Kitchen LTO was one of the more intriguing concepts to emerge from the North Texas dining scene in recent years.
Launched in 2013, it was a so-called permanent pop-up in which the location remained the same — west Dallas’ busy, buzzy Trinity Groves development — but the chef, menu and decor rotated every four to six months. But that experiment came to an end this year with the announcement that owner Casie Caldwell and then-LTO chef Josh Harmon would be shutting down the pop-up in favor of a new place with a single vision. So was born Junction Craft Kitchen in Deep Ellum, which opened in May.
(Harmon has an extensive Tarrant background: He worked at Grace in downtown Fort Worth and at the too-short-lived Milk & Honey Co. in Keller; and created the seasonal French menu at Main Street Bistro & Bakery in Grapevine. He got his start in the food industry at Chef Point Cafe in Watauga.)
The location is perfect, right on the corner of Elm Street and Malcolm X. Boulevard in the middle of a resurgent Deep Ellum. There’s even a parking lot next door, a definite plus in an area where street parking can be hard to find. The drawback is that it costs $5.
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The interior of the storefront space is clean and simple, with colorful modern art lining the walls, and the service is friendly and efficient, helping to keep the atmosphere casual. The menu is a blend of the American South and Asia, the flavors of which are two of Harmon’s passions. This is a place that offers both a family-style serving of miso pork belly ($44) and hot chicken ($15) and this bi-continental approach continues through many of the choices.
We started with two appetizers: the duck-fat fried pecans ($4), which were absolutely habit-forming and too few, and the deviled eggs ($6), billed as Josh Harmon’s daily creation so they’re going to vary from day to day. On a first visit, the eggs were underwhelming. On a second visit, the deviled egg with feta cheese and olive made up for it.
The ember-roasted squash, with charred onion, sour greens, buttermilk, garlic, and bread crumbs ($10), possesses an earthy quality but it’s outdone by the Bussels sprouts in a fish-sauce caramel with pickled pecan, burnt lime mayo and bonito ($10) and especially the rapini slaw ($9), a mix of dried cherry, French curry, oats and tofu that blended sweet and savory with just a little bit of heat.
For the large plates, the shrimp and grits — featuring very large shrimp with tomato, dandelion, okra and a poached egg ($22) — was like a trip to Mom’s house, if Mom lived in the South and had gone to culinary school, though Mom might give you a bigger serving.
The Texas Akaushi Smash Burger ($14), with house-made American cheese, onion, garlic mayo and pickle, served on brioche with a side of house-made potato chips, had a nice tang to it, but it was too much, as the toppings overwhelmed the flavor of the meat. Similarly, the gnocchi, filled with smoked mushrooms, miso, egg yolk, and dehydrated peas ($20), sounded better than it turned out to be.
For dessert, the homemade pies change daily and you’re better off going with one of them — like the lemon chess pie ($9) — rather than the lackluster five-flavor crumble cake ($12).
Overall, Junction Craft Kitchen may not be the absolute best of all the new hot spots popping up across central Dallas these days, but it’s a worthy addition to a neighborhood in the midst of rediscovery.