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First-Take Review: John Tesar’s The Commissary in One Arts Plaza. It’s All About the Tots.

The Farmer (left) and The Rib (right), just two of the options on the Burger Bar section of The Commissary's menu. (photos by Desirée Espada)

The Commissary, Chef John Tesar’s indoor-outdoor burger & bites venue in One Arts Plaza has been packed since day one. Reasonably so. The restaurant, which specializes in daring combinations of ingredients (burgers made from braised pig’s tail, pork, and beef) and new approaches to old standards (avocado fries), is to summertime what the swallow is to spring—a harbinger of good things to come.

(Writer’s note: To be clear, this review of The Commissary was done incognito. We paid for everything we ate, and no preferential treatment was given. My later visit to The Table, which is mentioned as a “nice detail” toward the end of this article, was part of an invitation dinner and was hosted after the review process was complete. While I mention The Table in this review of The Commissary, it is added as an aside and is not reviewed herein. We apologize for any confusion or underrepresentation of the tots.)

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Fennel heart and shaved artichoke salad (photo by Desirée Espada)

The set-up: When I was in high school, my PE teacher looked at me one day and said, “Well, you may not be fast, but at least you’re uncoordinated.” Why do I bring this up? Because, luckily, I wasn’t any more interested in being an athlete than The Commissary is in fine dining. Had Tesar (or I) aimed differently, neither of us would have found our respective niches. In Tesar’s case, a tightly packed and, dare I say, cheap gourmet burger joint in an easy-to-get-to location with excellent views.

Heirloom tomato and watermelon salad with feta. (photo by Desirée Espada)

On the menu: While an appetizer is not a must, a few items on the menu make notable showings. Several diners were happily tucked into a mountainous bowl of Parmesan popcorn, and while I do not eat them myself, I hear from a trusted source that the deviled eggs are bright and seasoned to perfection. For myself, I headed directly to the salad section of the menu, where the reputation of the fennel hearts, shaved artichoke, reggiano cheese, lemon and olive oil made ordering it a must. The fennel’s refreshingly high water content and lemony dressing disappeared into each other so completely that it felt impossible to differentiate the two—as if the lemony edge rose up from within the fennel itself. The tomato-based salads, especially those with Paula Lambert’s cheeses, will only improve as the season progresses.

The unorthodox Burger Bar appears to be Tesar’s wheelhouse. Sure, when faced with the 14 variations on the menu you could order the more traditional Magic Burger (with aged cheddar, bacon, lettuce, and tomato on an English muffin), but such prudence would be a crime in the presence of The Rib, a falling-apart, braised short rib topped with collard greens and horseradish mayo and served on a brioche bun. Seriously. Likewise, the lamb-based Tandoori Burger sings with tandoori spices, pickled cucumbers, and tzatziki. (Unfortunately, our first run at this burger arrived in a tartare state as opposed to the medium-well we’d requested. Its replacement was a little long in coming but was, while still not medium-well, at least more cooked.) The jury is still out on The Tail End, a patty of braised pig’s tail, ground pork, ground beef, topped with roasted pork belly, green tomato chutney, and jalapeno mayo and served on a brioche bun. The comments boil down to this: love it, but don’t want to look at it or think about it. Fair enough. And while I did not order The Farmer, a fried duck egg, Vermont white cheddar, and speck atop a beef burger served on a brioche bun with eschire butter, my colleague who did had nothing but praise, despite the messiness of the fried egg topper.

Tandoori burger with skinny fries. (photo by Desirée Espada)

I could order the sides alone and leave completely happy. The sweet potato tots could easily double as a dessert. The onion rings are crisp and batter-dipped, and the salty fries (both skinny and fat)  have the option of being topped with Tesar’s secret-recipe magic or disco sauces. As for desserts, if Tesar’s doing his job right you shouldn’t have room for one. But if you do, the chocolate and hazelnut tart with caramelized bananas and chocolate sorbet is small enough to not overwhelm yet large enough for two people to each feel like they’ve had a sweet spoiler.

Who was there: Lunch draws the downtown business crowd, natch, while the dinner bunch appears to be 75 percent theater goer and 25 percent anything goes.

The Tail End getting upstaged by the onion rings. (Photo by Sarah Reiss)

Where to sit: Because the room is so tightly packed, I’d sit in the banquette seating or on one of the outside patios. Because of the restaurants western-facing glass wall, most seats offer that sought-after view of downtown.

Price: Impressively inexpensive. Burgers start at $6 and only go as high as $14 (for the crab cake burger). Most fall around $9. Tap wine is $6-$7 a glass. Wine cocktails are $9. Sangria can be ordered by the punchbowl for $35 for a 9-glass bowl. Beer ranges from $3 (Blue Ribbon Lager) to $19 (750 ml bottle of Saison Dupont).

