Dear McKinney: Congratulations. You no longer have to drive to Dallas when you want to leave the kids at home and have a nice meal out. Sugarbacon Proper Kitchen fits the bill.
When you walk into the restaurant, you’re greeted by still-trendy industrial decor, tastefully balanced with thick-cushioned leather seating and a giant chalkboard above the kitchen listing the specials. The bar creates a welcoming environment for those wanting to hang out after work or catch up over a cocktail before dinner, and there’s a thoughtfully placed ledge for those who want to order a drink without having to wedge themselves between people seated at the bar. The only nuisance is the music, set a couple of notches too loud. Between the blaring holiday jingles and the chatty couple next to us, I missed my phone going off to alert me my table was ready, and no one from the host stand came to get us, though we were only a few steps away. After that snafu, the hostess put us first on the list and quickly seated us.
Our extra time at the bar allowed us to try their refreshing and interesting cocktails. The Country Grammar, made with house-infused peach tea vodka and balanced with honey and lemon, was dangerously drinkable. The Maple Whiskey Smash also went down easy, though it left my bourbon-loving husband a bit overwhelmed by syrupy maple flavor and disappointed with the lack of bite. Our friend’s Bee Sting, Sugarbacon’s twist on a Paloma, had a great jalapeño kick. There wasn’t a proper winter drink on the cocktail list, though — the Watermelon Crush, bitter with out-of-season watermelon, should be rotated out for a whiskey or rye-based warmer during colder months.
Sugarbacon’s appetizer list combines popular classics and intriguing new ideas. It’s easy to dismiss the spinach-artichoke dip until the server informs you the dip is made with locally sourced cheese. Sadly, since my dining there in December, the Sugarbacon team has chosen to consolidate the lunch and dinner menu, and the pulled pork sliders I had as an appetizer are no longer on the menu. (The good news is that the pulled pork is still available as a full-sized sandwich.) The sliders were delicious — the pork was tender and not too dry, the bun was perfectly toasted, and chef Jon Thompson hasn’t drowned his coleslaw in mayo. The slaw and ancho barbecue sauce pair well, with the acidic dressing cutting through the sweetness and bringing out the ancho flavor. Among the more unusual options, the tater tots immediately caught our group’s interest and fully satisfied — crispy outside, super-soft inside, with bursts of savoriness from the pulled pork and pimento cheese topping.
Then there’s the sugarbacon, the namesake of the restaurant, the one appetizer that screams to be ordered. Unfortunately, the thick cube of pork belly is dry, not delivering a melt-in-your-mouth consistency. It’s also too big to eat in one bite, so cut it first or nibble carefully. The crostini has a good crunch despite the dripping ancho barbecue sauce, which is unexpectedly sweet and dominates the palate. It’s hard to detect the pickle through the sauce. It’s probably great for Kansas City barbecue fans, but I was hoping for something tangier with more of the ancho punch I picked up in the sliders. I wished I’d gone with the artichoke dip.
The seafood dishes, while miles above Red Lobster, still need some practice. Both the shrimp and scallops sat on the grill a few seconds too long; they were ever so slightly chewy, and there are too many restaurants doing great scallops and shrimp and grits right now for either of these dishes to stand out. The shrimp and grits let me down with the sugarbacon again, too. My very first bite was a large, tough chunk of pork that contrasted terribly against the creamy texture of the grits and the much more munchable shrimp. When I later got a thin, crispy bite of bacon, it was a rewarding experience, and this could be a great dish if the overcooked, thick pork was taken out.
The SB burger, deservedly lauded by Zagat, builds in a symphony of harmonious flavor. My first bite was only of the wagyu beef, and if I’d just had that patty for dinner I would have been happy. Then came the aged cheddar, the garlic mayo, and the bread and butter pickles. When I finally got to the sugarbacon, I found it good, but unnecessary — the burger is solid without it. The fries that accompany the sandwiches are a wonder of the food world, thick-cut and crunchy on the outside, but soft with a heavy potato flavor inside. These things were good the next day when I reheated them in the microwave. That’s saying something.
If you’re looking for something else to round out your meal, opt for dessert over a side dish. The green beans were so overcooked and drowned in syrup they tasted canned, and the un-jalapeño-y jalapeño mac and cheese was horribly bland. On the other hand, the butterscotch banana pudding is light but rich, and the fresh fruit crisp (apple on our evening) was devoured instantly.
Our servers were attentive, if occasionally overeager. Owner Johnny Carros was out on the floor during both our visits, greeting customers, dropping off food and checking to make sure everything was to our satisfaction. My major complaint with the restaurant is the signature food — if you name a place after a particular item, it should shine. The sugarbacon fell short of expectations everywhere on the menu, and I hope diners will explore the other great options instead of choosing the obvious. In everything else, Sugarbacon provides an adult setting for a pleasant, quality meal. This establishment feels like it’s beginning to hit its stride, and it’s a solid pick in the McKinney area for a long lunch or a special night out.