On Monday, Serpas True Food said "Hello World” over at Studioplex. As you have figured out by now, I make it a point to check out most new hot spots sooner than later. Last night was just such a night; I performed my civic duty and made my way down to the Old 4th Ward to check out the spot. Since I am well versed on Scott Serpas’ prior engagements, I had no problem giving this place a cold call [that is – I had not read any reviews/previews that discussed food, decor, etc…]. However, I have taken a peak at a few since my meal.
The drive down to Studioplex is always interesting for me. Depending on the route I take … I’m either scared for my safety or I’m intrigued by the character of the neighborhood. I wasn’t 100% sure where in the complex Serpas was located. As I approached Auburn Ave while on Irwin, it smacked me across the face like a crazy girl who thinks a slap will make me look cool in front of other ladies. Sadly, that is a true story! Ah, but I ramble.
So yeah, Serpas sits right on the corner of Irwin and Auburn. The vertical sign relies on Christmas colors to draw your attention in an otherwise dimly lit area. Parking is available on the street and in the private lot.
I really dig the layout of this place. The ceilings are way up in the sky, the restaurant is entirely open, and there is a very relaxed vibe. The main wall of the restaurant is stone [could be faux but I doubt it] and the artwork is very contemporary.
One of my favorite things about the layout is the bar/open kitchen. The actual bar seats approximately 15 people, is staffed with all the usual libations, and has a tele for your viewing pleasure. An antique bottle display shows up just as the bar begins to wrap around towards the kitchen and the main dining area. The bottles themselves luminesce in a deep orange/brown light … a nice touch.
Just as we get to the kitchen, the drinkers’ digs end abruptly. A simple, roughly eight seat counter begins … and there I made my home. There, you have a straightforward view of the kitchen. Cooks rushed around, servers dove in and out with organized chaos, and Scott Serpas stood at the helm and delivered the orders to the cooks.
The crowd was a mixed bag and there was a steady flow of people from my arrival at 8:30 until I departed just past 10. I did not catch anyone just out of college (sans the employees). I would say the crowd started with those of us in our fleeting 20s and moved on through to the late 1960s. All in, I’d say the restaurant seats approximately 150 people, though I did not ask (and most certainly did not count).
I received prompt and courteous service throughout the evening. However, I was really turned off when they asked for my id. I have a far better chance of being told I look 41 than I do of being told I look anywhere close to 21. After checking out a few other notes from people, it appears this is a policy and not something implemented just because the boss man was E.T. close. I also learned that the bartenders can’t drink with the patrons … what the hell man? 🙂
So now is about the time where we get to the menu. Don’t bother checking it out online if you want an idea of how much dinner will cost you – yeah… no prices online … and again … what the hell man? [Apps – $8-11 / entrees $18-22] Serpas spent time under Kevin Rathbun in Dallas and at Nava here in the Dirty. After serving as executive chef at Sia and Mitra, he cooked at Two Urban Licks.
That background is self-evident in the menu at Serpas. I would describe the food as an Asian+Southwestern concoction with remnants of Cajun country, from where Serpas originated. I was pleased by the chosen list of ingredients and the available proteins. I would not be opposed to seeing at least one or two real envelope pushers. The kitchen seems to do a nice job of putting together a handful of dishes that will be unfamiliar to many if not in the ingredients, than in the presentation and preparation. I saw an order of the shaved calamari go out – and it looked appealing.
I was all excited to think that I was not going to order something just because someone else reviewed it. Unfortunately, it looks like I ended sampling some of the more popular choices. In fact, nearly every post I’ve come across finds me perplexed … was someone slipping me subliminal messages while I ordered? I’ll never know!
I decided to order two apps and a main dish so that I had an opportunity to experiment. I started with the crispy duck rolls. Many others enjoyed this … I did not. The amount of duck used in the roll is nominal and was not properly cooked. The cabbage and main components (which accounted for roughly 95% of the roll) tasted like I would expect a $1.50 spring roll at some low brow Chinese place. There was no balance to the sweet flavors and the “chili syrup” was underwhelming.
Next up was an order of the Texas crab toast. A handful of small wedges showed up topped with scallop mouse and crab meat. I enjoyed this, though it was not perfect. Though I had sufficiently cleaned my palate, the chipotle aioli seemed to taste and awful lot like the chili syrup. Still, it was a nice dish with excellent potential. A little refinement would go a long way. There are a number of other items I look forward to checking out. An eggplant hushpuppy sounds very interesting as does the wild mushroom tostada.
While the apps & greens tend to be more forward thinking, the entrées are more straightforward. Each has subtle divergences, the most appealing being the Gulf Shrimp served over navy bean tarragon raviolis and topped with shellfish butter. Sold!
The plate arrived topped with fresh greens, three large gulf shrimp and a duplicate number of large raviolis. This dish was a flat out hit. First, the menu alerts you to the presence of tarragon. Tarragon is one of those flavors that when used properly, adds a distinct flavor to a dish. When misused (about 95% of the time), you are left with an overpowering aftertaste. Well done with that one.
The raviolis are made in house and came out al dente to the max. As my teeth closed in on the navy bean interior, I was delighted with the textures and flavors. Navy beans are mild; this means Serpas recipe is what made the difference. These beans are traditionally dense and smooth… that’s exactly what I took away. The filling danced elegantly with its tougher counterpart (the pasta that is). On top of this plate were three, very plump gulf shrimp. A major hit, these were cooked as well as I hoped. The flavors were phenomenal. Individually, the shrimp and ravioli provided sufficient flavor that I would have been more than satisfied with either one by itself. However, they each came together that I must tell you: order this dish! Again, I’ve only had one tasting… so consistency will be the ultimate test.
The one thing that caught my eye like no other was the double burger. As my barkeep attested – it’s their take on the Big Mac. It looked damn impressive. Priced at $13, this burger looks ready to put FLIP to shame (in portion control and value – I can’t and won’t speak to flavor). The junior version, a single patty, is still large and in charge and comes in at $10! Though I’m about to rip through this over-indulged copycat trend of burgers to the max (post is simmering), I will definitely try this one.
As I wrapped up my meal, I moved over toward the main part of the bar so I could better observe the scene. The classic jazz provided a much appreciated change from the “hipster-cool” music employed by many other restaurants that have recently opened. I also had one observation that served no real purpose: lots of short people! Maybe it was the high ceilings, but it seemed like 90% of the staff fell below 5’2”. I don’t know why I even picked up on that, but I did. Almost all the females looked quite cute in their crisp shirts, jeans, and Chuck Taylor’s (though they may have been another brand). That uniform seemed to blend well with the atmosphere.
As this restaurant sits, the nice digs, friendly staff, and good food means Serpas is well on its way to a solid one-star restaurant rating and a spot in my “change of pace” rotation. That shrimp dish could carry them all by itself!