The New Kitchen LTO
I have to admit, after our last experience with Kitchen LTO, when chef Blythe Beck was there, we had little to no desire to go back. That mostly had to do with Cameron almost swallowing a giant piece of plastic wrap that had been cooked into our food, and the minimal effort put forth by the wait staff to even acknowledge the situation. It took leaving the giant piece of plastic on an otherwise empty plate to get even a cursory "oh, sorry."
HOWEVER, the old location is no more. There's now a new location (in Deep Ellum), a new chef, and new staff. So, we thought we'd give it another try. We're glad we did.
The new location is much smaller than LTO's previous location in Trinity Groves. Parking is a bit of a hassle, but that's Deep Ellum in general. A few concepts have changed, but we think it's all for the better. For starters, instead of changing the furniture and overall decor of the restaurant with every new chef, each swap now features a local artist's work that's available for sale. And, the length of time a chef is allotted at LTO is now 6 months, where before it was 3. I think this is a great business model and better way forward, because it lets a chef settle in a bit, get his or her feet under them, and also allows time for word-of-mouth and reviews to catch up with the business concept. We think it will probably be more profitable. And 3 months always seemed too short anyway - If you liked a chef, they were always gone the next time LTO crossed your mind.
The current chef at LTO is Josh Harmon, and the brunch menu we enjoyed was a classy take on southern staples with a few curveballs thrown in.
For starters, we ordered the pimento cheese and the miso praline "bacon."
Generally speaking, we're not huge fans of pimento cheese, but our waiter recommended it and we usually go with signature dishes. Unlike most pimento cheese that tastes like Hellman's mayo mixed with Kraft so-called cheese, this pimento cheese was delicious. You could tell that the mayonnaise used was homemade, and the quality of the cheese was above standard. It had a bit of heat from the peppers, but fresh dill cut through some of that. The best part of the dish was how the home-made chicken biscuit crackers played with the pimento cheese--they were the right amount of salt and crunch to go with the richness of the cheese.
The miso praline "bacon" was also delicious, but probably should've been named miso praline pork belly instead. We have no qualms with pork belly, but the reality is that while all bacon is pork belly, not all pork belly is bacon (that's my sensei comment for the day). All names aside, this was some of the best pork belly we've ever had. It was a fabulous combo of salty and sweet, with some crunchy duck fat-fried pecans on top. It was also very tender and not overly-dry like we tend to see (namely at Sugerbacon Proper Kitchen). HIGHLY recommended.
For entrees, we ordered the sticky smoked duck buns and the hot fried chicken. Both are perfect for sharing, but the portions are small compared to most restaurants. We also ordered cheese grits as a shared side.
The cheese grits were tasty - mainly because the corn they use comes straight from Waco, so it's very fresh and you can truly taste the corn flavor instead of just another flavorless grit. These cheese grits aren't going to change your life, but they're definitely better than most we've had.
The sticky smoked duck buns were every bit as good as any dim-sum place would have, only better. The shredded duck was so rich and the buns were pillowy and amazing. They also had grated ginger and shallot on top to cut through the richness (which was much needed). Overall just a fantastic dish.
Hot fried chicken is making it's way to Texas, and this is a good example of it. Chef Harmon's version was well-seasoned with just enough heat to need something to cool it down a bit. Thankfully, it came with a jar (albeit not the best dipping vehicle) of house-made ranch that really complimented the chicken without overpowering it. According to our waiter, you can also order the chicken on top of one of their signature waffles if you're feeling adventurous. We didn't want to ruin the hot chicken with syrup, but if you're like Buddy the Elf and like syrup on everything, knock yourself out! The house-made pickles were a nice accompaniment too.
We're happy Kitchen LTO has found a new location and seems to be set up with a better, more sustainable business model. We love Chef Harmon's performance at LTO, and plan to be back at least once more during his stint there. We hope to see chefs of similar caliber come through LTO in the future, and look forward to seeing better success in this new setup.