Crab cake burger and sweet potato tots (left) and chocolate & hazelnut tart (right) (photos by Sarah Reiss and Desirée Espada)

Mild concern: While the servers run hot & cold, they do seem to be improving. By the time summer evenings are fully upon us and downtowners flock to the patios for after-work cocktails, I feel confident that the service kinks will be worked out.

Nice detail: On a separate occasion, Tesar invited me to a private tasting preview for The Table, Tesar’s gourmet tasting room within the restaurant. Unlike other private tables, this one will be open to singletons, couples, and larger groups and will be treated as a community table serving a multi-course tasting menu with wine pairings. On the night I visited, it became clear very quickly that no one else in town is doing anything like this at this price point. The table is casual, yet refined. Friendly, yet elevated. Six-course, fixed price menus will run you a mere $55 on Thursday, $65 on Friday, and $75 on Saturday evenings. Wine adds a modest additional expense. Menus start with canapes, amuse-bouche, and a cheese cart and finish with the restaurant’s signature candy cart (think macaroons and toffee). Best of all, when you reserve a seat, it’s yours for the evening. No bum’s rush. The atmosphere is intended to be deconstructed, communal, and fun.

The takeaway: Two sentences—I would walk a mile for The Rib. It’s that good.

41 comments on “First-Take Review: John Tesar’s The Commissary in One Arts Plaza. It’s All About the Tots.

  1. The headline to this story includes “It’s All About the Tots.”, but there is only a fragment of a sentence referring to tots.

    “The sweet potato tots could easily double as a dessert; the onion rings are crisp and batter-dipped, and the salty fries (both skinny and fat) have the option of being topped with Tesar’s secret-recipe magic or disco sauces.”

    So…Actually its not all about the tots. If it were you would have included, you know, a complete sentence about tots. More than one sentence about tots would of made it seem like it’s REALLY about the tots. And it seems to me that dessert, as you claim the tots could be, is usually not what a restaurant that is in the wheelhouse of The Burger Bar is all about. So…maybe a headline stating that burgers are what its all about might be more accurate.

    I am not going to mention the part where you got special attention from the chef, except to say I do not trust gushy reviews that were not conducted incognito.

    Why did the quality of writing get so horrible on Side Dish? I can only assume free labor. You can’t possibly be paying for this crap.

  2. Thanks for letting us know about The Commissary, my co-workers and I have decided this needs to be our next destination for lunch.
    O/T pet peeve of mine, people who type “would of” when clearly it should be “would have”.

    Cheers!

  3. I’ve been twice, once for dinner and once for lunch. The burgers are great; however, service issues will prevent me from returning.

  4. Service was horrible…. had to ask three times to get my WATER filled on three occasions. Burger was ordered Medium but came out Raw. Somebody should show them how to use a C-Vap. Lastly… the fries came out limp and sad looking, other than that it was a nice atmosphere.

  5. “…a fragment of a sentence”.
    Believe me that was way more than plenty. 3 hungry guys, one order of tots and 90% went in the trash. No taste, no seasoning just pinkish cellulose for bovine mastication. Dessert for a camel maybe.

    Farmer Burger was good although all 3 diners (3 different burgers chosen) had issues with meat doneness. Even with Tesar’s skills, getting the meat temp right remains elusive, as at most burger joints. For a burger on the patio, I’d go again, but as for inside dining, not so much. This place would benefit from the “fast casual” format.

  6. Had lunch there today. Food was good (had the Market Burger and I finished it, no complaints) and I especially liked the pickles. However, service was atrocious. And I can go to plenty of places with pretty good burgers and not be ignored by the host, hostess, waitress, and water guy.

  7. What’s the parking situation at this place? Like, what’s the cheapest parking and where is it?

    I haven’t been to One Arts Plaza in awhile, but I think I remember the Valet in the round costing something like 8 bucks. Too much.

  8. I was there Sunday afternoon for a little patio time and it was absolutely beautiful. Service was doting, the house-made sangria was champion and I enjoy more than a few Fireman 4′s on tap to douse the heat of the day.

    Winner: soft shell crab burger.

  9. @Gipson – cheapest is probably in the surface lot on Ross between Routh and the liquor store. The valet situation at One Arts as it relates to The Commissary is up in the air. I recall John Tesar telling one publication that they would validate for “regulars.” (First reaction: seriously?! Second reaction: …One Arts is busy enough to have regulars?) For lunch today, my waitress validated. Several co-workers reported that their waiter refused to validate when they went for lunch last week.* Valet was $8-10.

    *Inconsistency another sign to me that the staff requires significantly more training than they got.

  10. John Tesar just told me: “Valet with validation is $3 during the day and $4 with validation at night. If you eat at The Table, parking is free.”

  11. @Scagnetti

    ‘Distemper’ and ‘temper’ are two very different things. (I am assuming you were trying to be witty and making a reference to a human having a temper tantrum.)

