When Kitchen LTO opened in 2013, it was the first of its kind in Dallas; permanent pop-up, they called it. Every four to six months, the chef at LTO would vacate, and a new chef — and cuisine — would take over.
In the spring of 2017, shortly after LTO relocated from Trinity Groves to its current Deep Ellum digs, owner Casie Caldwell scrapped her culinary relay model in favor of a single focus. That new focus was given a new name: Junction Craft + Kitchen. While LTO may now be part of the thundering, faceless herd of traditionally modeled restaurants, chef Josh Harmon’s inventive menu, gleaned from both American Southern and Asian cuisines, ensures that brunch at Junction is anything but traditional.
Yes, that’s right: American Southern and Asian cuisines share the same menu, like the spawn of Paula Deen and David Chang. There are duck fat-fried pecans and miso praline bacon (both $7) to start, and entrees are slotted into one of two categories on the menu: the sweet and the savory. The French toast bread pudding ($12), with its roasted apples, salted maple cream and Sugar Smacks (not a new gastronomy term — just children’s cereal) embraces the saccharine side while dishes like pimento and pork belly grilled cheese ($12) flesh out the savory.
When our table posed a few questions to the waiter regarding ingredients and recommendations, there was no hesitation — no “let me check with the kitchen.” Instead, he demonstrated not only an understanding of the dishes at hand, but also a genuine interest in having a dialogue around food.
He told us, for instance, that the kitchen likes to change up its kimchi, preferring to experiment with different flavors and ratios instead of adhering to a single recipe. He thought that the current batch had lent itself well to the Korean Hipster cocktail ($11), and he was spot-on.
What seemed like gimmicky ingredients on the menu — smoked kimchi bloody mary mix, fish sauce caramel — culminated in a sublime take on a michelada. This heat-forward drink balanced the acidity of rice wine vinegar with the briny, salty flavors of fish sauce and nori. A rim of togarashi (Japanese seven-flavor seasoning) imparted nuttiness and notes of citrus, helping make the Korean Hipster the most exciting brunch cocktail in Dallas, full stop.
With lips still burning from the Korean Hipster, we sallied forth into the land of The Little Bear ($11), a hash of morcilla sausage, potatoes and roasted kimchi topped with fried eggs and red-eye gravy. While listed under the menu’s savory options, this dish uncomfortably straddled the sweet-savory line. The red-eye gravy had an aggressively jamlike quality and masked the dish’s other ingredients. Bits of morcilla — i.e., blood — sausage were delightful but few and far between, as was the kimchi. Such a promising dish felt overwhelmed by the sweet gravy and potato overload.
The Nashville hot chicken sandwich ($13) fared better than the Bear. Just as the infamous hot chicken kitchens of Nashville sous vide their chicken before deep frying, so, too, does Junction. … What’s that? Nashville kitchens don’t do that? Oh, well. Junction does. The chicken can take a dip in hot grease for just long enough to perfectly fry its herbed, dry-batter exterior while not running the risk of undercooking the interior flesh. The final product is both tender and crisp and happily snuggled inside a pillowy brioche bun with its accompaniment of dill pickle slaw.
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For dessert, we got one of the blueberry-studded scones baked by Harmon’s mother. Faintly sweet, super crumbly and slicked with a shamefully delightful amount of miso-whipped, sweetened butter, it provided a perfect end to an imperfect but still commendable meal.
Junction Craft + Kitchen tries, with varying degrees of success, to achieve a cuisine that is diverse, familiar and elevated. No, it is not a perfect brunch, but it is one worthy of your place at the table. Order the things that are spicy and a tall, tall glass of water.
2901 Elm St. Brunch is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays.