When Cliff Edgar first opened the doors to Brick & Bones, he thought he had created a dive bar. Sure, he’d hired a chef he’d latched onto during a stint at the now closed Table and Tavern, but the focus of the space was meant to be cold beer, great cocktails and a relaxed vibe. Rey Morales’ menu took the place in a different direction, though.
Many customers with a seat inside this Deep Ellum newcomer have a cocktail in front of them, but the fried chicken is almost always there. Brick & Bones may have the aspirations of a colorful watering hole, but it acts like a restaurant. Nobody is complaining.
Not that you shouldn’t come here to tie one on. Edgar worked at Cedars Social as the bar was building a reputation for being one of the best places in Dallas to grab a cocktail. Jäirö Trinidäd Vidäl also worked at the acclaimed cocktail bar, as did Ricardo Dre Cantu. They both now shake and stir drinks at Brick & Bones.
The signature, Lit Chickens, combines roasted pineapple, smoky mescal and rye whiskey and is a very good drink. It’s also the only one that doesn’t take its name from a vintage cartoon character. Maybe you want the Huckleberry Hound, whose kiss of basil and cucumber will help you cling to fleeting summer days. Maybe you want a Natasha Fatale, not because you give a damn about the ingredients but because Rocky and Bullwinkle was the greatest cartoon ever.
Edgar asked Morales to do more than just roast tinctures for the bar. He wanted a short, tight menu that would keep hungry drinkers fed while giving the place a personality. He decided on fried chicken because it is universally loved, but he wanted to give it a unique spin so he turned Morales loose.
Back at Table and Tavern, Morales prepared impressive staff meals shaped by his Mexican roots. At Brick & Bones, that Mexican touch is present in a brine infused with japones, piquin, cayenne and morita peppers, honey, salt and garlic, producing yard bird with meat as good as its crust. It works, but first you have to get past a crunchy exterior that rivals the creations of Dallas’ most revered fried chicken restaurants. The standard option boasts a snappy, savory crust that clings to the meat, while “hot chicken” is dressed in an oily sauce that impregnates the breading, lending a smoky burn. This chicken is addictive. It’s good enough to make a trip to Brick & Bones even if you’re not in the mood to drink, and it’s likely the reason Edgar says his food sales are far outpacing alcohol.
Chicken and waffles pad out the rest of the regular menu with breaded breast meat and soft, sweet waffles. The dish is satisfying, but next to the hot chicken (did I mention the hot chicken?) it’s comparatively bland.
The rest of the menu keeps the pace going, but you shouldn’t fall in love with any of it. Edgar says the other offerings will change with the seasons to keep dining at Brick & Bones fresh and interesting. But they should really make an exception for the deviled eggs that conceal a tiny morsel of fried chicken batter under their piped-to-order filling. The whites are dressed up, too, with a short bath in beet juice that gives them the magenta color of pickled eggs and a very subtle, sweet and earthy flavor. To take things all the way to the pinnacle of deviled egginess, a small dish of chili oil is placed in the center of the plate to drizzle over each egg before you take a bite and reveal that satisfying, crunchy center. They’re the best deviled eggs I’ve ever been served in a bar or restaurant.
That potato salad studded with roasted poblano is headed for the chopping block, and I’m not sad about it, if only because I’m excited to see what comes next. By winter, it could be reinvented as hearty mashed potatoes and joined with mac and cheese and other warming dishes. The cocktails will see a reset, too, though Edgar says the cartoon-character naming will stay.
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The name Brick & Bones will be around for a very long time, too, even in the unlikely event that this restaurant fails. Edgar felt so strongly about his first restaurant that he decided to get the logo tattooed on his skin, and he persuaded the rest of the team to do it with him. Now the four of them walk around with the bold point and bleeding courier font etched on their arms. The decision may not have been a huge leap for Morales, who like many chefs is nearly covered in ink, but the tattoo was Trinidäd Vidäl’s first.
Tattoos are relatively permanent, and most restaurants shutter in the first few years. So what happens if the place goes under? Part of me thinks it would have been more practical if at least one of them had gotten the recipe for those deviled eggs fixed on his hide, but their enthusiasm is infectious. Ask a bartender about any of the menu items and he’ll describe it in such detail that you’ll wonder if he’s hungry for it himself. Ask about a drink and you’ll get another tale. Plus, the worst experiences sometimes make for the best stories; even if the place burns down in a grease fire tomorrow, the tattoos will still have value.
In the event of Brick & Bones’ early demise, the fried chicken fans on the other side of the bar would be the most banged up by the loss. Edgar and his crew are the kind of no-regrets people who are always fun to drink just a little too much around. They play the music loud and serve their chicken in plastic tortilla warmers. “We like to have fun with this,” he told me. It’s obvious.