I review theater, not food. Sometimes movies, but mostly theater. I get to see the show only once, and the measure is, would I like to go back, and see this again? Would I bring someone else to discover it, too, so I can watch their face instead of the stage? Of course, no matter what I think, someone, somewhere is going to think I’m wrong. But I hope we can all appreciate decent writing, and recognize good intentions and the desire to be fair.
Which brings me to Mark Vamos’ no-star review of Tillman’s Roadhouse, published at the end of last month in The Dallas Morning News. We don’t give stars here, and even if we did, I’d have nothing to do with that and no basis on which to award them. The last time we reviewed the Dallas location was in 2007. As I mentioned, I’m a theater critic, not a food critic, for many reasons (Exhibit A: I don’t like seafood, which my friend Michael—a cook—tells me repeatedly is like saying I don’t like sandwiches.). But to me, no stars means there’s absolutely no reason on Earth for anyone to set foot in that restaurant. I humbly disagree. For me, there are at least two. But I’ll leave a dissection of the main courses to the professionals (though the ones I’ve had have been just fine), and talk about the tater tots.
When I moved back to Dallas a little more than a year ago, the adjustment was rough. A bright spot: access to tater tots, one of my primary food groups sadly lacking on the East Coast. A friend pointed me to Tillman’s, where they serve something that sounded tailor-made for my picky palate—goat cheese tater tots, drizzled with truffle oil. I know that people don’t necessarily care for these. But I am firmly convinced that these soft, creamy, delightfully greasy nuggets are the best things I’ve ever tasted. I don’t care about “snap” or “crisp,” though last night’s tots were actually crispier than usual. Still not the point. The point is the warm chèvre, mixed with a little potato, and it is so, so good. It’s a cure for whatever ails me: long work day, relationship trouble, friendships gone sour, creative insecurity. I can walk into Tillman’s a nasty, scowling storm cloud of emotion, sink into a pillow-strewn booth along the wall, and walk out stuffed and happy, savoring that last tot, tipsy off a single 87 Ways.
I’ve been at least once every couple of months since last June (certainly since the restaurant changed execu chefs). What other restaurant in Dallas so consistently makes me forget my petty, petty problems? I tend to order the same thing every time—giant salad, tater tots, 87 Ways—because I know what I like and I’m a small person (I can’t order starter, main, dessert, or I’d blow up like blueberry Violet Beauregard). The roasted beet salad, with large leaf lettuce and goat cheese, tastes better to me than Bolsa’s. The mac ‘n cheese is appropriately gooey and peppered with just enough bacon. Service two nights ago, as usual, was quick, friendly, and efficient.
But all of this is sort of secondary. The tots give me a primary reason to go back, again and again, and nothing about this Bishop Arts outpost, from the kitschy decor to the rest of the menu, has persuaded me that I shouldn’t.