BOWLED OVER: The food at Deep Ellum is excellent in many cases, and not too expensive in every case.
Deep Ellum is a one-room pub with 22 draught taps and a great collection of bottled microbrews, specialty mixed drinks, and wine (if you ask for it, because it isn’t listed on the menu). Oh yes, and food, which is rather excellent in many cases and not too expensive in every case. There’s even a credited chef, Josh Velazquez, who has labeled his fare “international comfort food.”
Surprisingly, the name of this establishment refers to a SoHo-like district in Dallas: a factory district, black ghetto, and urban-revival area. (So there isn’t enough bohemia in Boston; we have to do Dallas?) Also, the owners see this little bar as the start of a chain. I can’t really imagine that, but I wouldn’t have imagined Starbucks, either.
In any case, this review column is in the present tense, so let’s start with the fact that Deep Ellum is a small bar where they hand you a menu that seems to be about 75 percent devoted to beer. I started with Berkshire Brewing Company cask ale ($5.50). Though the menu described this as a “dry hopped” beer, it was clean, sweet, and malty; very full bodied; and — brewed fresh out of Deerfield, Massachusetts — delicious. I followed it up with a Gritty McDuff’s Black Fly stout ($5) because it touted only 4.1 percent alcohol. Deep Ellum lists the alcohol by volume for every draught and doesn’t serve Guinness. No Guinness? Nope, the better to get you into Maine’s Black Fly stout, which is lighter and more bitter than Guinness, less sweet and rather more drinkable. It’s like a black-and-tan but with a fuller flavor. On another visit, I had a bottle of Original Sin hard cider ($6) — New York City’s answer to the dry British version.
As for the food, the Dallas idea pays off with the chili ($3/cup; $6/bowl), which has no tomatoes and real Texas flavor with a mild burn. It’s gussied up with black beans and kidney beans (no pintos), and topped with fresh tomato and scallions. The core, however, is beef, chili peppers, and cumin.
The popular bar snack seems to be “hot damn wings” ($7). We had eight, fried with a little more crust than is typical, and served with a drippy hot sauce. The wings were good, if a little under-trimmed — ours came with mere yogurt instead of the usual fire-extinguishing blue-cheese dressing. The odd traditional fillers, carrot sticks and celery, were few in number as well.
While the wings may have been a little off, you can’t go wrong with the fried offerings. The French fries on the Black Angus burger ($8) are the crispiest in town. And the burger itself is seasoned like a meatloaf; ours came well-done when ordered medium-rare, but the flavor, with sautéed onions and a soft roll, was excellent. An item called Grubbins ($7) is whitefish sandwiched between two potato disks and deep-fried to look like a fried sandwich. This would be really cool if the potato were fully cooked, although it might not hold its shape. Instead, the underdone potato is like a new vegetable. I wonder how this might work with slices of turnip, say, which are edible raw or cooked. In any case, the plate comes with French fries and cole slaw, so it’s fine.
The Elm Street salad ($12 with tofu, tuna, or prime rib) is a good enough plate of field greens with an excellent dressing. We had it with tofu, which was marinated but didn’t really go with all the fresh vegetables. I say batter it and fry it first. Cold roasted potatoes were also an unusual mix-in.
Another vegan attraction is vegetarian lentil stew ($10), here enriched with coconut milk and what I would describe as “dry” curry spices, and served over a little bit of real jasmine rice. The obvious vegetables were carrots and zucchini in small cubes, but this was filling and soul-satisfying. It made sense out of “international comfort food.”
In the key of meat, Deep Ellum features a wurst plate ($12) of homemade sausages, so popular it was sold out on my second visit; a prime-rib dinner ($16); jerk chicken ($13); and my eventual choice, a Moroccan lamb shank ($14) served over couscous. This was a giant lamb shank, cooked well and properly, so that not only does the meat fall off the bone, the bones fall apart as well. I would have liked more root vegetables, but the turnips, carrots, and such were choice and influenced by the “Moroccan” spices, notably one or two whole cardamom pods.
If you’re looking to drink your dessert, you should probably go for a barley wine. If not, the choice at Deep Ellum seems to be limited to a single dessert offering (not listed on the menu). Recently it was banana bread with caramel sauce and chocolate bits ($6). I thought it was a little bit underdone and doughy; still, I finished every bite of a large piece.
Service at Deep Ellum was very good, and the staff is knowledgeable about beer, which is the real gourmet focus here. Certainly both draughts I had were impeccably fresh, and sanitation around the taps and cask machines is the key to excellence with fresh beers and ales. The atmosphere derives from overly loud alternative rock, Laura Love being the only voice I recognized. There are muted TVs, but this may be the one American-owned bar where they are tuned to VH1 instead of sports. The sparse early crowd runs to the young, dark clothed, and tattooed, but they’re friendly enough once one shows an interest in craft brewing. Overall, Deep Ellum is bohemian and cool, but entirely professional. It’s an interesting combination, and the food works with and without beer.
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Robert Nadeau: RobtNadeau@aol.com