So you’re here for the cheeseburger. You’re not alone at Greenville’s long-running bistro, and you haven’t been for years. Look around, and you’ll see and hear Grape patrons whispering about the burger across their tables. It’ll be something like “This burger won a bunch of awards.” (In 2009, it was crowned best Texas burger by Texas Monthly, which has had a long-tail effect since the issue emerged.) That’s true. It’s one of the best damn cheeseburgers around. It was then, and it is now.
Two orders of the Sunday-Monday only burger arrive at our table, each with bacon, crispy enough to shatter in a stiff breeze, crisscrossing heavily melted white cheddar. The center of the patties are a rosy horizon, blackened crust with a pinkish interior. It’s as the meat lords intended.
That’s when the fried chicken sandwich shows up in your mind, eclipsing the lobe of the brain that controls hunger as large and looming as the alien ship in Independence Day. Merely “decent” fried chicken sandwiches spark cravings that last about as long as a struck match. The best ones strike a fire that seethes and blisters in your brain until you’ve broken into sweats, a tugging and urging from deep in your bones to immediately run from where you are and find the one, true fried chicken sandwich.
The brunch-only crispy chicken sandwich at The Grape arrives on the table as the latter. It should be designated as a Dallas landmark, alongside the cheeseburger, at the 45-year-old restaurant.
Halfway through, The Grape’s fried chicken sandwich induces a mistaken identity complex, as though you have received someone else’s perfect order. “Did I order this?” you might say. It’s perfectly natural. This can’t possibly be mine, you might think. Slaw is cooling against hot-as-lightning breading, mouth-watering all-the-way-through fried chicken.
“Chicken breasts are beaten into submission,” chef and owner Brian Luscher says. He sticks his head out of the kitchen once in a while during a jam-packed brunch service.
After a brine soak, the breasts, smoothed into an even thickness, marinate in buttermilk and hot sauce. To order, breasts are pulled from the buttermilk bath like Roman gods and dredged through seasoned flour. Then, they find the scalding, bubbling, deep fat frier. They rest, and the pain au lait buns are buttered and toasted.
On the bun they go, followed by only a scoop of slaw, invigorating the crunchy, fried, buttery chicken. Pickles are on the side.
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The chicken is thick as a beach paperback all the way through, tenderized and juicy equally. The marinated chicken breast is sealed inside a tomb of breading.
“Usually the thickness of the chicken is the biggest impediment to an enjoyable crispy chicken sandwich," Luscher says. “The same can be said about the breading. You can have a perfectly crispy and seasoned chicken in between some white bread with hot sauce, and it will be rocking-back-and-forth, Rain Man-good. Conversely, all the cheffed-up ingredients and sauces and dips plopped on a $6 dollar, bespoke artisan spelt and Emmer crumpet won't be worth a damn if the breading procedure is not executed well.”
The Grape has had fried chicken for years. It wasn’t until recently, in context to its decades-old history on Greenville, that the crispy sandwich was on the brunch menu. The award-winning burger is marker in the city; the fried chicken sandwich is a bright beacon.
The Grape, 2808 Greenville Ave.