Dining review: The Commissary in Dallas

The Commissary

1722 Routh St., Dallas

214-643-6557; thecommissarydallas.com/

Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Thursday and Friday, 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday

Signature dish: Farmer burger

Entree cost: $8-24

Essentials: Major credit cards; full bar; smoke-free; wheelchair-accessible.

Good to know: You'll probably have to wait.

Recommended for: Burger freaks and celebrity-chef followers.

Posted 10:48pm on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011

Since moving here in 2007, chef John Tesar has become one of Dallas' most notorious chefs, known as much for his mercurial personality as his brilliant food. Outspoken, unfiltered, a chronic texter, he's a love-him-or-hate-him guy. It was no surprise when he turned up a few weeks ago on Food Network's Extreme Chef, where he had to milk a cow and endure a dust storm while putting out a dish. Of course, he won.

But at The Commissary, his casual-but-chic restaurant at One Arts Plaza, he remains intently focused on the food. Like its chef, the place has seen some controversy of its own: People like its innovative burgers, but the bumpy service initially drew complaints. Now that the restaurant has been open a couple of months, things seem a little smoother, allowing diners to focus on what is some very good food.

It's odd that Tesar would end up a burger flipper. The New York native first came to Dallas to work at the staid Mansion on Turtle Creek, which he departed in 2009. But at The Commissary, he takes a detail-oriented, Mansion-like approach. He subjects the burgers to a unique cooking technique, starting with a slow-cooking CVap oven to keep the burger moist, then searing the outside. When the burger arrives, it's a thick patty that resembles a steak, with a red center and a blackened crust.

The Commissary has a dozen burger varieties, some in two sizes: 6- and 8-ounce. All toppings are top-of-the-line gourmet. The Farmer ($10/$12), one of the most decadent, comes with a fried duck egg and tangy speck -- like a high-end bacon-and-egg -- on a brioche bun with Vermont cheddar. The Big Tex ($9/$11) is spicy, with salsa, pickled jalapeños and chipotle mayo.

Not all burgers here are beef. The Tandoori ($13, one size) is a fantastically flavorful alternative made with lamb, topped with yogurt sauce and served in a grilled pita with house-made pickles. There's also a crab-cake burger ($16, one size), and a veggie burger ($10) with a Southwestern touch, made with black beans and served in a grilled flour tortilla. It's terrific that he uses different breads -- from sesame-seed buns to brioche rolls to English muffins.

If all the place did was burgers, deciding would be a lot easier, but salads, small plates and sides are just as good. Onion rings ($5) in a tempura crust are massively crunchy, and the kitchen does an adorable faux tater tot ($5) made from sweet potatoes. Salads are positively fearless. Where else can you find a watercress salad ($13) with a gratifyingly big heap of watercress, endive and goat cheese tossed in a sherry vinaigrette? And what a pleasure to find a salad like the fava bean ($13), with greens of the day, meaty fava beans and thick shavings of pecorino cheese.

There are just a couple of entrees, and they vary with the season. There's always a seafood item, such as seared scallops or pan-roasted wild salmon, and a couple of pasta options, such as penne with black truffle essence ($16). The food is light, sophisticated and not overly expensive. A meal can also be made by sharing some of the small plates, like the fried oysters ($15), with a shaggy cornmeal crust, or sweetbreads ($13), fried in a thick, crunchy tempura crust and served with zippy Thai chili aioli.

The Commissary inherited some nice perks from Dali Wine Bar, the previous tenant, including a spectacular patio and a curving wine bar whose reputation remains intact as a popular place for wine-industry professionals to hang out.

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