Pop Diner is this new and over-the-top 24-hour diner in Uptown Dallas. One of the last tenants to fill the Borders Books location the diner serves breakfast and diner fare all through the day and in the dark stretches of the morning hours. The owner, Nik Gjonaj, is originally from Detroit where he owns a successful chain of steakhouses called Luca’s Chophouse. Detroit is where his roots are, but he now divides his time between Texas and Michigan.
Detroit has their own style of cuisine that is a different take on many items we serve in Dallas, such as the hot dog. The Michigan dog is a definite style of dog you find primarily in that state, but seldom referred to it as such. That term is used by other states to describe the steamed dog, steamed bun and a rich beefy sauce. A coney if you with chile con carne.
The chili made in that region of the country looks very similar to our bowl of red, but takes on a different flavor profile. There are no beans in a standard bowl of chili from Detroit, and it is made with chopped beef hearts instead of a chili grind as you might find in Texas. The mouth-feel is rich and creamy from the emulsion of beef juices, and is so creamy that it might make you think it is loaded with cheese. But it is not.
I spoke today with Gjonaj about the chili he serves at Pop Diner and he stated that although they make most items in house, the chili is made and trucked in special for Pop. He has it made and formed into bricks, frozen, then stacked high and shipped to Dallas about once a month.
The chili is a bit confusing to the Texas palate. It looks very much like our bowl of red, and extremely meaty. But that texture of the gravy takes you on a scenic route through Motor City. This is not a negative in any way.
In Texas we see no harm in adding a sprinkling of fried corn chips and cheese to our chili, however a native from Detroit might add large slices of onions, and possibly even a healthy squirt of mustard to mix in the bowl almost giving the diner a taste of a chili dog without the weiner.
In addition to the Detroit chili you can also find what Pop Diner calls a Texas chili. Gjonaj has his cousin working at the restaurant, and he has lived in Texas for about a dozen years. He came up with his own version of the chili which is a bit spicier, but also has a sweet finish. There are also beans in the chili. So, although a very good bowl of chili, it is not a bowl of red.
This chili business can be so confusing when you start comparing regional versions. Check out Pop Diner’s chili, it is a fun way to get a glimpse of our northern neighbors take on the dish. I plan on ordering it at 2am. If you go for the Pop Diner chili, bring a solid $3.99, tax is included.