Brothers Patrick and Michael Halbert get points for perseverance.
Following failed runs as Private Social with Top Chef contestant Tiffany Derry, and as PS with “Pilgrim Chef” Najat Kaanache, their restaurant-bar space on McKinney Avenue finally seems to be clicking as Barter, a casual spot with a modern menu emphasizing snacks and pickup items like tacos — not to mention bottomless mimosas.
Tables are filled at dinner, and there’s a wait list for the weekend brunch.
Points also to Fort Worth chef Tim Love, who helped put together a menu that incorporates fresh ideas with tried-and-true Love touches. It doesn’t hurt that the chef running the kitchen is Andrew Dilda, who worked with Love at Woodshed Smokehouse.
Trademarks include steak sold by the ounce and sausage made in-house, and signature dishes such as amberjack crudo ($14), Tuaca-roasted acorn squash ($8), truffle mac and cheese ($16), and carrot “home fries” ($14). If you’re a Dallasite who likes Love’s food, Barter saves you the drive to Fort Worth or Denton.
Love is always on trend. His Love Shack burger joint predated the “better burger” wave, and he was one of the first locals to serve kale salad. At Barter, the trend du jour was poutine ($11), a Canadian rendition of cheese fries, topped with pale brown turkey gravy.
Barter’s poutine was a classic rendition, ably executed. French fries were golden brown, with skins still on. Randomly interspersed between the fries were dabs of American cheese. In the center, the fries were drenched with a ladle of gravy whose turkey flavor was both assertive and comfortingly bland. Around the edges remained fries unscathed by the gravy, allowing you to nibble one drenched or crisp. This dish was sloppy and amusingly excessive; it might have benefited from less gravy or gravy on the side.
Striped bass tostada ($16) embodies Asian-Mexican fusion. Crisp corn rounds were topped with chunks of white fish, caramelized onion, jalapeño, cilantro and lettuce ribbons tossed in fish sauce vinaigrette. Chili-crab fajitas ($18) followed in kind. Whole soft-shell crab came in a sweet-and-spicy chili sauce with a stack of warm, house-made tortillas for roll-your-own tacos.
Brunch boasted a witty “tiki” theme tailor-made for the young neighborhood. Offerings include beef sate ($12) with grilled pineapple, and loco moco ($12), a Hawaiian goulash with rice, meat, egg and gravy that you can order with Spam. Everything comes with a side of hash browns and bacon. Our pick: chicken wings with pancakes ($10), a twist on chicken and waffles. Extra large and tender, the wings were coated in a spicy rub with a whisper of clove; the pancakes were appealingly irregular in shape.
Service was mildly harried but mostly helpful and sweet. The only disappointment was the cocktails. Don’t describe the orange juice on the mimosas ($10) as fresh-squeezed if it’s not. The tomato-juice mix on the Bloody Mary ($5) had a terrible taste, as if it came straight from a can, and there was no sign of the “pickled vegetables” advertised.
The changes didn’t end with menu and theme: The interior got a major overhaul, too. The stiff formality of Private Social has been replaced with a free-wheeling boldness, conveyed via chunky wood, including a row of expensive planks, seemingly carved straight from a tree, that serve as a room divider. You can definitely see the money spent.