by Andrew Chalk
A really stupid TV show asks three people, qualified only by their ignorance, to visit the same restaurant and score it out of five. On last weekend’s edition, two diners took marks off one of the nominated restaurants because “they had run out of one of the dishes”. Duh! I can prevent that ever happening again. I will serve plastic food straight from the walk in. “Freezer To Table” as quick as a microwave oven can warm it. What a concept.
Those dumbbells are going to hate AF+B, the newly opened Consilient Hospitality restaurant in Fort Worth’s flourishing West 7th district. They source much of their food from local farmers and ranchers who, as a footnote to the menu intones, “produce in small quantities. As a result, certain items may not be available from time to time”. As careful planning, not luck, would have it, there are a bounty of other interesting choices on the menu.
The man making this happen in the kitchen is Jeff Harris, one of the best chefs in the metroplex. He first surfaced at Craft, a great restaurant in the worst part of Dallas (Victory Park, the master-misplanned Dallas equivalent of a Chinese ghost city), then went to Bolsa, and then to Consilient Hospitality, which moved him in as opening chef at AF+B. I don’t know how closely Harris was involved in the concept development at AF+B but he and the restaurant are a match made in heaven. The menu is obviously all him — refined farm-to-table cooking. But the broader ambience of faux warehouse space (in spite of being in a brand-new modern mixed-use building) is executed without a hint of tackiness. The pseudo bricks on the wall scream “we are redolent of an old warehouse, not an attempt to masquerade as one”. Nice bricks. In fact, stone plays a big part in the decor. As well as the walls, it forms the bartop and the fittings in the bathrooms. A lot of the rest is wood, giving the place as natural a feel as the food.
The food. The menu is split into small plates, large plates and sides. At a recent media event we started with some small plates: Gulf Blue Deviled Crabs ($5), sizable shells stuffed to the gills (if crabs have them) with sinuous sweet crab meat and edged with the crunchy texture contrast of bread crumbs. It took every ounce of civility for me to decline a second one, even though it went a-begging.
Gulf Blue Deviled Crabs
Harris makes his own ricotta and serves it topped with shards of Benton’s country ham and scallions ($10). You load it aboard slices of grilled sourdough bread that the finger feel exposes as weighed down during the toasting process with globs of rich butter. Man cannot live by bread alone. Well, on AF+B’s, he can.
Fellow Consilient culinary army officer Graham Dodds may have competition in the scotch egg department. AF+B’s are chorizo soft-boiled eggs topped with cilantro leaves and oil-cured chilies ($11). The effect is to create a much lighter scotch egg than you will find in most places that serve examples of this most abused of bar-snack dishes.
The salad choice has the unprepossessing name local greens ($8), and indicates a precision in execution that I came to realize is a hallmark in Harris’ kitchen. Tossing a bowl of watermelon radish, carrots, fresh herbs, pecan and cane vinegar would seem like the easiest job in the world until you consider that the wrong amount of vinegar can blow this dish way out of balance. AF+B applies the vinegar with such a gentle touch that it makes the greens almost addictive. This dish is kind of crack for vegans.
On to the large plates and pride of place must go to Duck Pot Pie ($16). A conventional top-crust pie of flaky pastry is filled, not just with duck meat, but also root vegetables and leafy greens. The seasoning of the filling is laser perfect, making for the ideal winter weather entrée. It is a pretty large helping but its flavors lured me on to completely finishing it.
Duck Pot Pie
Fall Squash and Pearl Barley. Popular with vegetarians
Desserts are made in house and bested, for me, by homemade ice cream and sorbet.
Ready to march — a trio of ice cream and sorbet
The wine list is a scant 64 selections. With that few choices every bottle must have maximum throw-weight. AF+B’s are all domestic. Good, in that this is consistent with the restaurant’s name (AF+B is an abbreviation for American Food and Beverage), but bad in that whole swaths of wine styles are unavailable because they aren’t made domestically. That said, the selections are well-chosen within this restricted set, being drawn assiduously from boutique producers in California, Washington, Oregon and six wines from Texas. Roussanne (Texas has several gems) is missing, and it is hard to find a red wine below $40. Markups slide from 3x retail at the low end to just over 2x retail for bottles on the list in three digits.
AF+B’s mixology commitment is considerable
Mixalcohologists wll be impressed with the cocktail program. Consilient has entered what, I am told, is an exclusive consulting arrangement with Milk and Honey and cocktail pacesetter Sasha Petraske for them to develop and oversee the cocktail program at this and future AF+Bs. I have not tried any of the results but, based on what this crew did at San Antonio’s Bohanan’s, expect great things. Of course, that bottle of The Macallan, peeking out in the bar picture, breaks the all-domestic mantra.
Seven of the eight draft beers are from Texas breweries. Rahr and Four Corners are the local examples.
AF+B has been open only since January but is already on a collision course with the best restaurants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area (I consider the whole metroplex because the hipness advantage that Dallas may have held historically has already been eliminated). Beyond its intrinsic merits, its location a short jog from North Texas’ best museum (the Kimbell) and the rest of the compelling Fort Worth Cultural District make it an easy visit for Dallasites as well as Fort Worth natives.