Restaurant Reviews

Hurricane Warning

"Some individuals may have an allergic reaction to shellfish," the Hurricane Grill menu warns. "The Hurricane is not responsible." So puff up, blister, itch and swallow your medicine.

But is the Hurricane responsible for the hurricane?

Hurricanes are terrifyingly furtive beverages, unleashing their rum pestilence long after you've lost count of your drink tally. The Hurricane Grill multiplies this unseemly horror with the Category 5: a 45-ounce hurricane served on the rocks or frozen. It's designed for two or more, the menu says, and you can almost see the wink between the lines.

"We didn't invent it, but I think we've kind of mastered it," says Greg Merkow, owner of the Greenville Avenue restaurant. "It's kind of like a disease. Once somebody sees it, they all kind of get intrigued by the big drink, and then you'll see 10 or 12 of them out there."

Just the regular 16-ounce version of this violent tropical storm in pinkish fruity hues is enough to make your head hum like an old transformer. The Category 5 must make it buzz and pop like a politician on a California power grid. But rest assured: There is no hurricane warning on the menu. So if you're allergic to rum, feel free to clip those nice trial lawyer portraits that go on as endlessly as a rum hangover in the yellow pages.

Allergies and other litigious diseases aside, though, there is a lot to like about this haunt that once was the Flying Burro. The servers flaunt tattoos and bruised shades of nail polish, and live music bellows from a stage where a few dining tables used to be. There's also a saltwater fish tank that serves as part of a vestibule divider, and the raw oysters are good, clean and cheap: six bucks during happy hour. They come equipped with lemon wedges and little plastic cups of cocktail sauce and horseradish.

Another delight that comes with plastic ramekins of sauces is the fried combo plate: a medley of coated and fried shrimp, oysters and catfish planks. The corn coating is seasoned well, and your fingertips don't sheen like a pomaded head after picking it up. Shrimp are juicy and rich. The catfish is good, too, with none of that swell silt taste or mushy texture. That afflicted the oysters; they kind of leaked when you squeezed them. The element that defies reason in this medley is the amount of cocktail and tartar sauce the kitchen includes in those plastic ramekins. In our combo there was just enough sauce to smudge the bottom of each cup. Certainly the average person is going to dredge each fried piece more than once. So why make them go through the hassle of trying to locate a server to get a fresh supply, especially after a hurricane, when even the clown fish in the tank look like servers?

Sauce idiosyncrasies continued in the shrimp cocktail, an appetizer executed on a plate instead of in a dish or a glass. A few shrimp were dispersed on a motley bed of iceberg lettuce tatters with a few cocktail sauce smears on the bodies. The shrimp were firm, plump and succulent.

But other shellfish renditions didn't come off as well. The crawdad tail po boy, fried crawfish tails shoved into a split French roll with hamburger dill slices, was dry. A good po boy should be sloppy with lots of spice for kicks. This one had no sauce, just crisp tails on crusted bread smeared with something. The Cajun-spiced steak fries were good, though: crisp, moist and torrid without torturing the mouth with tormenting heat.

Gumbo with oysters and shrimp was passable, though the medium was a bit shy on richness, and the tiny curled ribbed shrimp bodies were overcooked and tough. But the oysters were full and succulent.

The Hurricane Grill coalesced under the tutelage of Merkow and Charlie and Chris McGinness, the father-and-son team that launched Dodie's. Merkow says they had originally planned to open the Hurricane concept in North Dallas, until the Flying Burro spot became available and they shifted their plans. The Hurricane has been surviving its infancy by absorbing spillage from The Grape across the street and Terilli's a couple of doors down, he says.

Roughly four weeks ago, Merkow bought out the McGinnesses after differences in operational philosophies emerged. "They ended up getting quite a bit of money out of the deal, so it ended up working well for everybody," says Merkow, who plans to open two or three more Hurricanes in the area. "I think it's a winning concept."

Maybe, but some of the things that seem to be winning here didn't come off as winning to us. The barbecued jumbo shrimp, nine of them on a bed of rice, is one of the Hurricane's signature dishes, according to Merkow. And there's nothing wrong with those shrimp: They're as tender, succulent and full of sea flavor as just about any you'll find in an oyster bar of this caliber, but everything was drowning in barbecue sauce, creating a swilly moat around the rice berm propping up the shrimp. The sauce was simply too heavy and ubiquitous for our tastes. A defter touch might have been to sauté the shrimp in the barbecue sauce, brush a bit on before serving and then include a ramekin of the stuff for dipping. Instead, it was like soup served on a plate.

Sautéed shrimp and artichoke in a greenish sauce was also a goal shy. The thick slurry contained a cluster of tender shrimp and sections of canned artichoke heart, but the sauce was sharp and thickened with too much flour (or starch maybe), leaving it grainy and pasty.

Baked mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat and celery twisted into bread crumbs were delivered in a gravy boat. The cheese sauce spread over them was tangy and rich, but crab flesh was scarce in the bread-crumb stuffing, creating a mouth experience that was a little like eating chunky paste.

Even more compelling in the adhesive category was the blackened chicken served over angel hair pasta. In this ensemble, the pasta was overcooked and became welded into a stiff knot. Chicken pieces were well-seasoned but overcooked and dry.

Hurricane Grill is a place where one should stick to the seafood--if it isn't planted in renditions where it will stick to you. The fish special we sampled was superlative: flaky, moist and exquisitely seasoned grilled tilapia. Plus the serving was generous, and the side of mashed potatoes was smooth and moist with a smoky essence and a lavish garlic punch. Plus, Hurricane Grill entrées come with an unexpectedly respectable salad: crispy greens, a tomato wedge and real kalamatas (instead of the canned black olive blandness) bathed in a decent Parmesan vinaigrette.

Some of the food here is good, but a lot of it is not so swell and should be eaten with the eyes tightly shut and the lips firmly gripping the rim of a Category 5 just so the head croons no matter what is ingested.

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Mark Stuertz
Contact: Mark Stuertz