The opening of Wayward Sons, the Graham Dodds helmed restaurant on lower Greenville Avenue, is not just an enhancement to that area’s restaurant scene, it will enhance Dallas’ national reputation, as I discovered at a recent media event at the restaurant.
Dodds continues to operate firmly in the farm-to-table idiom, but there are two subspecies in that genre. Check-the-box farm-to-table provides reliable, but non-iconoclastic fare. Essentially, today’s meat and potatoes, but severed from the Big Food Death Star. Innovative farm-to-table is a very different beast. Hewing to the original tenets of farm-to-table it continues to innovate in technique and sourcing and embodies technical advance with elan.
Consider, for example, Dodds take on charcuterie. First, the backdrop. Dodds has done charcuterie since being opening chef at Bolsa in the noughties. He was the outlier doing it at that time . Now, everyplace around town has it. You can forgive him for feeling a little jaundiced when his fellow principals in Wayward Sons inveighed on him for one at Wayward Sons. He must have felt like the Rolling Stones being pressed to do Satisfaction on their next tour. His eloquent response is garden “charcuterie” ($22). A wholly vegetarian (and almost vegan) charcuterie plate. Omnivores should not be deterred. This is absolutely delicious even to those weaned on bull’s blood and raised on bacon. A ‘sausage’ made from lentils has the texture of liverwürst, an outrageous miniature punch bowl of ‘foie gras’ that is actually sunchoke under an animal-free gelatin fruit cap. A ‘burger’ formed from patties of mozzarella cheese filled with duxelles and root vegetable ‘lonzino’. ‘Pancetta’ crafted from mandolined cauliflower.’Blood pudding’ sliced from beets and butternut squash terrine. Add to that a giardiniera, of course, to complement the ‘meat’ and you have the most innovative Dallas dish of 2015. Ferran Adria meets Alice Waters.
Fresh ingredients and known provenance are everywhere of course, so I shall not recount the long list of suppliers.
Another measure of the pace of change came from our waiter. Dodds has changed the menu virtually nightly as he chips and polishes at the Wayward Sons edifice to craft its finishing touches. That is in addition to the market-driven adjustments that come about from making extensive use of mushrooms, as is the case here. For example, my parsley root gnocchi ($22) used hedgehog mushrooms whereas it was made with maitake and beech mushrooms just days earlier. Dodds is starting at 6am getting ingredients together. That is the bar for being this market-driven. The gnocchi are actually made from parsley, ground up and then extruded through a die to produce the familiarly shaped nodules, but with a wholly new character. Our waiter, who grew up in an Italian-American family where he regularly watched his mother making pasta for red-sauced family dishes, confessed to being nonplussed at seeing pasta made this way. The results of this mutation of a root vegetable are the lightest gnocchi you will ever have tasted. The parsley is a garnish which combines with crumbled ricotta and braised artichokes to enrich the set of flavors in the mouth. Pair this with a glass of McPherson ‘Albariño’ ($9), a Texas take on an increasingly popular Spanish grape or, if red wine is more your thing. an excellent Cabernet Franc from Château de Brézé, “Clos du Mazurique” ($11) from France’s Loire region. Both are available by the glass, along with 30 other offerings.
Among the main course fish offerings we tried cornmeal dusted catfish ($18). My motivation for ordering this was that that it would challenge Dodds. I put catfish in the same ‘utterly irredeemable’ category as politicians or used car salesmen. Could Dodds elevate the fish to ‘enjoyable’ status? He deep fries it in the cornmeal and serves it accompanied by collards (braised with ham hocks in chicken stock with lemon juice and fresno pepper vinegar) and leek hush puppies. I have to admit, I ventured over to The Moll’s plate for not one, but several, mouthfuls.
Also, as temperatures had just plunged, a hearty soup seemed in order and the kabocha squash bisque’s ($9) cogent flavors, all wrapped in a viscous body, hit the spot. Far from just topping with toasted nuts as would some establishments, Dodds uses sweet zante currants and caponata. More work but wow, what a vibrant result.
Wayward Sons charges for bread, and that’s a good thing. Good because it allows them to offer bread as a first class component of the meal. There is jalapeño cornbread with local honey ($10), the honey being from Dodd’s bees. Buttermilk biscuits with mum’s preserves ($7) - he really does use his mum’s preserves recipe - and bundt batter bread ($7). They all come with house-cultured butter and get their own section of the menu to call home.
The sardines and toast ($12) appetizer is a plain title for a concept that is actually a dish of brandade aside a salad of watercress, pickled red onions and capers. Plop all of this on top of a piece of the provided toast and savor the oily fish contrasting with the acidic capers in your mouth. A glass of Willakenzie Oregon Pinot Gris ($11) has the minerally backbone and acid level to complement it with precision.
Desserts were bread pudding with pumpkin, cajeta & persimmon buttermilk pie with sweet potato, pumpkin seed brittle & grapefruit curd. You might want to box these as the helpings are huge.
The drinks side is simply one of the best in town. Little surprise when the sommelier is Aaron Benson who departed the Dallas Country Club for this opportunity. He holds wine certifications from the Court of Master Sommeliers and a Certified Cicerone (beer expert) certification as well. Little wonder that the wine list packs more throw weight into 100 selections than just about anywhere else around. About 75% domestic, there are no fewer than seven wines from Texas (and well-chosen ones too). Coming soon is a ‘captain’s list’ where the most exemplary and geeky wines will go to get drunk. Beer lovers are going to rave about the dozen or more craft offerings (Audacity Brewing, Denton, TX anyone?) and about the Belgian beers in large bottles, but also get a smile from the national Big Beer brands being compartmentalized with the heading “As Seen On TV”. Cocktails combine established favorites (e.g. Negroni) with some custom creations.
What don’t I like? That is a short list, but the price of us wanting distressed wood panels and planked floors is a noise level of 69dB (according to Sound Meter) that makes conversation difficult. A dose of modern sound suppression technology should be able to deal with this.
When Dodds was opening executive chef at Bolsa seven years ago it caused substantial, long-lived, and sometimes not fully understood changes on the Dallas dining scene (as well as being instrumental in the revival of the Bishop Arts neighborhood). Wayward Son’s is something of the culmination of a life’s journey for him. Now a part owner in what will inevitably come to be a flagship among Dallas restaurants it will cause as much ruckus on the culinary scene as did Bolsa.
For visitors to Dallas, Wayward Sons is a must visit. Get in now before the national recognition makes it inaccessible. If you are flying from Love Field it is a 20 minute six-mile Uber/Lyft ride. Thirty minutes to DFW International Airport and twelve minutes from downtown. All plus traffic of course.