Restaurant Reviews

Filament Spices Up American Standards with International Touches

If Auric Goldfinger had been a food critic, the Bond villain might have said: One restaurant is happenstance. Two restaurants is coincidence. Three restaurants is a trend.

With Filament, Dallas officially has a new trend, kitchens that infuse Texas classics with international flavors. Filament flips through the pages of a world atlas in search of the spirit of Southern comfort food. At the Deep Ellum space, which opened in early December, chef-owner Matt McCallister and executive chef Cody Sharp will let you have your meat and potatoes, but those standards come with a side dish of innovation.

Raise an eyebrow, if you like, at the globalization of all-American classics, but that is what Filament does best. Roasted carrots, with yogurt, tahini and golden raisins, seem straight out of Jerusalem. Well-spiced country meat pies ($9) are fried to a bubbly crispness that brings to mind frying techniques from China and Japan. Based on publicity and early popularity, Filament’s signature dish is the “Johnny cake okonomiyaki” ($11), a savory Japanese pancake studded with smoked ham, red cabbage and mayo.

But the real star of the early menu is a potato salad, dressed in a creamy sauce so heaven-light you could eat a bucket of it without feeling sick. Cody Sharp could serve these potatoes at any family reunion from here to Raleigh. The twist: grilled octopus ($13), an homage to Sharp’s work with Omar Flores at Casa Rubia. The octopus is melt-in-your mouth, perfectly cooked on both of our visits, a morsel of smoky backyard-wood-fire-tasting heaven.

Texas standards mostly come off well, too. The grits ($8), served in pot liquor and topped with bitter greens and a fried egg, are outstanding. The pork tamale, served with both hot salsa and a creamy complement, is excellent, but ours sat on undercooked frijoles. We salvaged the beans with a generous pour of Filament’s house-made hot sauce, which packs the heat of Fresno chilies and concentration from aging in bourbon barrels. (McCallister also barrel-ages hot sauce at his first restaurant, FT33.)

Your best bet at Filament is to focus on sharing the smaller plates that cost around $7-$13. About two per person is right. The dry-aged double pork chop ($45) is mighty tempting and elegantly plated. After three weeks of dry-aging and sous vide cooking, the kitchen is content to let the meat do the talking. But for as juicy and flawlessly seared as the chop is, its flavor is simply not that exciting, not in comparison with the happenings on the list of small plates. The pork chop’s vegetable sides steal the show, as does an addicting bowl of hoppin’ john.

Any possible disappointment is likely to be erased by the desserts from FT33 pastry chef Maggie Huff. They will change seasonally, and right now a mighty fine chocolate brownie is being elevated to all-star status by a festive scoop of peppermint ice cream. Even better is the buttermilk pie, rich but not excessive, so moist that it may in fact be violating laws of physics.

It may be telling that Matt McCallister, who owns Filament and helped design the menu, and Sharp, who as executive chef oversees the kitchen day-to-day, both studied as artists before they became chefs. McCallister’s background in visual arts explains his flair for plating, which carries over here from FT33. Another similarity between the restaurants is stylish interior design.

The industrial chic look is still in vogue for Dallas dining. Walk into Filament and you’ll see brick walls bearing faded spray-paint writing, exposed lumber ceilings and light bulbs fitted into telephone pole insulators. Even the toilet paper holders are repurposed metal pipes. 

But Filament comes by its decor honestly; it took over an old industrial space, so the look is not for show. The staff found a gigantic drill press, a 6-foot-plus piece of equipment dating back nearly a hundred years, in the middle of their future kitchen. They moved it to the front of the house, put some flowers on top and called it a host stand.

Around the stark pipes that line the bar, managing partner Jeff Gregory has helped assemble one of the most well-rounded drink lists in Deep Ellum. Maybe you want one of the handful of enticing specialty cocktails, like the Farmer’s Tan, with a fiery slick of chili oil on top, or Brooklyn’s Finest, a rye-cognac drink to warm you on a winter evening. The bar’s multiple shelves of quality craft whiskeys range from Knob Creek all the way to Pappy Van Winkle.

Filament’s wine list is especially deep and full of strong choices, particularly in gamay and pinot noir, two lighter reds that harmonize with most of the sharing plates. By-the-glass options can include unusual enticements: If you’re a chardonnay fan, try the well-rounded aligoté. 

Surrounded by the young crowd at Filament, and likewise by its young cooks and floor staff, you can’t help but feel the ground shifting underneath the Dallas dining scene. Along with fellow trendsetters Rapscallion, FT33 and Small Brewpub, Filament is rewriting the rulebook for local cooking. You can have your potato salad, but it comes with grilled octopus. You can have your carrots, but they’re topped with tahini. Want a dip for your chip? Forget queso and try the refreshingly cool mix of deviled shrimp and crab meat ($12).

This mixture of farmhouse tradition and tactful innovation is, let’s hope, a look at our dining scene’s future. Dallas chefs have long complained about our city’s addiction to meat and potatoes. Historically, there have been three responses: to cater to that demand with burgers and steaks; to rebel with a bold new vision; or to just borrow spices from Mexico. Filament and its cohort of trendy new restaurants offer a fourth path by bringing Texas recipes and ideas into conversation with the rest of the world. They find ways to import that global dialogue into our home cooking, and then top it off with a damn fine slice of buttermilk pie.

There is more potential to be unlocked at Filament, particularly in the big grilled dishes, where you sense the chefs taming their imaginations. But the restaurant is just getting started. Its drink list is a thing of beauty, and many of its sharing plates are so good you won’t want to share. Deep Ellum’s new fixture is looking like a place where Dallasites can eat adventurous food without changing out of their cowboy boots.
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Brian Reinhart has been the Dallas Observer's food critic since spring 2016. In addition, he writes baseball analysis for the Hardball Times and covers classical music for the Observer and MusicWeb International.
Contact: Brian Reinhart