Our hunt for the best Sunday Funday spots in Dallas. This week: Cook Hall
Sometimes you can win for losin’. No matter what, everything seems to go wrong. You don’t have to believe in curses to feel cursed.
Which is what happened at my most recent brunching experience at Cook Hall.
Cook Hall — the self-described gastropub in the W Hotel in Uptown — announced that it was starting a new “Brassy Sunday” Jazz Brunch. Now, barely a block away, the House of Blues routinely offers a Blues Brunch, which can really rock the house. Even the Hard Rock Café has been known to electrify a meal or two with live entertainment. This was a shot across the bow, a declaration, a gauntlet to the face demanding a duel. I was up for it.
I had a reservation, but the staff seemed a bit puzzled that I claimed to. Still, it wasn’t busy, and we quickly got a booth … up front, fairly removed from where the music seemed to be.
That was OK, though — I didn’t necessarily wanna be pounded by rollicking horn solos or drum riffs.
Yeah, that wasn’t gonna happen.
It was “jazz” the way you might describe Stevie Wonder’s album Innervisions as jazz: Some R&B influences overlaid a pop sensibility. I didn’t honestly expect Birth of the Cool or even Charlie Christian, but “Take 5” was about the jazziest it got. Good music played live.
Talented. Enjoyable. But Grover Washington covers just are not the same as Thelonius Monk. And that’s what “jazz brunch” says to me.
Allors! What matter the music (it was complimentary, after all). The fact we were sequestered away from the action (I never did see the musicians) wasn’t a tragedy. Not, at least, when compared to service.
I decided to start with a cup of tortilla soup. Now, Dallas is the de facto progenitor of the concept of tortilla soup, so putting it on a menu is tantamount to another challenge. The flavors here were good, if not exceptional, but in truth I didn’t get a cup: I got a bowl. What surprised me was, our server acknowledged that she was bringing the wrong dish as she set it down. “You’ll only be charged for a cup,” she said. Fair enough. But still, that mosquito in the back of my brain: Why bring out something you know is wrong?
And it happened again. And then happened again.
I ordered a dish called “eggs in a nest” ($16), the kind of cutesy-poo name that conjures a variety of presentations. I envisioned a tangle of julienned potatoes with two over-easy eggs nestled among shaved ham and edges of smoked cheddar, undergirded by blanks of sour dough (which was in the description, and which I specifically requested anyway).
My dining companion also ordered at the same time: Shrimp and grits, priced at $26. “These better be the best damn shrimp and grits I’ve ever had,” he whispered to me. They weren’t, though it took us a while to find out, as will be clear.
First, out came my plate — a rather prosaic presentation where the drooping whites of the egg served as kind of shroud, masking any playfulness the plate might have meant to convey.
I don’t dispute that shaved country ham and some form of cheddar cheese were present, they simply did not stand out in any meaningful way. Instead, the plate was dominated by slightly overcooked house potatoes. And there, right on the side, plain as day: Rye toast. Didn’t order it, didn’t want it, wasn’t even on the menu. And I do not like rye.
At least I got my order delivered; my dining companion was not so lucky. We kept waiting for someone to return momentarily, perhaps to say, “Sorry, yours took a minute extra — it’s on the way!” But no; he sat sans food as mine began to cool.
Now, you have to think: Wouldn’t I notice if one of two diners at a table didn’t order anything — you’d recall taking only one order, wouldn’t you? But no one seemed a bit concerned that, 20 minutes into the meal, I was the only one fed. We finally flagged down our waitress, who eventually put in his order (plus the replacement toast, and some pepper, since the mill on the table was completely empty). She apologized, and offered us complimentary mimosas. We accepted.
It took 15 minutes for the mimosas to arrive. We were both as good as finished eating by that time. In fact, we ordered some desserts more as a way to justify our mimosas and give the kitchen another shot as we did out of hunger. The butterscotch pudding was too sweet, with far more of the vanilla layer than the butterscotch;
You might not feel an accursed experience should forever tank a restaurant’s bona fides; I might agree if the menu had been more impressive. “Gastropub” implies an artisanal take on familiar food; there wasn’t much evidence of that here. And while my quibbles with the food could be called minor — nothing stood out as terrible because nothing stood out at all — the experience did what no restaurant should ever want to hear: It left us with a bad taste in our mouths.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2016.