by Andrew Chalk
When the owners of the Pittman Hotel announced that Kimpton would manage and Graham Dodds would chef their hotel in rapidly evolving Deep Ellum I thought it was a good long-term decision. Long-term, because Deep Ellum is still dominated by the drinking (but not dining) culture that extinguished restaurants like Matt McAllister’s approachable, aspirational Filament and presumably deterred other chef-driven restaurants from opening.
However, in five years, the Uber office with up to 3,500 employees, other businesses, and thousands of new rental units will transform Deep Ellum into as stable an area as Uptown. Lovers of Deep Ellum’s industrial architectural charm need not worry about it disappearing, it is the motif of the area and a source of architectural inspiration, precisely illustrated by the restoration of the building that houses Elm & Good. Nobody wants to turn Deep Ellum into the sterile, post-nuclear wasteland of the Arts District, or Victory Plaza.
Today however, Elm & Good is early. It has to hold on until the people who appreciate sophisticated farm-to-table cuisine arrive and, through no fault of its own, survive the inane lockdowns that have characterized the “corona virus response”.
Graham Dodds, the original Dallas farm-to-table chef, and still the best, is having to tone down the experimentation and turn out crowd pleasers, albeit executed precisely.. For example, the opening menu featured a charcuterie board featuring an entirely vegetarian cast. That is gone. Replaced by...a charcuterie board ($25)! But featuring meat, just like everybody else. And the meats are bought-in, only the pâté de campagne is homemade.
One small mercy is that Dodds signature triple-cooked fries survive as a side ($8) and as the chips in Fish and Chips ($18). These are the best fries in town: Each one fatter than a whole serving of McDonald’s fries. Crispy to the tooth and sweet to the palate on the exterior, but smoothly fluffy and irresistible on the inside. They were particularly good doused with the remoulade accompanying the fish and chips.
Braised Short Rib Ragu ($24) rests the fell-off-the-bone tender meat on top of a bed of crispy gnocchi, all topped with an arugula pesto and ricotta salata. It paired well with the Daou Cabernet Sauvignon ($14/glass).
Among the sides, the Homestead Heritage Grits with sweet, earthy, mushroom ragu ($8) are highly recommended, pairing with fish, fowl, or, in my case, just my mouth. Grits, of course, is the Italian name for what, in West Virginia, they call Polenta.
Maybe the attention to detail really comes through best in the Milk Braised Pork Shoulder ($22). You can cut it with a fork! Fold a mouthful into its accompanying mashed yukon gold and white cheddar mashed potatoes and dab on some of the shaved Brussels sprouts for a luxurious bite of comfort food, ideal for the coming winter.
For dessert, crème brûlée, maybe with a dessert wine, is likely the best way to go.
The careful preparation is significantly helped by the two top sous chefs in his kitchen being Dodds ‘lifers’ and Adolphus alums who share his thinking on food and its meaning.
The wine list is one of the shortest in town, and for a locally conscious restaurant, lacking in having only one Texas wine. It is hopefully just the ‘Pandemic Reserve Collection’ as its meagre 15 choices would be judged inadequate in normal times.
With the pandemic, and its surrounding policy missteps, it is understandable why the accountants at Elm & Good want to go to a 100% crowd-pleaser menu. They are not helped by a local restaurant review press that is either staffed by leaderless 20-somethings who have seen too little to have any sense of perspective, or is too busy prattling on fashionably, but ignorantly, about ‘social justice’ issues while 50% of the chef-driven restaurants on their patch go bankrupt.
It would be foolish to think of this as anything but a short-term plan. In the long-run they need a unique selling proposition. Elm & Good should make Dodds’ food that thing, alongside mixologist Gregory Huston’s whimsically named cocktails, and a Pyles-like original Stampede 66 showcasing of Texas wine and spirits. Either that, or they should give up on the idea of a destination restaurant and turn the space into JAHR (Just Another Hotel Restaurant). I hope they take the former route as Elm & Good could, in its own way, be as much a Deep Ellum destination as was The Green Room (in iteration one) for a decade in the past. They showed it can be done.