It's hard not to be in awe of the dramatic 18-foot-tall sculpture by New York artist Daniel Arsham that marks the Oak Lawn entrance to Wheelhouse, a new Design District restaurant from Headington Concepts, the developer behind The Joule. Floor-to-ceiling guillotine-style windows that open and close mechanically, exquisite tile work and sharp contemporary design — it's a gorgeous space indicative of the Design District restaurant aesthetic that's blossoming across the neighborhood.
But just behind that massive sculpture are some amenities not normally found at chic Design District hot spots: cornhole boards, basketball hoops and nearly a dozen flat-screen TVs tuned to various sporting events, visible from almost every corner of the restaurant. With Wheelhouse, Headington created an elegant space that uses bro-bar touches and an approachable menu to add a casual vibe to a district that increasingly houses some of the city's most lauded fine-dining restaurants.
Wheelhouse, which opened March 25, is described in press material as a "modern American gastropub serving approachable food with well sourced ingredients in a relaxed, social setting," and the description is pretty apt. Open for lunch and dinner daily, Wheelhouse is part of a Headington complex that will soon feature Go Go, a grab-and-go spot, and Sassetta, an "Italy-by-way-of-California" restaurant opening just across what will be the shared courtyard.
On opening weekend at Wheelhouse, the crowd slowly gathering at the airy bar seemed to be right up Wheelhouse's alley: Rather than seeking out expensive whiskey pours and high-end steaks, they were ordering fish and chips and asking the bartender questions like, "So what is mezcal, exactly?" The bartenders, trained by Midnight Rambler owners Christy Pope and Chad Solomon, were patient with their explanations of the food and drink menu.
The food menu has a few elegant touches but overall, it's pub fare, albeit slightly higher-end pub fare. There's house-made beef jerky ($6), pastrami pork ribs with kimchi slaw ($15), hot wings ($13) and a roast beef sandwich ($15), along with options like Scottish salmon ($24) and oysters on the half shell ($18-$32). It could prove a great place for bar snacks like beer pretzels ($4 each), chicken liver pate ($9) and house-made sausages ($9-$19), especially when the weather is nice.
The fish and chips ($19) came with three massive fillets of beer-battered cod that proved so aromatic the couple next to us ordered some for themselves. It was a fresh and filling meal, one that could become popular with the cornhole-throwing masses. A small cocktail menu includes $10 drinks that are simple but effective. The verdant Kickstarter (mezcal, pineapple, poblano, lime, cumin bitters) was a decent day-drinking sipper.
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Future plans for this food complex include further art installations and exhibits, which could yield an interesting melding of crowds if Wheelhouse becomes popular with the drinkers who flock to Dallas indoor-outdoor venues that keep patrons hanging around with patio games and games on TV. This corner of Oak Lawn could become a bustling destination once Sassetta and Go Go open in the coming weeks.
Wheelhouse, 1617 Hi Line Dr. Open 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to "late" Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.