Food News

Small Brewpub's Young New Chef Aims to Up the Interest

Small Brewpub is continuing its mission of being a neighborhood spot in Oak Cliff, but at the same time, it’s also getting a whole new kitchen staff, led by 23-year-old Alex Henderson, who has a vision of bringing more people through the restaurant’s doors.

“We want it to be a neighborhood-accessible place, but we don’t want to dumb it down. [We] definitely don’t want to make bar food, burgers, anything like that,” he says. “It’s going to be more upscale but … somewhere you can go and get a drink after work, and it doesn't have to be an occasion to come in here."

The restaurant still has plenty of beers and drinks to go around, but the menu is getting an overhaul.

“I want to keep it reasonably priced, I want to keep it where its all approachable but still interesting,” he says.

"Interesting" is a pretty high bar at Small Brewpub. Henderson is following in the steps of former Small Brewpub chef Misti Norris, who was widely praised by local food critics for her daring, hand-crafted takes on "modern Southern" cuisine. Pig trotters, chicken feet, house-made vinegar and new takes on veggies — Morris won accolades for her wildly inventive and delicious food that always seemed a bit out of place in an Oak Cliff pub.

By “interesting,” Henderson means creating plates guests haven’t considered before. Not unlike plenty of other restaurants, he’s aiming to keep ingredients in season and as local as possible.

Henderson dropped out of El Centro, where he was in the culinary program, he says, and focused on working. He’s had experience at a number of restaurants in Dallas, New York and Portland, including Oak, where he was chef de cuisine.

He isn’t the only recent addition: The restaurant also announced Wadell Hodges as the chef de cuisine and Maricsa Trejo as the pastry chef.

He’s younger than most in the kitchen, and he’s pretty used to that. He’s even been asked, “Where’s the chef?"

“‘Oh, it’s me. No really, it’s me.’ It was harder when I was younger and more stubborn," Henderson says. "Being 18 and a lead line cook, you say it needs to be like this, people are super opposed to what you do. You get used to it. I’m over it now; I don’t have any problems. Once you work with someone for a while, they usually get over it. I’ve always been one of the younger cooks in any kitchen I’ve worked in, but I don’t think I’ve seen any other 23-year-old chefs in Dallas, which is pretty cool."

In terms of why the shift in the kitchen at Small, Henderson says it’s pretty simple.
“They wanted to make it a little more casual, and [Misti Norris] didn’t want to move it that direction. She wanted to stay with what they had, and I get that. Instead of neither of them budging, Misti decided to leave, so, here I am,” he says. "When they approached me about a job, I wrote a menu, we started talking about things — where we want to go with this place, what our goals were — and that was really it.”

Guests can order off the new menu as of Dec. 10, Henderson says, the day after the two-year anniversary party for Small Brewpub, which will be celebrated with drinks and canapés.

The new menu has small plates, “composed entrees” and for-the-table meals: “A giant hunk of meat,” as Henderson puts it, including smoked beef shank and a whole roasted monk fish.

"Make it like a big group place, you can get a large-format thing. … I haven’t seen that anywhere else in Dallas, so I want to do it here,” he says. "I really want it to be this community place. I’m excited.”

Small Brewpub 333 W. Jefferson Blvd., 972—863-1594,
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Taylor Adams has written about the restaurant industry for the Dallas Observer since 2016. She attended Southern Methodist University before covering local news at The Dallas Morning News.

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