by Andrew Chalk
Max’s Wine Dive in Uptown has firmly established itself for both lunch and dinner. Chef Patrick Russell confirmed what my eyes had led me to suspect – the fried chicken is the single most popular menu item. However, maybe to prove that there is a lot more to Max’s than chicken, they hosted a media dinner last week and Crave was there.
First, some background. ‘Dive’ is too denigratory a word. Max’s is very comfortable. The ‘dive’ term just refers to its casual, come-as-you-are atmosphere. One exception: two of the women at the communal (to the extent that members of the media can commune with each other) table said that they want the U.S. Navy approved grey ship paint to end at the door of the women’s room. Upscale the interior a bit.
Also, Max’s will sell you any wine on the wine list to take home, and by the case, as well as to drink at the restaurant. Their selection isn’t large enough to become your substitute retail store, but you can try a wine at the restaurant and then buy some to take home.
The ‘wine’ in wine dive refers to a 150-odd selection list that heroically spans the world and the range of positive integers to provide something in anyone’s price range. The markups are all over the place. For example, Carlos Slim can celebrate his 74th birthday with 2006 Colgin IX Estate Red Blend, Napa Valley for $549 and pay only a 25% markup over retail. I, on the other hand, could choose Cape Mentelle White Blend from Margaret River, Australia at $34 and pay a 70% markup over retail. Or I could go for a Spanish Tempranillo and choose Numanthia Termes ($59) at a 100% markup over retail. Such variation isn’t bad of course (it broadens the selection). I shall take Carlos with me on my next trip and let him pick up the wine tab so that we can have the Colgin. However, even at the lower end, these markups are lower than almost all restaurants in Dallas.
Or you could do beer. Local and Texas-wide brews are available by the bottle or on draft.
An important point about the food here. You might think that any place that has a corporate slogan “Fried Chicken and Champagne?..Why the Hell Not?!” can’t take its food seriously. You would be wrong. The menu is more creative than I expected. Local suppliers are boldly listed on the bottom of the menu – the “usual suspects”: Tom Spicer (produce), Beeman Ranch (meat), Caprino Royale (cheese), Scardello Artisan Cheese, Homestead Gristmill and Seafood Supply Company. Discerning regulars even lobbied corporate (in Houston) when Russell took brussels sprouts off the menu earlier this year. So judge the food more seriously than a sports bar, although don’t expect iconoclastic modernism lifted straight from the pages of Ferran Adria’s latest cook book. Go to Max’s for a good burger ($15), Texas game stew ($18), “Never-Smoked” smoked salmon (bacon infuses the smoky taste) ($12), foie gras side ($12), you get the idea (although I suspect the diver scallops may have been dived for by a machine named ‘diver’, or just spent some time at Max’s Wine Dive, as they are only $12).
On to the new dishes on the Fall menu. Here is a gallery of what we tried: