Had the slice of sour cherry pie I ordered at Henry's Majestic been served traditionally, I probably would have forgotten about it. The crust was flaky and tender, with a vaguely toasty flavor and a hint of salt, and the fruit was firm and plump, with just enough sugar added to round out any tartness. The flavors were balanced and the baking well executed. But what I was served at this recently opened restaurant on McKinney Avenue was nearly just another slice of pie. Except it wasn't.
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Pie is sliced from its center to two points along its circumference, points determined by either the hunger of the pie-eater or the stinginess of the pie-owner. Pie is served on a plate in a ragged wedge, with weeping filling and bits of crust strewn about, and occasionally topped with whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream. That's how pie is done.
But the dessert that was dropped off at my table looked less like cherry pie and more like a hippopotamus footprint. At Henry's Majestic, "pie" is what happens when a cook smashes a slice into a cast-iron skillet the size of an Eggo waffle, then warms the remains gently in the oven and finally, tops them with a scoop of vanilla. It's ugly -- but it's also genius.
If you're ever lamenting that slab of filling-less crust left at the end of a slice of pie, get out a pint-sized skillet and smash those woes away. Filling and crust fragments mingle in perfect harmony in the smashed-pie paradigm, yielding a little of each in every bite. It's not aesthetically pleasing, but for the taste buds it works.
The woman behind your whacked-out slice is Roe DiLeo, who left her post at Libertine Bar to open Henry's Majestic with the owners of Breadwinners and The Quarter Bar. They took over the old Acme F&B space on McKinney Avenue and streamlined it. The two separate bars, the massive patio, the dim lighting and wallpaper are still there, but the noisy decor is gone. The quirky birdcages and rusting steel fixtures from the F&B days have all been removed, lending the space sophistication without giving up charm.
The copper bar top in the back room is still intact, too, though it's developed a nice patina. Thousands of rings from sweaty glasses and sloppy pours have tinged it a shade of dark brown you only see in bars that have been around awhile. It's the perfect place for dining alone.
I settled in solo one recent night and started with oysters Majestic, which arrived baked in their shells, each nestled into a bed of salt so they wouldn't tip over and spill their payload. The oysters are topped with a little pancetta -- they're salty and addictive, especially with a cold glass of beer.
The pastrami sandwich is another good option, loaded with more kraut than peppery meat. It's a big, sloppy mess of a Reuben sandwich that will appeal to those who enjoy the tart, briny bite of fermented cabbage and the nutty, mellow flavor of melted Swiss cheese. DiLeo's former kitchen at Libertine Bar produced somewhat elevated bar food that remained true to its rustic roots. At Henry's her cooking is more lofty, which sometimes works to her advantage. Other times it does not.
Mussels bathed in a thick cream sauce would be right at home on the linen-clad tables of a French bistro. With dill, just enough lemon and plenty of crusty bread, this bowl is the sort of simple cooking many restaurants strive for, only to come up short. A chicken salad that would normally be afterthought is topped with flavorful poultry, scraps of bacon and an egg that's been gently and perfectly cooked. The greens are dressed with restraint in a slightly sweet vinaigrette. Henry's doesn't serve typical Dallas bar food.
But the meatballs I tried struck out. They arrived lukewarm and tough, with a fennel slaw that was too flimsy to stand up to an excessively bold maple-bourbon sauce. Bone marrow also failed to please. As I spread it on bread, much of it turned to oil, and the accompanying salad of parsley and pickles was chopped so coarsely it was hard to manage.
For big beefy flavors, the strip steak is a better option. I ordered mine rare and that's how it was delivered, topped with a green chimichurri and served with potato wedges. And there's also a burger, where bone marrow is employed again, this time more effectively. The marrow adds a pleasant richness to an already satisfying burger experience.
Henry's Majestic is very much a bar, as evidenced by the many tipping shot glasses and the DJ booth that's set up some nights. But the dining room and patio feel more like a restaurant, so it will be interesting to see what kind of crowd settles in. Football-watching, middle-aged dudes line the bar on a Friday evening, and the boozy-brunch set has taken over Sunday afternoon. Alcohol is the common denominator here.
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With low price points that hover in the teens and occasionally even lower (that steak is the most expensive item at $24), Henry's won't punish you for experimenting -- and all the better if you drink while you do it.
If you need more proof, look past the cherry pie on the dessert menu and order the "beer and a shot." The "beer" is a Buried Hatchet stout incorporated in a chocolate pudding and served in a Ball jar, and the "shot" is whipped cream laced with Four Roses bourbon. Don't even think of tossing either glass back; you'll want to savor this one slowly.
Henry's Majestic 4900 McKinney Ave. , 469-893-9400, www.henrysmajestic.com, 4 p.m.-12 a.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-12 a.m. Sunday. Closed Monday. $$
Oysters Majestic $12 Marrow burger $12 Pastrami Reuben $11 Mussels $14 Smashed pie $6