The scene: Whistle Britches is what you get when you take an expert chef out of fine dining and put him into a former Sonic fast food eatery in Dallas.
After closing his fancy Spanish restaurant, Casa Rubio, two-time James Beard semifinalist Omar Flores turned his attention and extensive culinary experience to one thing — fried chicken. Fried chicken is hot, having its gourmet reinvention moment all across the country, and Great American Bites has visited several contemporary chef-driven standouts, from New York’s Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken to Chicago’s Honey Butter Fried Chicken to Indianapolis’ red-hot Crispy Bird. But Flores takes it a bit further in the Lone Star State. Beyond the standard pieces of breaded poultry, it boasts an exhaustive selection of offbeat chicken sandwiches and lots of fun and tasty Southern-inspired starters and sides.
Located in the original part of North Dallas that is the last stop within the city limits, the restaurant opened in 2017, and no longer looks or feels remotely like the Sonic it once was. The high ceilings with exposed ductwork painted white give it a modern, slightly industrial feel, and there is a cozy and welcoming diner-style counter in the back with about a dozen stools. The main dining room has a handful of booths for more intimate dining, but is mostly filled with wooden tables, and metal chairs of all different colors that look like lawn furniture. It’s full-service with food presented on country-style speckled ceramic plates, and all these eclectic elements come together to give Whistle Britches a fun and slightly funky vibe. Being Dallas, where good weather is frequent, the former Sonic carhop area is now a large outdoor dining patio.
The restaurant has been very popular, and a second location is scheduled to open shortly within a new boutique hotel that is part of a $100 million renovation of The Shops at Willow Bend mall in Plano, a Dallas suburb.
Reason to visit: Fried chicken, chicken sandwiches, hoe cakes, Kung Pao Brussels sprouts.
The food: The restaurant logo boasts a triumvirate of chicken, biscuits and beer, and all are heavily featured. The main event is the chicken, and it is excellent, using only birds sourced from Texas family farms that have been raised free-range. These are brined in-house to keep them juicier, and it works, pairing a succulent, tender and moist inside with a three-dimensional, craggy, crunchy coating. Flores uses a “secret” ingredient, pickle juice, which punches up both the flavor and the tenderization process. The marquee item is available several ways: as a whole bird platter for sharing; a two piece, over waffles in the traditional Southern style; or as “Sir Mix A Lot,” with one piece of white meat, one dark and one wing. The chicken entrees come with the excellent square buttermilk biscuits and choice of potato salad or cole slaw.
Fried chicken fanatics will not be disappointed, but the bulk of the menu is devoted to creative chicken sandwiches, all featuring pickle-brined white meat, but sometimes grilled, sometimes fried, sometimes done Nashville Hot-style. The house signature is the Whistle Britches, a generous slab of fried chicken on a biscuit with honey butter and pepper jelly, and it is delicious, though so messy that it’s more of a fork-and-knife affair than sandwich. Another interesting one is the Pitmaster, which tops a fried chicken slab with Carolina-style barbecue sauce, a healthy dose of melted cheddar cheese, a rich caramelized bacon onion jam, and cilantro slaw with pickled jalapenos. It’s a flavor explosion that maintains the crunchiness of the chicken exterior. Other sandwich creations top chicken with everything from fried eggs to country-style gravy to Thousand Island dressing, and there’s even an apricot tarragon chicken salad with sprouts and toasted cashews on “Hippie Bread.”
Many of the eclectic sides and starters are must-tries — like the hoe cakes. “These young, classically trained chefs are realizing it is hard to make a living in fine dining, and instead are doing interesting new concepts like this one — I really like the hoe cakes here,” said leading Dallas food critic Mike Hiller, whose blog, EscapeHatchDallas.com, is a leading source of culinary info. The dish is sort of a hybrid between a traditional pancake and Rhode Island Johnny Cake, but not as dense as the latter. It’s made of ground corn and topped with some jalapeno cane syrup to kick the heat and sweetness up a notch, plus honey butter and popped sorghum kernels, giving it a very interesting and complex combination of sweet, rich and spicy. It’s definitely worth trying.
My favorite dish was a big surprise, the Kung Pao Brussels sprouts. The highest compliment any home chef can pay a restaurant dish is to imitate it, and I have made my own rendition at home for guests several times since visiting Whistle Britches. It’s a brilliant but simple riff on the classic Chinese American sauce and peanut-adorned Kung Pao chicken, re-imagined as a veggie side. It’s delicious, and it goes great with fried chicken. Another side-dish standout is three-cheese mac and cheese, heavy on the cheese, served gooey and rich and topped with toasted panko for a nice bit textural contrast. There are a few interesting starters as well but the best seller — and for good reason — is the house-made pickled jalapeno pimento cheese spread, another flavorful update on a simple classic, served with saltine crackers, pepper jelly and smoked pecans. Deviled eggs, yet another throwback dish enjoying retro trendiness, is also a good appetizer to try here.
Because both the outdoor patio and the menu lend themselves to adult beverages, the bar business is brisk. There are always eight local craft beers on tap, along with eight draft wines, a fast-emerging trend that is both environmentally beneficial and also maintains the wine better, plus a lengthy list of bottled craft beers and ciders, alongside Texas standbys Shiner Bock and Lone Star. There’s also a full bar and long list of fancy specialty cocktails, plus a tasting flight of Texas whiskies, a nice touch.
Take a skilled chef, conscientious sourcing of ingredients, and extensive in-house preparation of everything from the brines to biscuits to all the house sauces, including a homemade take on Tabasco and even from-scratch ketchup, and it’s hard to go wrong. I tasted a lot of things at Whistle Britches, and all were very good to excellent. I’d go back in a second.
Pilgrimage-worthy?: No, but it’s the spot for fried chicken lovers in Dallas.
Rating: Yum! (Scale: Blah, OK, Mmmm, Yum!, OMG!)
Price: $$ ($ cheap, $$ moderate, $$$ expensive)
Details: 6110 Frankfurt Road, Dallas; 972-590-8991; whistlebritcheschicken.com
Larry Olmsted has been writing about food and travel for more than 15 years. An avid eater and cook, he has attended cooking classes in Italy, judged a barbecue contest and once dined with Julia Child. Follow him on Twitter, @TravelFoodGuy, and if there’s a unique American eatery you think he should visit, send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some of the venues reviewed by this column provided complimentary services.