At Front Room Tavern, Taylor Kearney proves he’s one of Dallas’ best young chefs
Everything about the food at Front Room Tavern seems to sparkle with chef Taylor Kearney in charge of the kitchen. In what seems like a two-year game of musical chairs with chefs, it’s now 26-year-old Kearney’s chance to flex his muscles at Front Room Tavern, the marquee restaurant of the Hotel Lumen. Barely four weeks into the gig, Kearney has revamped the menu and is filling seats with his refined take on casual Southern food.
Here, the former Charlie Palmer and Nick & Sam’s Steakhouse chef puts out what he wants, whether its a spin on roasted cauliflower cooked al dente then sauced with brown butter vinaigrette and a sprinkle of amaranth or a perfectly cooked Allen Brothers prime rib-eye steak with disks of herb butter and twice-cooked frites.
Kearney’s cooking is as zipped up as a silky black dress, of which there are plenty dotting a dining room that sits a stone’s throw from SMU. He riffs on southern staples like biscuits and gravy by inverting the equation; he creams fresh buttermilk biscuits, sweet butter and heavy cream in a saucepan, then strains the resulting emulsion for a buttermilk biscuit sauce that rests below a juicy brick of braised pork belly, roasted cubes of butternut squash and a quenelle of fig jam.
With autumn soon upon us, the butternut squash jumps to a soup bowl, where it bumps up against a big dollop of homemade marshmallow Fluffernutter, a sprinkling of puffed faro and a drizzle of bright herb oil. He’s dry-aging his own ducks, smoking his own briskets, grinding his own burger beef (and buttering fresh buns with brisket drippings instead of butter) and steeping almonds for a heady almond sauce that anchors three seared diver scallops to a plate that includes flash-fried almond skins (for a pucker of tannin) and swirls of brown butter and blood orange.
Although Kearney didn’t invent the notion of refined Southern comfort food, it’s tough to find another restaurant in this town that’s cooking it at this caliber. I’ve loved and admired his cooking since his early days at Charlie Palmer. Keep an eye — and a knife and fork — on this guy; I’d rank him among the top five young chefs in Dallas. He’s going to go far.