How we long for the day when the brunch at Smoke was our little secret. Now that the swell Sunday midday meal has been discovered in such a big way, we're having trouble getting in the door at this Dallas hangout these days.
But that's OK, because nobody deserves the good fortune more than hard-working chef Tim Byres. Finding success in Dallas some years ago with a restaurant called Standard, Byres established himself as an innovator. Hard times claimed the restaurant, but Byres proved himself capable again in jobs at prestigious restaurants including Stephan Pyles and at the Mansion on Turtle Creek.
But it was in helping create Smoke, the funky and immensely comfortable restaurant attached to the hip Belmont Hotel in Dallas' re-emerging Oak Cliff neighborhood, that Byres truly came into his own. Not only do he and his staff cook everything by smoking, braising, roasting, and grilling over hardwoods, Byres fashioned a whole new idea about cooking from scratch, a concept he calls Heritage-Inspired Cuisine.
To do so, he traveled around Texas and across the South, gathering ideas to bring hardwood-cooking and canning, preserving and curing back in focus. He and his team grow as much of their own produce as possible and buy locally, otherwise. They break down their own meats, making every single thing you eat at Smoke by hand, using age-old traditions that are celebrated by Southern Foodways Alliance and Foodways Texas, the latter a newer organization that Byres enthusiastically supports.
"I don't want to call our food home-cooking," he told me, "but it is definitely back to basics."
We've found much to like in Byres' creations at all meals, but it's the brunch that takes our breath away: The Smoked Brisket Cornbread Hash with Poached Egg, Green Chili Rajas and Pearl Onions (mentioned earlier this year in a New York Times story) tempers the rustic meat with a sultry egg and sweetish chunks of cornmeal crunch and provides a creamy kick with the chiles.
The Pulled Whole Hog BBQ Eggs Benedict with Goat Cheese Potato Cakes has something of the same effect, with a dose of hollandaise and goat cheese thrown in for good measure.
Gilding the lily, the Hungry Bear Smoked Ham Steak & Farm Egg Fritter with Sweet Corn Griddlecake and Dublin Dr Pepper Red Eye Gravy combines pretty much everything that isn't good for you but tastes like heaven, bringing together smoke, fried egg, pancake and good, old pan gravy.
The sweet tooth gets its share of love with the Heavy Handed Blueberry & House Made Ricotta Cheese Pancakes with Vanilla Poached Apricots
and Cream, a rather insane indulgence that necessitates a long afternoon nap.
We're also big fans of the Smoke bloody mary, a particularly spicy, smoky cocktail that involves Byres' handmade tomato juice and ample hints of roasted chile. We've had that with just a side of fluffy biscuits and spicy sauce gravy with a little bowl of fresh fruit, and called it a happy Sunday.
Recent critic reviews have simply raved about Byres' menus; a readers' poll in Food & Wine named Byres the Best Chef in the Southwest; and Food & Wine editors picked Byres' smoked pork jowl with pickles one of the 10 best dishes of the year in 2010. But Byres doesn't let any of this go to his head: When I spotted him during brunch a couple of Sundays ago, he just wanted to talk about a week-long relief mission to Haiti he recently joined. He's sharing his good fortune, which just makes us want to support him more.
901 Fort Worth Avenue
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