Kent Rathbun entered the food industry at age 14, washing dishes at a local Sambo’s, a job for which he had lied about his age, claiming to be one year older. By the end of his first day as a dishwasher, he had asked to help the night cook, who within three weeks recommended that Rathbun be promoted to the cooking station. At age 17, he was working as an apprentice in the 5-star dining room of Kansas City’s La Bonne Auberge restaurant, where his mother worked as a maitre d’.
The fine dining experience changed his culinary tastes, causing him to come home determined to educate the experienced cooks in his household: “When I started learning how to work with fresh vegetables and snails and foie gras, that’s when my taste just exploded. I told my mother, `I can’t believe it. All those things you and Grandma have been cooking all these years – you’ve been overcookin’ ’em.'”
After running a catering service for the Dallas Museum of Art and serving as sous chef in Dallas’ The Mansion on Turtle Creek, Rathbun decided in 1999 to open his own restaurant Abacus. In 2003 he opened Jasper’s in Plano, with locations now in The Woodlands, and Austin.
Enter now the latest restaurant in the Rathbun family, Hickory. Consider Hickory one of the most affordable with entrees like tacos from $3 each, to Wagyu smoked brisket at $11 a half pound. There are plenty of smoked options in between including a whole fish and daily selections of the very best house-made sausages you will ever have the pleasure to sample.
Hickory also has an entry in the great burger wars, and is not to be outdone with a classic Hickory burger starting at $8, and a 44 Farms beef version with a sunny side up farm egg, pepper crusted bacon, scallion-hollandaise for $12.
It is very well known that chef Rathbun’s favorite taco haunt in Dallas is at the Trompo Taco joint at the gas station across from Bachman Lake in Dallas. Rathbun conjured up his very own trompo, and they are just as delicious. The street taco starts on its vertical spit, roasting until ordered where it is carved, then tossed on a griddle to give the spiced pork shoulder an extra bit of crispiness.
The sides at Hickory are so delicious, so perfect that one could make a meal grazing one of the many options that include blackstrap molasses baked beans with thick slices of Rathbun-made bacon, jalapeno jack cheddar blue corn grits, Texas cheddar mac and cheese, and a superior version of crispy Brussels sprouts. All the sides run $4 and $5 each, and certainly are large enough to share.
The space at Hickory is large with an equally spacious and breezy patio. Hickory is located in Plano near 121 and the Tollway and is easily accessed with plenty of parking (hear that Dallas?).
When we spoke with chef Rathbun he mentioned that the compound where Hickory is located is surrounded with businesses, apartments and hotels such as the Hilton which feeds the restaurant with plenty of customers. There are talks ongoing about one or two more restaurants in the same area, and also the possibility of a Jasper’s in Southlake.
Hickory opens its doors today with a limited menu.