According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a spork is a spoon-shaped eating utensil with short tines at the tip, but that's not how the term is most often used. The Oxford English Corpus, a multibillion-word database of written and spoken English, reports "spork" is employed most often as a verb and associated with violence. A threat to spork someone's eyeballs out is commonplace; a sporkful of elotes isn't.
To further confuse matters, Spork assumed another meaning here in Dallas when a restaurant bearing the flimsy tool's name opened earlier this year. Envisioned by Turn the Tables Hospitality, Spork the restaurant promises casual dining designed by a local culinary dream team. Christopher Jeffers, Christopher Zielke and Tim Byres, the guys behind Bolsa, Chicken Scratch and two locations of Smoke, turned a former Sonic into a dining destination for families and burger fans in Far North Dallas.
The team got off to a great start. The parking bays that once held countless SUVs have been converted into an eye-catching patio with segments of pavement replaced with artificial turf in geometric shapes. Tables dot the patio, interspersed with a mix of games found at most outdoor drinking spaces, plus a few extras in what amounts to an outdoor arcade.The space works wonders for parents looking for a little room to breathe. I watched a couple sip neon-blue cocktails in the air-conditioned dining room while quietly watching their kids through the window. Just beyond the glass, the mood was anything but peaceful. Children enjoyed a chaotic meal at their own table, while another youngster tested the strength of a string that suspended a metal ring from the awning. Instead of aiming for a nearby hook as the game intends, he swung from the ring in slow, lazy arcs, wriggling as he went. Pingpong balls bounced way out of bounds and oversized Jenga blocks tumbled — the scene was just shy of chaos — but back inside, the largest concern was slow and forgetful service. The parents I watched shrugged it off as they ordered a second round of electric-blue elixir.
6110 Frankford Road, 972-930-0668, sporkdallas.com, 11 a.m.-midnight Monday -Thursday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday -Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday, $$
Fried egg Caesar $8
Bulgolgi fries $7
Fish sandwich $12
Root beer float $5
Sporks as utensils generally connote relaxed dining, but the staff here might be taking the theme too literally. I waited for menus longer than I should have, extra requests were forgotten and dirty plates stayed on my table long after I'd shoved them to the side. The staff has that green, clumsy demeanor that's expected from a new restaurant, but Spork has been open for four months.
Sometimes the food makes up for it. A fish sandwich I ordered one evening was perfect. The pan-seared redfish had been marinated overnight, had a nice crust and was full of flavor. Paired with an herbed mayo and fresh lettuce and tomato, the sandwich made a nice, moderately healthy alternative to the burgers and fries that dominated the rest of the menu. A cabbage salad loaded with sprouts, watercress and honey roasted peanuts was fresh and healthy, too.
As a restaurant that specializes in burgers, though, Spork comes up short. The patties were juicy, but not decadently so, and they lacked seasoning and personality. A great burger has a salty, crunchy crust on the exterior and drips juice and grease when you take a bite. The burgers I ate at Spork were pale and a little overcooked — certainly not enough to stand out in Dallas' highly saturated burger market. Not that it matters to parents looking for what may be the perfect family restaurant. Another Blue Hawaiian, please?
A pork carnitas sandwich was harder to love, with meat that was shredded to a pulp and pressed into a massive puck. The meat had that crispy exterior I was looking for on those burgers, but the texture inside was mush. Pork squished out of the bun and dropped to the basket below with every bite. The crunchy cabbage slaw that topped the puck was perfect, though.
As the night rolls on, families exit and Spork caters to another set of kids — those looking to blow off some steam after classes or a long day at a mind-numbing job. Spork may not get as raucous as a college bar that serves shots from plastic syringes, but the patio has a slightly less family friendly vibe as closing time gets closer.
And when the drunks come out, so does the drunk food. Enter the kimchi fries, a paragon of light night eats topped with bulgogi and spicy mayo. An order of kimchi fries can go a long way toward preventing the next morning's hangover.
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A few dishes are more refined. I was surprised when I ordered a fried egg Caesar salad and encountered an egg that had cooked in a deep fryer instead of a skillet. A golden orb encased in crunchy, bready coating — about the size of a golf ball — sat at the side of the bowl. When fork tines descended (you know the drill), yellow sunshine gushed and a standard salad became a very memorable one. That same egg can be ordered as a burger topping, but it makes for sloppy eating.
With a few more of these kitchen tricks, Spork could be a captivating restaurant, but too many dishes suffer from the food blahs. Ceviche makes use of precooked shrimp, instead of fresh shrimp cooked in lime juice, and the seafood itself tastes metallic and cheap. Crispy polenta isn't crispy at all, and while the fries are great when they leave the kitchen a rich golden brown, they occasionally show up undercooked and soggy.
Flubs like these aren't bad enough to take me back to the meals I experienced in grade school, but they do remind me of those ill-fated utensils and Styrofoam trays. I wouldn't go out of my way to use a spork any more than I'd drive out of my way to visit this one. Dallas has too many top-notch burger restaurants to spend an evening with a mediocre burger.
Parents with children, however, might be willing to drive a significant distance to turn their kids loose on Spork's wait staff while they relish a few cocktails and some peace and quiet. The games out on the patio are enough to keep a whole bevy of children occupied for a while, and someone else is in charge of the dishes. Certainly, the haggard couple sipping Blue Hawaiians didn't seem very concerned about their burgers.