    Distemper is an airborne infection commonly occuring in dogs, but it can occur in other animals as well.

    You probably know what temper means when referring to human beings.

    I have not had a distemper shot recently because I am not a dog with a bacterial infection, nor do I anticipate becoming infected with a bacteria that does not affect humans.

    Thank you for your concern.

    p.s. Your attempt at being witty is a FAIL.

  12. @Gipson: My valet was validated today. $3, apparently it’s $6 for lunch without validation. Self parking surface lot is $5 and parking is free on Flora. I left lunch around 1:00 today and waited for my car from valet for 10-15 minutes because so many people were leaving at the same time. Next time I’ll be self-parking.

  13. JonnyDallas, “have you had your distemper shot” is Scagnetti’s go-to phrase, he uses it when he can’t think of anything else to say, so as you might imagine, it turns up fairly often.

  14. Ditto Steve on the soft shell crab burger. Tesar is a master chef and this is THE place to be right now. How about a preview of The Table on Crave, Steve?

  15. ditto on poor service. The waiter didn’t have a clue about the menu and he would disappear for 15-20mins at a time. He literally blamed the kitchen, bar tender, and everyone for service issue. come on!

    I had the The Farmer and it was fantastic. For now, I can’t get past the service.

  16. They have a LOT of training to do with their waitstaff. I have rarely had such confused, unprofessional service. Other than an undercooked burger, the food was very good. This will be a great addition to the Arts District – assuming they hit their stride.

  17. Food was pretty good (had the lamb burger and crabcake sandwich. Service was AWFUL. Took 15min each time I wanted a bottled beer on a week night. Tots we ordered never came. Each of the 4 diners food came out a different times (notwithstanding that we all ordered burgers). We we spoke to Tesar he responded that he thought they were doing pretty good for only having been opened for 2 weeks. I strongly disagree

  18. Was there on Friday night for a pre-show dinner. Food and service were both great despite the crowd. Based on comments it sounds like hit or miss for now. Will not stop me from going again or recommending. I’m sure they will get consistent.

  19. People, the burgers are NOT undercooked. I have heard the technique described straight from Tesar and they all go out according to the plan. They are all cooked sous vide to a base temperature of Meduim-rare (135) and held in the C-Vap. They are then finished on the grill to get the seared crust. They may look deep red from edge to edge but they are perfectly cooked to temperature. You may or may not have seen this on other sous-vide dishes like Salmon which comes out looking deep pink despite being fully cooked.

    This is done so that the small kitchen can fire out as many as 100 burgers in 10min during busy lunch rushes. Tesar said there has been so much confusion about this unique technique to cooking a burger that he is planning a pre-emptive explanation for Commissary’s web-site and possibly the menu. He also plans to further train the staff to explain the process.

  20. “Uccello” I am not arguing with what Chef Tesar “intends to have happen” but I also know what cooked meat should look like and my burger was RAW… sous vide, c-vaped whatever….. its ground beef… not a 72 hour shortrib

  21. @ Scagnetti: Je suis entièrement d’accord avec vous au sujet de diatribe Jonny Dallas », cependant, je pense qu’il faut quelque chose de plus fort que un coup de la maladie de Carré.

  22. Sorry, still life, but you don’t know what cooked meat should “look like.” You’re basing your opinion on conventionally cooked beef and sous-vide is a different animal. It’s not about how it looks it’s about temperature and the burgers are all at least medium. It may look raw but if you put a heat gun to it it would be 135 and the texture is a perfect medium. Forget about how it looks and focus on the taste which is beyond any other burger in town.

  23. @Uccello. I think I know the difference between medium rare and raw. Medium rare is medium rare whether cooked sous-vide or wood roasted.

  24. @Uccello/Avid Eater: At this point, I think Tesar should be less worried about whether we can comprehend the sous-vide burger and focus his energy on fixing the service issues. Given @acrow’s comment that Tesar said he thought they were doing pretty well for only having been open a few weeks, I have my doubts that this will happen. Service was worse when I visited for lunch yesterday than it was when I visited for dinner on Day 3… doesn’t seem like a good sign. I like me some burgers, even these fancy soo veed humdingers, but I’m not going to subject myself to aneurysm-inducing service in order to get one. Guess I’ll check back on Yelp in a few months to see whether things have improved.

  25. I’ve eaten at The Commissary twice now, and I’ve had good experiences both times.
    The first time I dined with a party of 12 (my charming book club members) before Cabaret, and while a bit frazzled, our super friendly waitress got us in & out of there in under 45 minutes – with separate checks! I had the Tandoori burger and LOVED it.
    And then I dined again late Sunday, same waitress, but even better service.
    I love that this place is open later in the evenings and on Sunday night. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been searching for decent Sunday evening meal that isn’t pizza (not that I don’t love pizza).
    I’m excited about the addition to One Arts Plaza & my neighborhood.

