Dear Granny Nick,
The other day, I took some friends to a new restaurant at One Arts Plaza, that fancy new development downtown. The restaurant is called Screen Door. It must sound weird to you that they named an expensive place to eat after the bane of your existence—that squeaky door on your patio that always had so many holes in it, we couldn’t keep the dirt dobbers from building nests in my pink Keds. But times have changed. Don’t confuse Screen Door with The Porch, that other upscale comfort food place.
Nowadays restaurants are coming up with all kinds of concepts to sell food. Some fancy restaurants even write a mission statement on their menu to help their customers understand just what the heck to expect. The folks behind the Screen Door describe their menu this way: “Where modern culinary wisdom and decades of tried-and-true tradition blend. The menu takes you back to the porch of decades ago and introduces you to new generations of dishes that think in fresh ways about Southern cuisine.”
Granny, are you still with me? Don’t feel bad if you don’t understand what they are talking about, because it baffled me, too, at first. I will try to make it a little clearer, because when you come to visit, I’d like you to try a couple of their dishes.
The menu, aspects of which change every day, can be confusing. Even our nice waiter had a tough time explaining it. It is divided into two parts: “Then” and “Now.” The “Then” section is a list of appetizers, soups, salads, and entrees that chef Fitzgerald Dodd says is like “Grandma used to make.” The “Now” side is appetizers, soups, salads, and entrees he calls “innovative Southern cuisine that even Grandma would be proud of.”
Granny, you would be proud of their meatloaf. I hate to say so, but it’s even better than yours. In all fairness, chef Dodd adheres to his “Now” concept by adding bits of foie gras to his mixture of ground beef and pork. (Think of it as adding some of your fabulous pan-fried chicken livers to yours.) The accompanying mashed potatoes are lighter than Aunt Amy’s. My hard-to-please boyfriend said he’d drive through a blinding rainstorm to eat this meatloaf.
(And, yes, he’s still my boyfriend.)
If you could still drive, Granny, you’d probably hop behind the wheel to taste Screen Door’s knockout fried catfish served on a pile of fresh purple hull peas and a dish of sassy East Texas coleslaw made with sliced cabbage, red onion, and poblano chilies. Chef Dodd also does a great gussied-up version of fried green tomatoes layered with smoked mozzarella. Each bit gets a gentle, but swift kick from the red pepper jam on the plate. Even though the Berkshire pork chop was as dry as the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl, it was smothered in delicious ham hock gravy and served with honey-roasted yams and braised collards.
I didn’t find any “Then” quality to a short rib pot roast. Why they didn’t shove it over to the “Now” side, next to the deconstructed lobster pot pie served with “young vegetables and lobster and corn puree,” is a question I can’t answer. I can only guess that the “Now” page was already full of stuff that you probably wouldn’t be so proud of.
Like the iron-seared Chilean sea bass. When the waiter set it on the table, we were overcome with the smell of ammonia. I know that’s a good thing if you’re scrubbing the kitchen floor, but it’s a bad thing when it comes from a plate of fish. After one bite, we all feared food poisoning and sent it back. I couldn’t get my boyfriend to go back after that, so I took my best friend, a guy who will eat anything.
At least I thought he would. I had to eat the sea bass again while he ordered Low Country shrimp and grits. I’m happy to report the sea bass (sitting on a mound of delicious jambalaya-style risotto studded with small chunks of andouille sausage and rock shrimp) was fresh and flaky. But my happy friend turned grumpy when he got his Texas Caesar salad with shredded grana, smoked bacon, and cornbread croutons, which were actually teeny biscuits. He said, “This is the worst thing I’ve eaten in a long time. The dressing tastes like straight mayonnaise. What is Texas about this?” Our poor waiter couldn’t answer the question. “Maybe the croutons?” he guessed. It certainly wasn’t the size. There might have been six bites of baby romaine on the plate. My friend also thought the crab three ways appetizer (a fritter, a thimble of bisque, and a shredded Peeky Toe crab salad) was nothing to write his grandmother about. As for his Low Country shrimp and grits, they were pasty, dry, and lumpy. We like them soupy enough to soak up the flavor and broth from the shrimp.
All the boys I took to Screen Door did like that the dining room was always filled with lots of beautiful young—and even some older—women. Maybe it is because it’s such a pretty place to hang out. Each cozy, high-backed upholstered chair must have cost more than your house did in 1935. The Southern mansion-style dining room is softly lit at night, and huge yellow curtains cover the windows that overlook the new One Arts Plaza. The gracious servers all wear custom-made Billy Reid Western shirts, they use “Sonic ice” balls in their cocktails, and the flatware feels firm in your hand.
The mint juleps are served in silver-plated tumblers, just like the ones we tried at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, where they claim to have invented the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. But the mint juleps at Screen Door don’t taste like Greenbrier’s. We watched as the surly bartender added mango juice to them.
When you come to visit, Granny Nick, we’ll ask the bartender to make them “Then”-style. You know, like you do. The right way.
Get contact information for Screen Door.