Celebrity restaurateur Lisa Garza teams with chef Jeffery Hobbs for some good ol’ home cookin’ at Sissy’s Kitchen
With her high-collared blouse, black patent leather sensible shoes and knee- length skirt, Lisa Garza moves through the room with purpose and a control-freak determination you might recognize from her stint on The Next Food Network Star. Prim but with a welcoming smile, she’s more Martha Stewart than Rachael Ray, with a decidedly Southern sensibility.
Garza, in other words, wants to be your nana.
Not that she’s old enough to be anyone’s grandma — she just exudes a kind of hospitality that says, “Please enjoy yourself! … But no elbows on the table.” I bet she makes a mean cookie.
Cookies and milk are indeed one of the dessert options on the menu at Sissy’s Southern Kitchen & Bar — named, significantly enough, after Garza’s nickname among her younger siblings. (Presumably, were she a man it would be called Bubba’s; every good Southern family has a Bubba.) Such a reassuringly familiar treat at the end of a meal keeps with the aesthetic of the restaurant, which took over the old Hector’s on Henderson space.
If you’d been to Hector’s, you almost won’t recognize it. The décor looks like something from a Billy Reid boutique: Porcelain dishes mounted on the back wall surrounding antlered deer trophies like haloes reflecting the glory of the kill; an oak bar manned by bow-tie clad mixologists, and stocked with samovars of high-octane iced teas; wildflowers and doilies adorning the cozy place settings. In the back, a private dining-reception area recalls a gentlemen’s smoking lounge; alongside, the shotgun quasi-exposed patio summons memories of clambakes back in Charleston.
None of this is accidental. Sissy’s is comfort food in a comforting environment, something Screen Door in One Arts Plaza innovated along the high end and places like Original Market Diner naturally do on the more affordable side.
Sissy’s falls between those two concepts; it’s down-home, but upscale. A 10-piece bucket — yes, bucket, as in a hammered stainless steel pail — of fried chicken tallies up only 20 bucks. The style is almost daring: Each time I’ve had it, the chicken (available in white, dark or mixed) has always come out a deep reddish brown — unexpected, but not overcooked.
My dining companion on one trip insisted we go back barely a week later. That’s how much he craved it.
The best dishes (executed by chef Jeffery Hobbs, who also worked with Garza at Suze) are the ones that tweak classics. The deviled eggs ($8–$14), which downplay traditional paprika (you can see hints of it mixed in the yolk) in order to focus on a kiss of crème fraiche and sprinkle of caviar. “Squash puppies” ($7) are a spin on the hush variety, with a bite from jalapeno jelly.
The “ham and cheese” ($9) served with so-called angel biscuits which, presumably, are counter-karma to the deviled ham salad. There’s not much devil there — it’s bland but reassuring as a puppy’s hum. But the spiciness from the pimento cheese (honestly, the best I’ve had) and pickled chow chow make it a winner.
The Low Country gumbo ($8) needs to be thicker, and the inclusion of blue crab claws merely makes you have to work to get the meat out, but the andouille packs some kick. A “chopped wedge salad” ($8) seems to defeat the purpose — it stops being a wedge once someone cuts it up for you. No matter, “Grandma’s layered salad” ($8) will delight fans of that
Sunday supper stable; it even comes with a dollop of racism. (Kidding.) But one of my favorite items on the entire menu is the baby spinach salad ($8), where a runny poached egg, a bit of pork belly and shallot crisps highlight a dense bed of fresh greens.
More Gullah cooking comes in the form of the shrimp and grits ($18), fast becoming the new dish du jour, and we could eat the Shiner-battered fish and chips ($14) all day. So far, though, the desserts have been underwhelming.
The drink program is a draw for fans of cocktail culture, with infused teas and classics like the Sazerac and a Rob Roy that will send you reeling.
Service so far has been spotty. At one pre-theater meal, we let our hostess and waitress know we were time-crunched. It still took forever to get served and, more importantly, to get our check. But we were still on time for the curtain and the leftover chicken was just as good the next morning. Typical of the South, they may not do it fast, but they get it done — and with style.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 6, 2012.