus right now. Anybody can put a piece of meat on a plate.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. On Wayward’s menu you’ll find plenty of meat, too. There’s smoked lamb brisket ($22), a Bar N Ranch New York strip ($54) and a butcher’s cut 44 Farms steak (market price). But rather than the typical single vegetarian option that most restaurants of a similar caliber offer, chef Dodds has created a menu where vegetarians and even vegans can order multiple courses and not feel like their meal was an afterthought. This is a place to bring your vegetarian friends that you’ll enjoy as well.
That’s not to say all these enlightened dishes are perfect, however. Wild mushroom tamales ($16) with mole, avocado and radish were at once too spicy and a bit bland. A side of cauliflower “risotto” ($8) was closer to a purée. But overall the modern creativity at play in Dodds' kitchen is refreshing, especially with all the heavy-handed Southern food spots popping up like prairie dogs all over town.
There’s a long, beautiful farm table inside Wayward Sons, stretching the length of the kitchen. It’s part expediting station and part home base for chef Dodds. It’s his perch for watching over the place, but most of the time he can be found busily arranging the final touches on dishes like Saint David’s Raclette cheese fondue, cheese plates and a rather unique starter of carpaccio made from water buffalo and topped with Dodds' unique take on trail mix. Sometimes “modern” means a little twist, but sometimes it’s a hard right or even a full pivot. That’s what keeps things interesting.
So perhaps “modern Texas cuisine” is right on. Maybe modern Texan means meat-where-appropriate, locally sourced ingredients and (gasp!) healthy options. Chef Dodds encourages his diners to leave the meat-heavy menus to the special occasion steakhouses and visit his neighborhood restaurant often for food that “makes them feel good.” Real Texans come in all shapes, sizes and dietary preferences, after all. “I’m fanatical about knowing where stuff is from. I want people to leave feeling good.”