Restaurant Reviews

Stock and Barrel's New America

Staring down at my plate at Jon Stevens' newly minted Stock and Barrel in the Bishop Arts District, it's hard not to conclude, suddenly and depressingly, that I got the shaft as a child. When I was growing up, meatloaf was a callous and passionless dish wrought from lean ground beef, a couple eggs and pre-seasoned breadcrumbs dumped from a can. The recipe yielded dense, dry slabs of meat that were always flanked by mashed potatoes that were infinitely preferable (I'd use a forkful to mask every bite) and green beans that were not.

The present-day meatloaf, the one sitting on my plate at Oak Cliff's smoking new social hub, has very little in common with the hospital-quality food of my youth. Stevens makes use of ground wagyu beef and gently mixes it with cream, breadcrumbs and enough spice to leave a warm glow in your mouth when you're done. The results are then baked and then grilled to order and perched on a hash of onion petals and new potatoes that are so sweet they're sugary. The plate is draped in a velvety sauce like meatloaf au poivre. If you've found yourself working to love ground beef that's been baked in a bread pan since your younger years, this plate makes a fine meatloaf ambassador.

Stock and Barrel gets a great deal of its charm from Stevens' casual embrace of this American nostalgia. A thick, juicy burger, a salad featuring iceberg lettuce, wood-grilled steaks and roast chicken — they all mimic plates that graced the tables set by middle-class, suburban moms of so many past decades. Only few of our moms had a culinary résumé that included Neighborhood Services, Abacus and, most recently Nosh, where Stevens continued to embrace an increasingly eclectic cooking style.

Stevens left Nosh in 2013, and the restaurant closed earlier this year, but the addictive fritters that were popular at the restaurant throughout its tenure are alive and well here. This time lump crabmeat is bound in small, delicate morsels wrapped in a thinly crisped, golden-brown crust. They're served in a bowl next to a shallow pool of sweet and sour sauce that smacks of zesty citrus flavors, and they prove addictive. Grab a beer, dip a fritter, eat and repeat: The bowl will be empty in an instant.

The wagyu burger that was omnipresent at Nosh is here too. Now, tiny lardons of bacon hide beneath a quilt of melted cheddar cheese, for a towering burger on a soft, glossy bun. It wears a pickle impaled by a toothpick like a hat, tastes of subtle smoke from the grill and leaves a puddle on your plate. It could easily become a once-a-week friend. Sorry, mom burger.

I can't remember the last time I was in a restaurant with a french fry program, but after leaving Stock and Barrel I've concluded that an in-house fried potato professional could be as advantageous to a kitchen as a staff pastry chef. The fried spuds that come with the burger are great, but the crushed yukons, fashioned from tubers the size of shooter marbles, should be a side order at any table in need of a starch. The orbs are crushed lightly and have slightly crisp exteriors with soft, waxy potato parts for insides. They come with a dusting of Parmesan, some parsley and mayo with so much paprika it tastes as smoky as that burger. Other potatoes come in chip form, too, heaped with bacon and blue cheese.

Despite the seemingly casual nature of some of the dishes, a lot of elegant plates make their way out of the kitchen, which seems appropriate given the well-appointed dining room. Stock and Barrel was built into the old Safety Glass Building that faces West Davis Street, and contractors gutted the building, leaving little more than three walls. They saved the old framing lumber, which is stacked vertically along one wall, lending the effect of rustic, urban art. And behind the open kitchen, amber tiles burn like a fire, the largest pop of color in a dining room that's dominated by cement grays and wood tones.

It's a fitting backdrop for a dish like the octopus ceviche, which seems to jump from the monochrome tabletops with vivid purples and greens. The octopus is a little chewy, but it's fresh and bright with acid. Halved grapes lend sweetness while coarsely chopped leaves of parsley and mint add fresh green flavors and toasted marcona almonds add texture. It works perfectly when scooped up with a shard broken from the supplied crunchy, salty chips.

Perfectly cooked monkfish sits in a shallow pool of jus with tomatoes and fava beans and eats with almost as much heft as a steak. A wagyu sirloin is paired with a ratatouille of coarsely chopped vegetables, and topped with thinly sliced onions fried like onion strings. If you're into the steakhouse thing, don't skip the baby iceberg lettuce salad. Other chefs in town tempted to put a wedge on their menu, you should pay attention, too.

"Baby iceberg" indicates a head of lettuce that was about the size of a softball before it was cleaved in half, and slathered with a purée of avocado on the cut side. The lettuce is then topped with a heaping fistful of small tomatoes, crumbled blue cheese, bacon and buttermilk dressing. This is the steakhouse classic against which all other wedge salads should be judged.

Not every plate is this artful though, and Stevens' kitchen suffers when he's not manning the pass. On a recent Sunday evening a generous strip of salmon was overcooked, which was almost forgivable considering it was still moist and paired beautifully with a golden tarragon butter sauce, roasted fennel and tomatoes. A pork schnitzel was harder to pardon, though, arriving tender and juicy but covered in a sad, pale-colored breading. With just a bit more time in the pan it would have stolen the show from the tender spaetzle dressed in mustard and pickled mushrooms. Small tweaks would get both of these plates in line with the other dishes. They might even challenge that meatloaf.

Actually, that meatloaf is a good barometer with which to judge other dishes: Stevens says it's his best-selling plate. And from the looks of the dining room on a Friday night, people from all over Dallas are packing in to connect with their own understanding of Stock and Barrel's tagline, kitchen Americana. Oak Cliff locals cluster around tables and pile into booths alongside Highland Park interlopers and North Dallasites. They're young and they're old and they're well dressed and relaxed, and many of them are carving through that meatloaf, burying the memory of Mom's bite by bite by bite.

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Scott Reitz
Contact: Scott Reitz

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