Consider the menu requirements for a traditional barbecue restaurant menu. Here, in Texas, it is just four items long: brisket, pork ribs, chicken, and sausage, plus four or so (usually forgettable) sides. You’ll be judged entirely by the execution of the proteins on this runt of a menu. And don’t try to innovate on the four core meats, it will meet with a chorus of criticism.
Comes to this orthodoxy in Dallas, 18th and Vine. Superficially, an outpost of Kansas City barbecue in a city steeped in the Texas genre. Delve deeper, and 18th and Vine it is that, but more besides. The menu is so diverse that you could bring a non-barbecue eater of any stripe here, even a practicing vegan, and they would find something to like. The reason is that owner, pitmaster and ex-pat Kansan, Matt Dallman teamed with former fine dining chef Scott Gottlich (Bijoux, the second floor) to create a hybrid that accepts the moniker “Kansas City barbecue” to avoid being confusing yelpers that it is a transit stop or garden nursery, but actually represents a new category. You might call it full-service barbecue, or farm-to-woodshed cooking.
That means choices like pit-fired oysters ($13), pit-smoked veggie dip ($9), wood-kissed salmon ($25), pork chop and bbq pork belly ($24) and bbq braised beef cheek ($32). The last three are on the ‘Scott’s Picks’ section of the menu where the pit-inspired deviations from strict barbecue are found. Over on “Matt’s Picks” there is the hard core of barbecued meats: brisket ($12/half-pound), house-made sausage ($12/half), chicken ($12/half), pulled pork ($12/half), pork ribs ($12/half) and cauliflower “steak” for vegetarians. The stunningly intense burnt ends (different in Kansas, where the sauce is integral to the preparation) are listed separately (as a house specialty) but have Dallman’s influence all over them.
We started with a helping of potato skins ($8), which were the skins with some starch left on and slathered with cheddar. They pitch perfectly with one of the 30+ craft beers (Community Beer Company’s Mosaic IPA was edgily delicious) or Tablas Creek’s beguiling Grenache Blanc (described as Grenache -Viognier on the wine list) for wine lovers. Unfortunately, there are no Texas wines on the list (the Becker Malbec is a FSITO wine. Made in California from California grapes, but labelled without its origins as is legal under state law). I have heard that the wine list is to undergo a transformation in the near future.
Pork Chop & BBQ Pork Belly ($24) is a hearty pork chop, seared with the classic criss-cross pattern accompanied by (pit) sweet potatoes and tart granny smith’s in a nod to apple sauce. A vibrant Heron Chardonnay, listed as from California’s cool Mendocino County, brought out the earthy flavors of the meat and elevated the sweet potatoes.
Best of the entrées was BBQ Braised Beef Cheek ($32), the perfect cold-evening dish. Tender Akaushi Beef sat on heart-warning creamed spinach and was topped with Cacio e Pepe wrought out of parsnips. My first pasta-free cacio and a clever fine-dining variation that worked.
In another break with tradition the sides are first class menu components here, not the sad and pallid overcooked disasters so prevalent in barbecue land. Jalapeño cheese grits ($6), pit-roasted mushrooms ($6) and seasoned fries ($6) were all on song.
18th & Vine is situated in a grand Victorian house in the rapidly improving Maple Avenue area. All those wood floors and panels make for a noisy scene. On the two midweek evenings that we dined it was packed, so come early or late if you prefer quiet dining. For a change of pace, there is a jazz club The Roost upstairs. Check the restaurant web site for the schedule. Complimentary valet parking off the side street is the way to go if you drive.