  26. 135 is medium rare, Uccello. If that’s what people are getting when they order a burger medium or medium well, they’re going to be disappointed.

    Even if the temperature isn’t perfect every single time, we’re talking about third- or half-pound burgers with quality buns, grass-fed natural beef, house-made pickles, and interesting toppings, plus a generous serving of fries, for under $10, which is in the price range of any number of Dallas burger joints with low rent, low quality ingredients, haphazard execution, and indifferent service, where they don’t even ask you how you want your burger done (or, if they do, it comes out medium to medium well, regardless). While they do have some issues to work out, as long as I’m able to get a Mansion-quality burger for $8 (rather than $18), I don’t mind toughing it out.

  27. READ TESAR’s LUNCH MENU. Terrible layout…some descriptions getting cut off of the page. And worse yet, EITHER HE OR HIS STAFF NEED TO LEARN TO SPELL. CHIABTA BREAD? I don’t even want to try the food when it doesn’t even read enticing.

    Give me a break.

  28. I’ve never posted and usually ignore overtly angry comments unless there is a clear trend from the users, but feel compelled to write. My husband and I tried this place after it had been open less than a week. I know they’re working out the kinks, but we have literally never had such poor service in Dallas. The food was fantastic, from the tots to the pork belly sandwich, which I absolutely loved. The service was bad – really bad. It took literally twenty minutes for a waitress to acknowledge us, and when we complained to the hostess, she sort of rolled her pre-teen eyes and said she’d ask who our server was. No one ever apologized and, in fact, our server seemed defensive that we should dare question her lack of attentiveness. Multiple staff walked by our table ten times or more and never once stopped to ask if someone was taking care of us (despite bumping into my husband several times). I can understand a crazy opening week, but there is no excuse for the bad attitudes. We won’t be back for at least two months, tots or no tots. I draw the line at a hostile hostess.

  29. “uccello” I really don’t want to get into it and in fact this whole comment blogging thing is fairly stupid and childish to begin with but I have an immersion circulator at my house and have used one since before you probably knew what the term even meant. Lastly I didn’t have you as a guest at my table when I ate there so how would you know what the burger looked like…and frankly, you seem pretty lame anyway so we probably wouldn’t get along. I know Tesar and his team are fully competent and will work whatever kinks out. The food has a lot of potential… props to Tesar for pushing the boundary of burger technique..

  30. Wow… there are a lot of comments. Some are probably and most likely warranted, makes us Chefs kinda scared seeing as there are so many “Knowledgeable people out there”. Look Chef Tesar is a great asset to the cities culinary team and we should be happy to have him, the restaurant has only been open a couple weeks and he just came off of opening Cedars before that. Tesar cooks with integrity and respect of his product, restaurants never open smoothly though from what it sounds the FOH could use some help. Props T

  31. I was involved with the Commissary as both a chef and a waiter and I can confidently say that this restaurant is destined to fail. The kitchen can never keep up with the orders and the management is terrible. I don’t know if the current manager is still working there (wouldn’t be suprised if she has been fired), but the restaurant is being run into the ground. While the food is good, it is not good enough to wait an hour for. My prediction is that if they continue on their current course, in about six months their business will slow down to the point at which they can’t pay their bills. And on a side note, I was not fired from the Commmissary, I quit. Tesar is a jerk and the manager expects far too much of her inadequate staff. Solution: give Tesar a “chill pill” and fire the manager.

  32. I ate at The Woodlands last night….no wait that was The Dallas Chop House and the food was…no no no it was The Commissary. A one trick pony???

  33. Tried it out for lunch on a Tuesday. Seated after 5 minutes – so far so good. Ordered two Plano burgers (basic) with onion rings. After 35 minutes of no human interaction (no eye contact, refills or the like), we got up to leave. The staff then noted that the burgers were on the way and that we should expect to wait 35 minutes for a burger. We were further lectured about the staffing, the price point, and how they lovingly make the burgers. My points:

    * It is a burger. (A good burger, but still, it is a burger.)
    * If the waitress had told us upfront it would take >1/2 an hour to get our food, then we would not have spent a good portion of that time wondering where our food was.
    * Rather than a lecture about what a hick I must be to expect timely & decent service at lunch, a simple apology would have sufficed.
    * We canceled the onion rings 5 minutes later. We did not have the entire afternoon to wait for them. (They look nice in the picture, though.)

    The Arts District needs more good restaurants. I hope they figure out that service will be a major component of their success.

  34. I ate there last week. Lunch took 2 hours for three people. We ordered three burgers, but ended up getting two wrong orders and one correct. They took the wrong ones back and took 15 minutes to get them corrected. So one person ate, while the other two waited. Would have eaten cardboard by the time we got everything settled.