Max’s Wine Dive’s indulgent combo of booze & pub grub

FABERGE, CADBURY … AND NOW THIS | A Southern fried egg provides a rich bit of color and taste to the pumpkin risotto at Max’s Wine Dive. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

“Fried chicken and champagne — why the hell not?” is emblazoned across the waiters’ T-shirts at Max’s Wine Dive, which recently moved into the West Village’s vacant Borders space. Why the hell not, indeed? We live in the era of hedonistic excess, where doing it “cuz I wanna” provides complete justification for most behaviors, gastronomic and otherwise.

It also appears to be the culinary principle among many of the dishes served at Max’s.

The Wine Dive concept is so far a small Texas chain, with branches in the state’s other major cities, though it’s less corporate than some. Yes, there is the consistent recipe for fried yardbird, but that’s just half the menu; exec chef Patrick Russell gets to put his finger in the other dishes.

Sometimes, that finger tastes salty. C’mon, housemade chips doused in caviar and crème fraiche? Call it sodi-yum rich. Of course they are addictive — caviar makes almost everything better. But that mush salt is bound to lead to palpitations, and at $62, who’s gonna shell out for such bar-menu extravagance? “Can do” and “should do” are not synonyms.

Then again, subtlety isn’t the strong point at Max’s, at least most of the time. The bison sliders ($11.50) might be good — it was difficult to tell when the in-house pickles and chipotle honey smothered the flavor of the beef. The borracho bread app ($10) recalls mac & cheese in its richness: A steamy plate of burbling gruyere and provolone clinging to shreds of baguette — a pre-dipped fondue. The thing is, the serving is too big for one or even two diners without causing loginess. I know for a fact; my dining companion and I ate it all.

That happens when you go to a joint that serves wine by the glass willingly paired by the staff for most of the dishes. You don’t savor the food here so much as devour it. Then again, if you wanted to serve deft flavors balanced for sophisticated palates, you probably wouldn’t call yourself a “dive” and blare sports from every orifice like an Ebola victim. There are placed designed to be great after-work hangs or socially buzzy congregating. Foodies are welcomed, but not required.

That said, there are some items we’d return for, especially  — mostly on chef Patrick’s side of the menu. Fried Brussels sprouts ($9) have caught on in recent years, and while the version here aren’t as elegant as other establishments, how often have you seen your greens topped with a fried egg?

The huevo gets further deep-fried expression with a Southern fried egg perched atop a bowl of autumnal pumpkin risotto, tossed with pepitas ($18). It’s a beautiful dish and well-expressed, too, as is the trout and roe ($9), highlighted by slivers of beets and a smoky quality.

And of course, the chicken. Max’s is part of the fried chicken trend this year, and like Sissy’s, it aims for a darker, crispy quality. And it comes stacked with Texas toast. Carbs don’t just live here — it’s their hive.

The lunch selection is smaller (and the burger merely OK), and some ideas (the “pork and beans” as a white bean puree and bacon alongside a scallop for $25) don’t quite measure up. But measure up to what? Max’s Wine Dive has been crowded every time I’ve been by since Week One, and the vibe it offers is unlike anywhere else in the area. It’s turned the gastropub into a wine bar with fatty dishes. It doesn’t want to be competition for The Grape — it wants to be competition for Gingerman.

Max’s Wine Dive, 3800 McKinney Ave., Suite 100. Open daily for dinner and weekends for lunch.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 7, 2012.