Review: New eatery off to a hot start in Cibolo
Note: This is a Just a Taste review, which the Express-News does soon after a restaurant or bar opens to give our first impressions.
Back in December, chefs Gwyn and Justin Hammerson celebrated the opening night of their Kindling Texas Kitchen in Cibolo. That same night, a fire in the kitchen wall brought that opening to an abrupt close.
Now five months and a complete kitchen overhaul later, Kindling Texas Kitchen has reopened. And it’s on fire again, but this time with passionate food that pays tribute to the ranch, coastal and cultural influences of Texas.
Folded into a Craftsman-style home, Kindling preserves the building’s charm with reclaimed wood, a menagerie of ladderback chairs and whitewashed church pews, a foyer with elegantly stained columns and the original front door, much of the work done by the Hammersons themselves.
On the menu: Small plates played with some familiar formulas, adding twists that showed a creative kitchen at work. Tender bites of Angus beef tenderloin tartare ($14) drew character from a sun-dried tomato ketchup softened with beef tallow, and Mexican-style street corn ($6) absorbed the spark of the wood-fired grill and glowed with the twang of fermented chiles.
The most unlikely opener took a tin of smoked oysters, the kind you buy at the grocery store, and dressed them up with Parmesan stuffing, fresh horseradish, a pile of toasted crostini and a bottle of wicked green Kindling Firestarter hot sauce. The result was a sharp bite of smoke, fire and crunch that went equally well with the bar’s playful vodka cherry limeade ($9) and its boozy old fashioned ($10) with TX Whiskey.
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The bar, along with a nicely curated list of Texas wine and craft beers, found its sense of humor with a cocktail called Fire in the Wall ($11), drowning December’s sorrow with style in a smoky potion of mezcal, pineapple, lime and activated charcoal.
Dinner got serious with a long-handled Duroc pork chop ($22) seared all over and on a custardy bed of cornmeal called pannas. It was finished with something called melted cabbage that included blackberry wine, butter, cranberries and blackberry jam, all caramelized a deep, sweet and tangy candy-apple red.
Blackened redfish ($20) gave renewed vigor to that overused technique, with an ebony armor of spice that preserved the pearled fish underneath. Served on a bed of rice, it was surrounded by shrimp gumbo with peppers in a well balanced roux.
And for a lighter touch, Kindling executed a chile relleno ($14) packed with charred corn, red pepper salsa, mushroom rice and cheese with a curled crown of pickled onions. A trio of wood-grilled, head-on shrimp was a perfect $5 add-on.
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Kindling pays attention to a detail so many restaurants fall asleep on: dessert. Justin Hammerson’s grandmother, Charlaine “Charlie” Brown, bakes a tight list of cakes and pies in steady rotation, but an early favorite has to be a creamy three-layer Italian cream cake ($5) with pecans and velvety frosting.
The Hammersons trained at some of the best restaurants in Austin — Barley Swine, Lenoir, Asti Trattoria — and Kindling gets its style from that city and San Antonio in equal measure for an experience that feels at home in Cibolo but is also impressive by any standard.
Mike Sutter is a food and drink reporter and restaurant critic in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | email@example.com | Twitter: @fedmanwalking