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Whole Hog Heavenby Mark Stuertz | Modern Luxury Dallas magazine | August 23, 2012
Swamp Women, Death Race 2000, Frankenstein Unbound, Camel Spiders, Bloodfist. These are just a few samples of the moneymaking film work of legendary director/producer Roger Corman. He’s been dubbed the Orson Welles of the Z movie, the Pope of Pop Cinema. Dozens of silver screen luminaries were groomed in his low-budget B movie shop, including directors Francis Ford Coppola and James Cameron, and actors Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro.
Corman is famous for squeezing his movie budgets until the dollars scream in agony. He’d rehearse scenes while the crew was lighting the set. He’d cut chase and explosion scenes from previous movies and splice them into upcoming features. On location, he’d make his cast and crew bunk together in hotel rooms to halve his hospitality outlays. He’d chase the sun to save on lighting costs.
Acme F&B is the epicurean version of a Corman bean-counting scarefest. It has all the guts, inventiveness and recycled glory. Does Acme serve B movie fare? No way. Will it make Corman-esqe profits? Time will tell.
Founded by chefs Colleen O’Hare and Jeana Johnson of Good 2 Go Taco, and Barcadia owners Brooke Humphries and Brianna Larson, Acme F&B thrives on improvisation and the ruthless exploitation of resources. The menu is typed on graph paper (God help them if it isn’t recycled). The wine list is punched and bound on vintage arch ring clipboards.
Acme is an orchestrated mishmash of the recycled, the upcycled, the reclaimed and the repurposed. Old warehouse windows serve as peer portals into the wine room. Ties from an old rail line near Good 2 Go Taco were rerouted from a landfill to Acme’s patio. The ceiling in the front bar was a wall scavenged from an old house. You can see the strands of muslin dangling down—remnants of early 20th century wallpapering processes. A circa 1907 water heater is posted atop the bar. An old oil-rigging pipe serves as the dining room centerpiece. You half expect the flatware to have its recycled origins in the “cash for clunkers” boondoggle.
Our server called the design steampunk farmhouse. I call it industrial Haight-Ashbury. Obviously, Acme F&B is flypaper for those buzzwords that pollute modern foodie-speak, namely sustainable and local. Here’s a good rule of thumb: When something is boasted as sustainable, it rarely is. And only a weirdly self-reverential palate prizes geographical origin over taste.
Either way, Acme is founded on a “whole animal allocation program.” That means every square inch of muscle, plumbing and viscera is utilized and allocated amongst three restaurants (O’Hare and Johnson craft menus at Goodfriend Beer Garden & Burger House).
You can see this in the offal croquettes, two gold-crusted pillows pinching a tangle of frisée on the plate. Coated in panko, those pillows are stuffed with beef tongue and sweetbreads. Pierce them with a fork and watch them ooze with velvety gribiche, a French mayo-like sauce of egg and mustard zipped with chopped cornichons.
Or the charcuterie. Charcuterie is traditionally composed of sausages, cured meats, terrines and pâtés. Acme’s menu is mostly a cast of castoffs. On our visit it was chicken livers and headcheese (flesh from the head of a calf or pig). But it varies, as most everything does here. Schnitzel can be beef heart, lamb heart, lamb kidney or pork heart. O’Hare and Johnson are doing serious damage to organ meat phobias.
Farmers cut beef with grilled fingerling potatoes and endive salad varies, depending on dining room beef cravings. Though our tenderloin cut over a pool of demi-glace was cooked a bit beyond the medium rare hue, it was still rich, juicy and satisfying. Better was the farmers cut lamb, a pair of 4-ounce porterhouses draped over roasted cauliflower, tomatoes and fennel.
How did O’Hare and Johnson devise this menu strategy? “If I’m being really super honest, we didn’t,” says Johnson, who grew up in a rural setting. “This is how American agriculture worked until the late ’70s and early ’80s, before all of this big-box meat. My parents would process a whole cow; we would have steak nights sometimes and meatloaf night.”
To avoid head meat desecration, O’Hare and Johnson bought their farming suppliers a captive bolt pneumatic gun (like psychopath Anton Chigurh used in the film No Country for Old Men). “Before they were using an old Winchester rifle,” says Johnson. “Now they can hit them in the right spot and not have a bullet end up lodged in the cheek.”
Yet this whole animal philosophy doesn’t translate to fish—the hazards of being landlocked. Acme gets their fish eviscerated, with stunning results. Seared and served over a bed of Savoy cabbage seeping a deft beurre blanc, the sturgeon is firm and rich. The bite comes from red chili flake dust, a transparent seasoning that frames and boosts the natural sea flavors without fogging them. In fact, O’Hare and Johnson studiously avoid seasonings and treatments, save for salt and various peppers. “We really try and stay away from rubs or marinades and a lot of razzle dazzle,” says Johnson. “You detract from the product itself.” King salmon is seared in a pan, skin-side down, and pressed over high heat. It’s flipped once to sear the other side before it is plated. Served over a bed of summer succotash bathed in beurre blanc, the result is refreshingly rich and satisfying.
As was the moist, rich bourbon brownie we had for dessert, which had no organ meats (as far as we know). Acme’s wine list is irreverently coarse, in that its organizational logic is not based on wines, varietals, regions or dirt. Instead, it’s driven by loose descriptors. The result is an eclectic grouping with tastes from every point on the globe (a Riesling from the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York, and a Rhone blend from Texas), even if the center of gravity is firmly entrenched in California.
The descriptors are sketched out based on what flavors best mesh with the menu. Then the ladies taste wines until they find one that most closely matches the descriptors. If more than one meets the criteria, they stage a death match. How Corman-esque is that?
4900 McKinney Ave.
Mon.-Thu. 5-10pm; Fri.-Sat. 5-11pm
Hot? Sweaty? Take two Summer Crushers: muddled blackberry and basil, agave nectar, soda and vodka, poured over crushed ice. Still sweaty? Get the crushed ice to go.
The Acme of all Misunderstandings
People say: “Wow this place is really amazing for a couple of taco ladies,” says Johnson. What people don’t know: “I’ve never worked at a taco or burger place ever in my whole life.” Before Good 2 Go Taco and Goodfriend Beer Garden & Burger House, that is.
Acme was equipped with shiny metal ceiling tiles left over from Cretia’s, the previous occupant. But they clashed with Acme’s salvage savoir faire. So they flipped them over to expose the rusted and corroded underbellies.