I try not to leave much to chance. Surprises annoy me. I also don’t like leaving decisions to the will of a group. Call me crazy, but that’s how you spend three hours talking about where to go for dinner, only to end up at Burger King.
One of the things I do when traveling for work is scout out a good variety of restaurants. Yes, The Palm and Nobu are nearby, and there is a Wolfgang Puck in my hotel, but I want something more local. Last year, local meant Slater’s 50/50 in San Diego. This time around, it was Stampede 66.
Stephan Pyles is regarded as one of the founding fathers of Southwestern cuisine. His Dallas area restaurants all take a different approach, from his eponymous higher-end outpost to Stampede. The restaurant is not easy to find, tucked in on the first floor of a multipurpose office/residential building near the Deep Ellum neighborhood on McKinney Street. Our 6:30 reservation was the only opening of the night in the intimate two-room dining area.
The theme of the menu and decor is cowboy, from the cowhorn lamps suspended from the ceiling to the cowpoke uniforms worn by the wait staff. A large plasma television in our dining area showed a rotating video of cowboys out on a cattle drive, and when “Deep In The Heart of Texas” played overhead, the waitstaff clapped along at the appropriate intervals. A large paper menu is layered on either side of a steel sheet. I dropped it and nearly sheared one of my dining companions feet off. The back side of this behemoth boasted a stellar wine and margarita list, as well as a host of local and national beers. Since we are in Texas, I had my first Shiner Wild Hare. The featured drink on the menu is a margarita, prepared on a roving cart, that uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the drink (I have video but rum running into publishing issues.). Inventive, but we passed at $16. There was food to be eaten.
The menu is rather wide open, with tacos, homemade breads, specialties and their big plates. One standout that we didn’t try (though my tablemates prodded me) was the Sonofabitch 2013, a cattleman’s stew made with sweetbreads, tongue, heart and other calf innards, crispy fried and served in a creamy veal base. It sounded wonderful, but I just couldn’t wrap my hands around a bowl of glands for dinner. Instead, I ordered the brisket. Served on a wooden butcher’s block, a half-pound of brisket came with a healthy scoop of potato salad and a cup of homemade chipotle barbecue. The brisket had the smokey, rich flavor you expect, with a melt in your mouth texture. On the side was a mini Mason jar of housemade bread and butter pickled cucumber, okra and jalepenos.
Toni raved about her chicken fried buffalo steak, which was served over greens, while Shawn had no complaints about her honey-fried chicken leg that came with mashed potato tots. Everything came with a side of Mabel’s buttermilk biscuits, which also made an appearance as an appetizer.
The portions didn’t overwhelm, but they were filling. There was no way we were getting near a desert menu.
My exposure to Texas cuisine is summed up by the brisket made at the Syracuse Dinosaur Barbque. If Pyles’ life work was the creation of this style of food, then Stampede 66 is the introductory course that Northeastern snobs like me can wrap our hands around and devour.
Stampede 66 is located at 1717 McKinney Ave., Dallas, TX. Reservations are accepted and strongly suggested by this blog. Dinner for three with drinks was $103 before tip.