The Csavargó is the kind of sandwich that could anchor a restaurant, but unless you’ve ventured into Deep Ellum lately, you’ve probably never heard of it. In fact, if you haven’t been down there since spring, you likely wouldn’t recognize the neighborhood, thanks to all the bars and restaurants that have opened along a stretch of recently renovated Elm Street.
Armoury D.E. is one of them. It opened this past summer, rubbing shoulders with scads of new bars and restaurants that sell crafted things. Craft cocktails, craft beer, craft spirits, all stuff that has been fussed over to varying degrees. Armoury offers craft stuff too, but they also sell the Csavargó, which nobody else in Deep Ellum offers. As far as I can tell, nobody else in Dallas or even all of Texas serves a sandwich quite like this one.
The Csavargó (pronounced ch-fargo, at least by me, anyway) was created when Peter Novotny (a co-owner) introduced Abram Vargas (the chef and co-owner) to a Hungarian sausage called gyulai. Vargas added thinly sliced pork belly, an unnerving but delicious mustard named “Bearded Bitch,” shredded lettuce and tomato. Because fatty sandwiches can never have too much acid, he added jalapeños he pickled himself. Vargas stuffed it all into a chubby baguette called a batard and the Csavargó was done. You’re doing yourself a favor when you order one.
Of course, you have to find it first. The menu at Armoury fits on a single page, but there are mediocre dishes to wade through. There are duck wings that are a little dry and unappetizing and nopalitos that are breaded, fried and boring. There are pork belly fritters that would be better if the pork belly inside them was softer and more tender. And then there’s the Csavargó, which you could probably eat once a week for three months and not get tired of it.
Armoury opens every day at 4 p.m. and immediately begins a slow march from something restaurant-like to something that feels more like a bar. In the early evening things are quiet, with a handful of customers scattered around grazing. Come a little later and music blares (hip-hop, rock, punk and more) and people crowd the bar and order drinks made with fancy tinctures and smoking planks of wood. But just behind the main bar room and an increasingly drunk crowd is a kitchen with the aspiration and the potential to become the heart of a very good and interesting restaurant. Order the right dishes and you’ll think the same, which is why Vargas’ cooking would be better served if he trimmed his menu.
I feel badly for anyone who comes here and orders one of the salads instead of the gulyás. The salads are fine enough, crisp and inviting, but they are just salads. The gulyás that shares the same section of the menu is a hearty bowl of sustenance with soul and grit. Novotny’s mother emigrated from Hungary, and this stew graced his family’s table often enough that he thought about it when opening his first restaurant. A few of his mother’s dishes made it to the menu, and you’ll wish for more of them.
Lángos is a bread that’s fried in hot fat. You can get it topped with more of that gyulai or other meats from the charcuterie board and cheese, too, if you’re feeling it. The result is an odd sort of pizza, served with sour cream and a garlic spread. It’s greasy eating, but when you’re drinking, it’s hard not to be smitten.
And then there’s the spaetzle that’s served alongside a chicken cutlet with a small ramekin of sour cream. You can also order the dumplings as a side, tossed in cheese and baked until everything melts together. Both are worthy ways to spend your daily allotment of carbohydrates.
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That charcuterie board makes for good snacking, too. The smoked pork rib is brash with wood fumes, sliced thin and great with a little mustard. Duck and pork salamis have a good texture and mix well with dried fruits and other noshes.
If the menu stopped right there it would be one of the quirkiest Dallas has seen in quite a while, but the gulyás gets watered down with ambition. It’s hard to get excited about a coulotte of beef because that’s all it is — a simple steak served with your choice of sides. It’s Dallas’ most recognizable plate, behind a burger offered with bacon and a farm fresh egg (you can get that here, too).
But don’t order the steak or the burger. Don’t order the mahi mahi that comes off like a plate that was added to the menu simply because the menu needed some fish. Customers who leave with these dishes in their bellies will take with them an impression that Armoury D.E. is just another restaurant with the exposed brick walls, pendant lights and metal fixtures that are all the fashion these days. It’s not.
Just behind the massive, unmarked door is a look at where many restaurants in Dallas will be headed over the next few years. Novotny, Vargas and their partners all used to work at the Fillmore Pub before they got the crazy idea to open a place of their own. Just across Elm Street, another young crew has devoted their lives to fried chicken and deviled eggs at a place called Brick & Bones. These next-generation restaurateurs have new ideas of what constitutes a good bar or restaurant. They ask hard-hitting questions, like, “Why are there Hungarian restaurants in Chicago but none in Dallas?” That’s the kind of poking around that can have a meaningful impact on a city’s food scene.
It’s also the sort of exploration that led to the invention of the Csavargó, which has undoubtedly made Dallas a better sandwich town. The art of sandwich-making is so old it would seem impossible to come up with anything new in these modern times. And while I’m sure a sandwich with Hungarian sausage and pork belly has been assembled somewhere on this planet before, it likely doesn’t come together as perfectly as this one. Don’t miss it.