Friday, June 12, 2015

Oh So Tasty: Kent Rathbun's Hickory

I have a confession to make. Last night I broke my own rules and went to Plano for a media event. PLANO! Regular readers of this site will understand why this is shocking, because normally I wouldn't leave the Dallas city limits. Not because there aren't fun things happening or amazing places to visit in the suburbs but because Dallas is a big city and I am only one person, so I made a "rule" a long time ago that I only write about events/people/venues that are in Dallas. Not Frisco. Not Plano. Not Southlake. Not Garland. DALLAS. But every now and again, an invitation comes across my desk that is worth breaking the rules for. Last night was one of them. What was the draw? To quote Eater Dallas, "Iron Chef-slaying, yellow Porsche-driving chef and restaurateur Kent Rathbun has added a new restaurant to his empire: Specializing in burgers and barbecue, Hickory is considerably more casual than Abacus or Jasper's — with a lower price point to match." It wasn't the restaurant in and of itself that lured me out of my comfort zone, it was my admiration and adoration of Rathbun. (The fact that his publicist was smart enough to hire a party bus to transport all of us from Abacus where we started for cocktails, up to Hickory didn't hurt either.)

Cynthia Smoot & Kent Rathbun
at Hickory (June 11. 2015)
Rathbun has cooked at the James Beard House in New York on several occasions and was nominated as the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Southwest in 1999, 2002, 2003 and 2004. He has repeatedly appeared on a number of TV shows, including the Food Network’s “Chef du Jour” and "Iron Chef America", the CBS Early Show, the Rosie O’Donnell Show and NBC’s Today Show. Rathbun was honored to be one of the featured chefs for the Bush 2001 Inaugural Ball and has participated in the Pre-Super Bowl Event, “Taste of the NFL” for the past 10 years.

Passionate about charitable organizations, Rathbun is actively involved in the American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Zoo to Do, the North Texas Food Bank and the American Heart Association. In 2013 I wrote an article titled "Why Kent Rathbun Rules The Restaurant World" in which I said, "You can be the best chef in the world and if you don't have any business sense or aren't smart enough to hire the right people, your restaurant will go down in flames fast.

Rathbun has a great combination of creative culinary genius and savvy business acumen..." This guy is the real deal. The total package: He is talented, smart, kind and generous. He's a guy just I like to be around and want to support. So, now that you know why I was in Plano for BBQ, let's talk about Hickory. The 6,500 square foot restaurant exudes a modern roadhouse feel, with rustic woods, custom lighting and metal cladding combining to form a casual, industrial aesthetic. The bar and dining areas are open and airy, with community tables as well as high top tables and cozy banquettes. A 1,374 square foot outdoor patio features a fireplace, lounge area and picnic tables perfect for al fresco dining.

Hickory's Baked Beans rock. I had 3 helpings!
The Hickory menu offers several burger options—from your basic cheeseburger to more creatively topped fare like the Farmhouse Burger with pepper-crusted apple wood smoked bacon and fresh farm egg—as well as Texas-style barbecue, including smoked brisket, ribs and honey mustard-crusted pork shoulder.

My favorite dish of the night was the Fried Green Tomato appetizer. The jalapeƱo ranch that accompanied them for a dipping sauce was out of this world! Accompaniments include Granny Smith apple coleslaw, burnt end baked beans, salted baked potato salad, buttermilk onion rings and waffle-cut Maytag blue cheese fries.

Each table is equipped with homemade condiments, including bread and butter pickles, spicy dill pickles as well as different sauce options to ensure each diner can customize their barbecue to their exact specifications. Specialty cocktails include a barrel-aged Old Fashioned and the Killin’ Thyme (vodka, cucumber, lime, soda, thyme) as well as favorites like the Moscow Mule and Classic Martini.

Success is a whole lot more than just what's on your plate and there's no better example of that than Chef Kent Rathbun. I have no doubt that Hickory will be one more win to add to Rathbun's long line of accolades. Opening to the public next week, Hickory is located at 121 and the Tollway in the space that was formerly Zea Woodfire Grill (later rebranded KB's Woodfire Grill).