Restaurant Reviews

In Trinity Groves, LUCK Needs More Skill to Survive

Those who have spent the last decade or so calling Margaret Hunt Hill's namesake a bridge to nowhere are running out of nothingness to shake their fingers at in contempt. Restaurants are sprouting out of a once-barren patch of ground in West Dallas, one after the other, each marked by neon so bright they can be spotted from the other side of the Trinity River.

The restaurants have cropped up so quickly because of the investment of Phil Romano, of Romano's Macaroni Grill, and his partners, who conceived Trinity Groves hoping to turn that nothingness at the terminus of the glowing white steel span into a vibrant dining neighborhood. To grease the skids, Romano and a team of investors financed restaurant ideas they thought had a good shot at success and that were also scalable. They even offered free rent to budding restaurateurs willing to give up a percentage of their sales, all in the hope that some of the restaurants would blossom, turn to seed and sprout more profitable locations around Dallas and beyond. The hope was that the next ubiquitous franchise might be born from what Romano calls his restaurant incubator.

The low barrier of entry makes Trinity Groves seem like the perfect spot for first-time restaurateurs such as Jeff Dietzman, Ned Steel and Daniel Pittman. They opened LUCK in October, promising updated comfort food built with local ingredients and 40 taps worth of local beer. Local Urban Craft Kitchen hopes to be a casual pub with elevated dining and a neighborhood feel, according to its creators, ignoring the fact that there's no neighborhood to speak of.

Trinity Groves may lack the apartment buildings, retail stores and people that give any neighborhood its pulse, but at least the beer is flowing. Four Corners Brewery opened just down the street last year, and its beers occupy a number of the taps at LUCK. Deep Ellum Brewing Company, Community Brewing, Lakewood and Peticolas occupy the other taps sourced from inside the loop, and Revolver, Armadillo, Rahr, Martin House, Firewheel and others round out a list of beers sourced entirely from within a 75-mile radius. It's a decent beer list that makes LUCK worth a visit on its own, so it's a shame eating well here can be as difficult as finding your way back across the river when you're done.

"This is the best bar food in Dallas," the bartender told me on one visit, as he slid a plate containing three beirocks, German pastries filled with meat, across the bar top. My dining companion asked who had dubbed it so, and he told us confidently that the Dallas Observer had anointed the snacks. We hadn't — not yet, anyway — but I dug in hoping his fib, or his flub, would eventually prove accurate. The snack employs slightly sweet bread about the size of golf balls filled with finely ground beef and cheese. Beer cheese and an au jus sit in little stainless steel cups, ready for dipping, hoping to aid what can be a dry, almost chalky bite. They aren't the best of anything.

Neither are the rest of the starters. Shrimp encased in ground-up and batter-bound tortilla chips have a respectable crunch, but it's lost on shellfish that stink of ammonia. Pretzels arrive blond and bready, lacking the chewy texture and chocolate brown exterior that make a pretzel a pretzel. And smoked chicken wings served whole are occasionally dry, and tainted by an acrid bitterness — a byproduct of combustion that expert smokers know how to minimize.

The food coming out of LUCK's kitchen might taste a little better if more of the ingredients were sourced with the sincerity the owners have reserved for the beer. Some bread from local bakeries makes its way into sandwiches, and the smoked chicken served as an entrée is sourced from nearby Vital Farms, but the menu's claim that ingredients are sourced locally is hedged by a murky "whenever feasible." Those wings, much of the beef and other ingredients come from Ben E. Keith, a large distributor with a presence in 11 states surrounding Texas, and large restaurant suppliers aren't typically celebrated as cornucopias of locally sourced food.

Local or not, brisket treated like this will never taste as delicious as it could. The kitchen smokes the corned beef so long it ends up in stringy chunks, with the same eau du ashtray that haunts the chicken wings. And yet it's hard to deny the appeal of a large heap of meat inundated with melted cheese, topped with caramelized onions and slathered with grainy mustard.

Fish and chips sport a cornmeal coating that hides redfish with the same off-putting smell as the shrimp. A pot roast is fork-tender but completely devoid of salt. And even after a lengthy discussion with a server about the razor-thin line between the thresholds of burger doneness (medium rare please), a burger arrived still and lifeless, cooked as dry as the bun it sits on.

There are glimmers of hope. Take a look at the torta de lengua, a sandwich whose bread is a little too soft but is otherwise outstanding. Heaped with tender, beer-braised meat, the sandwich boasts both caramelized onions for sweetness and pickled onions for a balancing tang.

There's an apple fritter on the menu that should be applauded, too, though it's the only winning dessert. At first glance you might mistake the fritter for a compact disc-sized funnel cake straight from the State Fair, but the batter is studded with small pieces of apples, and it's fried perfectly.

Do not order any dessert "a la mode," because you will only receive one scoop of ice cream. Instead order the fritter alone and get an order of ice cream on the side — a move that yields two scoops, which is obviously twice as good. The kitchen reduces Lakewood Brewing Company's Temptress Milk Stout down to a syrup before folding it into an ice cream base and setting it up to freeze. The resultant dairy is so alluring that it sells out most nights. If you want a chance at it, arrive early and order quickly, or risk adding to a growing string of disappointments.

That is, unless you stick with beer. And with respect to Trinity Groves, LUCK absolutely offers the best bar for beer drinking. Should you find yourself on the other side of the bridge to something and in need of a cold one, you now know where to go, and what to order.

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Scott Reitz
Contact: Scott Reitz