Dallas is no stranger to adopting passing food trends. We've seen the macaron appear in a great pastel whoosh while restaurants churn out brunch menus as if hollandaise is a rarefied commodity. So too, the Southern food trend has seen an outcropping of restaurants hawking fried chicken and deviled eggs: Rapscallion, Pink Magnolia and Whistle Britches, to name a few.
But it was a recent trip to Ida Claire in Addison that demonstrated just how conspiratorial two trends — brunch and food that ain't never crossed the Mason-Dixon — can be.
Ida Claire is the product of the industrious restaurant group behind Whiskey Cake, Velvet Taco and Mexican Sugar. They've designed a space that is as charming as it is calculated. Outside, an Airstream trailer has been given a bohemian makeover to moonlight as both additional seating and a selfie-destination, while mid-century style furniture lends a grandmother's house vibe to the interior.
On a recent Sunday, the place was packed with diners who didn't seem to be having any existential crises over whether or not Southern food is overplayed. They just seemed hungry and excited to be there, even if it meant waiting for a seat (it did). Expect enough of a lag time between your arrival and your table being ready to partake in one of Ida's many cocktails. Juleps and punches abound among a list that includes $5 Bloody Marys and mimosas, an herby gimlet and a hurricane that gets a tropical twist thanks to the presence of passion fruit.
If the hurricane conjures images of the French Market and crawfish boils, it should: Brunch at Ida Claire features a host of Louisiana-inspired dishes. There's the andouille gumbo ($6), crawfish beignets served with a smoky remoulade ($8) and a muffuletta ($11) on house-baked bread.
The catfish po'boy ($13) provided its own take on New Orleans, that wondrous food capital where fish goes from the Gulf to the fryer and then straight onto good bread. Ida's version gives the catfish its traditional jacket of cornmeal, which lends the soft-fleshed meat a crackly, crunchy mouth-feel. The sandwich is served with a simple slaw of cabbage and celery root, pickles and "comeback sauce" — a creamy, piquant concoction that sings with vinegary flavor. As any sandwich aficionado can attest, bread can make or break a sandwich. Ida doesn't disappoint, serving the po'boy on a roll that had that perfect combination of delicately crisp, thin exterior and pillowy crumb made all the more pleasing after soaking up some of that sauce.
Apart from the Creole-inspired offerings, the brunch menu also features a who's who of Southern bites, from fried green tomatoes ($7) to shrimp and grits ($19) to a low-country breakfast featuring a hulking, bone-in ham steak ($12). Our table settled into an order of the turkey and dumplings. The "dumplings" equate to one of Ida Claire's signature biscuits split in half. And unlike restaurants that tout their forlornly mediocre "signature" this and "legendary" that, Ida's biscuits hold up to their self-proclaimed reputation. They are great, comforting rounds of golden, flaky goodness.
Resting atop these baked godsends was a mound of shredded turkey. Described on the menu as being garam-braised, the dark meat was succulent but the garam was lost. Not that we missed it. Slathered on each biscuit half was a creamy, herb-forward sauce — think green goddess dressing. Something magic happened when that green spread started to ink its way into the gravy below. Together, they created a velvety swirl of goodness in which to sop forkfuls of biscuit and turkey. This dish will likely find fans in lovers of biscuits and gravy, for it hits many of the same notes while doing so in a way that does not explicitly command the wearing of elastic waist pants.
Yes, Ida Claire is part of the Southern food tide that has either already come in or yet to crest, depending on whom you ask. Yes, there is an Airstream trailer in the courtyard. But there are also biscuits. And who cares what trend they rode in on? Because these biscuits are big and fluffy and when eaten in a midcentury-style chair, they help you feel — if only for a moment — like you have a southern grandma waiting for you in the kitchen.
Ida Claire, 5001 Belt Line Road