Texas Spice falls into the special category of "hotel restaurant," but this is not just any inn: The Omni Dallas is the new convention-center hotel, owned by the city and built after decades of debate and a public referendum. Opened for business on the mystical date of 11-11-11, it adds Hollywood glitz to the western edge of downtown with a mesmerizing rainbow light display that's programmed via a system used in concerts and on Broadway.
The Omni has a sports bar and steakhouse -- Bob's Steak & Chop House, the fifth in the Dallas area -- but Texas Spice is the workhorse that's open three meals a day, with a pragmatic versatility and wide appeal. Created by executive chef Jason Weaver and supervising chef Cory Garrison, the menu combines elements of Southwest cuisine with barbecue and home cooking, and a buffet that is open for breakfast and lunch.
Although not a destination restaurant, it has consistency, an easygoing personality and enough culinary stimulation to tempt locals and conventioneers. The lack of polish in service can be a trial, but it's not a serious obstacle to getting your dinner.
Menus come on shellacked boards, echoing the restaurant's wood theme; many entrees are served on rectangular planks. The decor is woodsy, too, with rustic farmhouse tables and warm paneling. A wooden table at the entrance holds baskets of help-yourself saltwater taffy from La King's Confectionery in Galveston.
Dinner on a Saturday night was crowded but not packed. We liked that wine was served in a carafe and poured into French Duralex tumblers at the table, a nice twist on stemware. We had to ask for complimentary bread but were glad we did; both the soft sweet-potato rolls and the crusty biscuits were good.
Casual plates included flatbreads with toppings lifted from some of the entrees. One had Kuby's jalapeño sausage ($9) cut into bite-size coins, with excellent roasted mushrooms, Roma tomatoes and fresh basil. The crust was on the flat side and clearly house-made.
Deviled eggs ($8) were cage-free, an appreciated effort; the egg-yolk filling was rich and mildly spicy. A small salad of tender lamb's lettuce with radishes shaved into thin slices added lots of charm. Appetizers ran from lettuce wraps made with hanger steak ($8) to "pig's head fritters" ($8) -- pulled pork with a catchy name, served with spicy chow-chow and onion-Parmesan jam.
Entrees were imposing and not as successful. It might not be a bad idea to split an entree and graze on salads and starters. They're attempting to do barbecue, but with mixed results. Brisket ($22) was grass-fed but extremely fatty, resulting in an unpleasant stickiness as the fibers of meat stayed glued together instead of falling apart in tender tufts. A side of "crispy" potato salad consisted of fried potato cubes in an extra cheesy sauce -- you knew it probably wasn't good for you but you kept eating it anyway.
Dr Pepper BBQ pork ribs ($23) were big Flintstones-style bones with dark shaggy crusts that looked better than they tasted; while there was plenty of meat, it wasn't always tender. Texas Spice seems to do better at healthier options like the wild salmon ($29), an extra-thick square with the skin still on, cooked until just rare. Accompanying "beet risotto" was basically creamy rice with cubed beets -- a neat concept nicely executed.
The lunch buffet ($17) was a solid choice, with pecan-crusted chicken, house-made creamy red pepper soup, a salad bar with a beautiful assortment of mixed greens, and mashed potatoes with their skins still on. Bread from Empire Baking Co. was a tipoff that they care about what they're doing. It comes with dessert such as the nubby chocolate-chip cookies with milk ($6), and coffee if you want it. It's a buffet, yes, but the quality was good, and in the end, this is a hotel.