SOULFUL SUSTENANCE Fried with a light, crisp, peppery coating, humble okra is elevated to a fine dining bar bite.
The name 18th & Vine, we’re told, pays tribute to the legendary intersection that was the epicenter of the early 20th century jazz and blues music scene in Kansas City. The concept: a collaboration of pitmaster Matt Dallman and top-tier Dallas chef Scott Gottlich, marrying soulful Kansas City-style barbecue and fine dining fare.
Dallman hails from Kansas City, where he honed his self-taught passion for barbecue on the competitive circuit, smoking meats in the K.C. regional style. Classically trained Gottlich was the toque behind posh fine dining at Lola and Bijoux in years past and is currently at the swanky Second Floor Bistro in the Westin Galleria.
From the get-go, it’s obvious this isn’t your typical smoke shack. Porch and patio seating wrap the streetside exterior. Inside, the jazz theme plays well in a dark interior, moody and chic, punctuated by art depicting famed ’20s- and ’30s-era musicians. The ground floor is populated by an affluent, casually dressed crowd skewed toward young professionals. Upstairs, The Roost is a 30-seat space with live music and a bar. Beverage options include sophisticated cocktails focused on American whiskeys and a nice selection of craft beers and wines by the glass and bottle. The Horsefeather cocktail ($12) we choose is an exceptionally well-mixed drink, effervescent with premium Rittenhouse rye whiskey, fresh lemon juice, housemade ginger syrup and soda. The elegant French 75 ($12) is its pretty equal, made with Old Highborn Texas-style gin, sparkling wine and a twist of lemon.
The tart acidity of both prove a good choice to cut the richness of our starter: a generous basket of house specialty fresh okra halved pods soaked in buttermilk and flash-fried in a light, crispy peppered batter ($8). Its accompanying dipping sauce cooled the heat with just a hint of tangy barbecue sauce flavor. The list of other starters is fetching: Burnt Ends ($13), decadent chunks of seasoned charred beef trimmed from the point end of the brisket; smoke-imbued renditions of oysters, chicken wings, lentil soup and veggie dip ($6 to $13 each); barbecue salmon spread ($11); potato skins ($8); and sausage and egg ($9) all appeal.
The bulk of the menu is divided between modern (chef-driven) and where we begin—classic, code for traditional Kansas City-style barbecued meats, straight up by the half-pound or pound ($12 per half-pound, $18 to $24 per full pound), or plated with down-home sides. Beef and pork get equal respect here. Meat rubs are more complex than customary Texas salt and pepper rub mix, incorporating paprika, cumin and brown sugar. Brisket, ribs, pulled pork and sausage are smoked over oak and hickory. There’s also smoked chicken, in half or whole form ($12 to $18), and cauliflower steak ($13), a vegetarian option. We select the Two ’Que ($19), a mixed plate of brisket, pork ribs, sweet pickles and an individual-size portion of apple cider slaw. The meats we sample are moist and juicy, excellent with the housemade, classic Kansas City-style vinegary tomato sauce presented in bottles on the table. Vinaigrette-dressed slaw made with shredded cabbage, green apple and carrot is palate cleansing and tasty.
But our mission is to explore what this venue offers outside of the standard barbecue box. Gottlich’s fine dining expertise is evident on the modern side of the menu: A trio of salads includes the 18th & Vine House ($9) with piquant pickled red onion, tomato and Texas goat cheese. “Scott’s Picks” entrees expand the classic barbecue format to smoked and grilled seafood and meats enhanced by sides and pairing suggestions for wine and beer by the glass. Our choice, shrimp and grits ($21), is an umami bomb of plump, fresh-tasting tail-on Gulf shrimp plated on a bed of buttery white Homestead Gristmill grits and rapini, all the better drizzled with a meaty, brown Tellicherry pepper sauce. Other choices tonight include Wood-Kissed Salmon ($25); pork chop and barbecued pork belly ($21); brisket stroganoff ($21); coffee-rubbed quail ($28); and barbecue-braised beef cheek ($32), a tender cut of Akaushi beef, from Texas-raised cattle of Japanese origin, with creamed spinach and parsnips.
Last course: dessert. From a short list of housemade treats, we sample the heavenly seasonal crostata ($9), a warm, small, rustic, free-form open pie on a base of lemon curd and sweet Chantilly cream. Tonight’s filling is mixed fruits—figs and pears—with a delicious kick of bourbon, soon to transition to berries for the summer. The cookies and housemade vanilla ice cream ($6.50) must wait for another day.
18th & Vine has elevated barbecue to a new level, with options to satisfy both die-hard traditionalists and those seeking trendy, contemporary food. Given the cool ambiance, broad variety in the menu and welcoming service, we’re jazzed to return very soon.
18TH & VINE
4100 Maple Ave., 214.443.8335
Sun.-Wed., 11am-10pm; Thu.-Sat., 11am-midnight
Parking’s on the House
Parking can be tight in this rapidly developing area, but no worries; valet at the restaurant is complimentary.
Consider it the next best thing to tailgating 500 miles north. Fans will find it a sure bet that flat-screens will be tuned in to University of Kansas, Kansas City Royals and Chiefs on game days. (Locals, have no fear; they follow the Rangers too.)
The full menu, plus sliders, is available in the evenings only upstairs at The Roost, where there’s frequently live jazz music—dinner and a show.