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Homewood makes the most out of a neighborhood restaurant, from start to finish.
Homewood makes the most out of a neighborhood restaurant, from start to finish.
Alison McLean

Homewood Is a Neighborhood Restaurant With Big Ambitions (and Dallas’ Best Desserts)

Dallas’ queen of dessert is back.

When Maggie Huff retires from serving sweets in North Texas, we’ll have to figure out where to put the statue. The year in which she wasn’t regularly baking and pastry-making — between FT33’s closure in summer 2018 and Homewood’s opening this spring — was a sort of Dark Age of sugar. Texas seasonal fruit languished like a muse without an artist. Ice creams tasted less direct. Other chefs’ desserts felt too heavy or too sweet. The sun even shone less brightly.

But now Homewood is here to save us. Huff is back with desserts like a slice of fresh lemon pound cake grilled then buried in crumble, blueberries and a scoop of lemon-verbena ice cream ($9). It’s light but sinful, small yet satisfying. Well, “satisfying” is relative: I could have eaten two or three more. She’s also pairing dark chocolate with caramel cream in a flourless cake of velvety richness, then topping the whole thing with crisps of popcorn brittle ($10). Who could resist?

Warm lemon and cream fraiche pound cake
Warm lemon and cream fraiche pound cake
Alison McLean

Of course, there is much more to Homewood than its desserts. This is a Dallas return not just for Huff but for her boss, Matt McCallister, the chef who transformed this city’s dining scene during a six-year run at FT33 in the Design District. In interviews, McCallister promised that Homewood would be more approachable than his first restaurant, a place to be a regular rather than to celebrate; he also promised that his rigor and creativity as a chef wouldn’t change.

“You won’t know that we made like a miso from the seeds of this plant from the year prior and we’re rubbing this vegetable in the miso that we made,” McCallister explained in an interview last year. “We don’t have to put that on the menu. You’ll just eat it and go like, fuck, dude, that’s good. That’s what I want.”

In the early going, dish after dish accomplish exactly that goal. Look no further than Huff’s simple-yet-sophisticated desserts. Well, OK, do look further.

Look at the starter snack that’s already well on its way to becoming a Dallas icon: a cast-iron pan of Parker House rolls, the good old, pull-apart kind many of us remember from our school days ($7). They’re made from scratch, of course. And the dipping sauce, a late-night invention from FT33, has all the rich, savory appeal of homemade gravy while being considerably more sophisticated: a layer of drippings from roasted chicken under a blanket of foamy, salty Parmesan Mornay sauce.

Look, too, at the main course of steelhead trout ($29). There’s all manner of sophistication on the plate, like the pureed nasturtium that envelops the side dish of potatoes or the blend of toasted seeds that is hidden in a swipe under the fish itself. But the real appeal is the trout itself, grilled to perfection, the skin as crispy as a chip and the meat gently smoky.

Like its neighbor, Sachet, Homewood is an exciting place to eat vegetables. That shouldn’t be surprising; Homewood’s patio includes a small but productive garden. A recent special of creamer peas and slivers of ham hock, served on a thick slice of toast, might sound like an unlikely display for McCallister’s gardening skills ($16). But it is.

“What’s that lemon taste?” a table mate asked. Well, that’s lime basil, a special variety McCallister grows in one of the patio’s nine raised beds.

“It tastes nothing like basil,” the chef says. “It’s the essence of lemon or lime.”

Steelhead trout cooked over embers
Steelhead trout cooked over embers
Alison McLean

In late May, the restaurant featured asparagus grilled to tenderness, with a bit of char around the edges, served on a heaping spoonful of eggy, mustardy sauce gribiche ($10). A sheet of lardo draped across the top and a handful of toasted, scattered breadcrumbs made it the perfect comfort dish: smoky, creamy, meaty, fresh, with a bit of crunch.

By mid-June, the kitchen was piling maitake mushrooms into the grill, and the result was deeply smoky, the mushrooms blackened around the edges ($10). The extra hidden touch: even more maitake mushrooms, wood-smoked, blitzed and added to the compound butter drizzled over the finished dish. That same savory butter can be found on top of a rib-eye steak.

In spring Dallas’ food lovers wouldn’t stop hyping the braised snow peas on Facebook, which was an injustice, because the peas were less of an instant “wow” and more of a gradual “ah, very nice” ($9). Poached in emulsified butter, the Beauregarde peas — an heirloom variety that is deep purple except at the tips — transformed the butter sauce itself into a shade of lavender. The dish-making accent, though, was the crisp rye breadcrumbs on top.

Breadcrumbs and other texture-adding crumbly bits appear on almost everything here. Who could resist smoked potatoes topped with even more potatoes, chopped and dehydrated into tiny croutons ($9)? What about ricotta gnocchi seared until brown and then showered with what McCallister calls “chicken crispies”? When I visited, the gnocchi also came with chanterelle mushrooms, kale and a charred onion vinaigrette, which made the whole dish sing an earthy, savory ballad ($18).

McCallister’s kitchen staff makes all of the pasta in house. Pasta bowls come in two sizes, one for people who want to save room for dessert, and one for those who do not. The choice is clear.

Springtime meant cappelletti, a stuffed pasta shaped like the big floppy hats my mother used to wear while gardening ($17). They were filled with ricotta and ‘nduja, the spicy spreadable sausage from southern Italy. Popping one of Homewood’s cappelletti into your mouth created an explosion of flavor: flavors of cream and pork and spiced heat burst outward, intensified by the savory, salty Parmesan broth in which the pasta sits. Think ramen broth, but Italian, cheesy and dotted with dill-infused oil.

In midsummer, McCallister rolled out a spaghetti with clam sauce that beats many of the Italian joints in town at their own game ($19). It couldn’t hurt that the pasta dough contained seaweed, or that the noodles and clams were drizzled with a just-right spicy chili oil. Our table was divided, however, by the chewy texture of the seaweed leaves tossed in the bowl.

After all those pastas and snacks, and with an eye firmly watching the dessert menu, I only managed to order one main course on each visit. The grilled trout was one; another, in springtime, was a rustic-seeming and fabulous platter of roasted chicken with arugula salad, gigantic fresh peas and a handful of morel mushrooms ($28). Like so much about Homewood, the technique needed to bring about consistently tender, juicy meat under a golden-brown shield of crisp skin was secondary to the direct excellence of the result.

Homewood’s beer, wine and cocktail lists strive to mirror the food’s balance of comfort and sophistication. Some of the cocktails are big-time winners, like the three-ingredient margarita ($11), a spicy mezcal-and-lime number ($12) and Il Dottore, a mix of rye and Italian bitter aperitifs, which come in a satisfyingly huge pour ($14). An attempt at gin lemonade ($14), however, left me thinking about an old college friend whose highest compliment for a drink was, “You can’t taste the alcohol!”

Homewood on Oak Lawn Avenue
Homewood on Oak Lawn Avenue
Alison McLean

The adventurous wine list is, on the whole, more expensive and exclusive than McCallister had originally intended. But the two sections that aren’t — “aromatic whites” and rosés — happen to be the wines that pair best with almost all of the food here. Grab a sauvignon blanc from Austria, wash down oysters with muscadet or pop a bottle of pink wine from the Basque Country.

It’s clear that McCallister’s ambition as a cook and creative mind hasn’t diminished since he closed FT33. And, honestly, a lot of what Homewood serves is classic FT33 food: nasturtium salsas, fermented potato breads, seaweed pastas or an acidic tuna tartare with slivers of olive, pickled pepper and gooseberry ($17).

But the dining room is more comfortable, only occasionally growing too loud. The bar, thoughtfully, is constructed so that bartenders and guests can literally see eye-to-eye. Oyster selections are written on a chalkboard. There are TVs on the patio. This is dressed-up food in a don’t-dress-up restaurant.

There is only one way in which Homewood’s design is inhospitable: its hostility to pedestrians. Although the battle-ship gray restaurant is on a major street corner, it has no walking entrance at all; the only door is through the parking lot. A potential sidewalk connection is, instead, a dead end. The patio is walled off by rocks piled into metal frames.

Inside those forbidding walls, it’s going to be fun to see how Homewood changes with the seasons. And, honestly, it’s going to be fun to pop in late at night and just order a round of desserts. On my latest visit, my group saved space for three of Huff’s creations: a bowl of various fruit-and-spice flavors of spumoni; a sort of Neapolitan-style triple ganache, but with dark chocolate, sour cherry and pistachio flavors; and fresh Texas peaches cooked in butterscotch and piled on top of brown butter cake with a scoop of basil ice cream (all $10).

Afterward, we all argued about which of the desserts was best. I leaned toward the peaches; my friends supported the triple ganache. All dinner-table debates should be this fun.

Homewood, 4002 Oak Lawn Ave.  Open 5-10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.  214-434-1244, homewooddallas.com

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