My guest and I arrived at Chef Blythe’s Southern Bistro on a Thursday evening just as dinner service was beginning to wind down. The suburban space in North Richland Hills is bright and clean with high ceilings and concrete floors. There is a sense that more than a few corners were cut from the finish-out budget to get the place up and running, but along with the cheap-looking tables and chairs was an air of excitement and community. The families and young couples in the dining room were lively, and the staff weaved its way through the crowd with good humor.
Chef Blythe’s Southern Bistro
9160 N Tarrant Pkwy, NRH. 817-770-4905.10am-8pm Sun. 11am-9pm Mon-Thu. 11am-10pm Fri-Sat. All Major credit cards accepted. $
We were greeted and seated promptly, and our server was more than happy to make recommendations from the extensive menu of Southern classics.
The house salad was a perfectly symmetrical bowl of chilled lettuce flanked by wedges of unripe tomatoes and waxy cucumber slices, topped with rubbery bacon bits and those little herbed croutons that come in a box from Sysco. It appeared pre-made, wrapped in plastic, and left in the icebox. It’s a mystery why anyone would still treat vegetables this way (please stop refrigerating tomatoes!), but it was the first sign of a pervasive culinary conservatism at Chef Blythe’s Southern Bistro –– an atavism so complete, it had to be the product of some evolutionary misfire.
This is not to say that the food here is bad — not at all. But it is an odd stylistic choice for a new restaurant, rejecting out of hand any hallmarks of the current gastronomic zeitgeist with its penchant for big flavors and bold contrasts. There is nothing on the menu that will surprise, offend, or challenge. Neither is there much flirting with the revamped Southern vernacular, the naughty-Paula-Dean-sneaking-an-extra-stick-of-butter-into-the-mashed-potatoes kind of cooking that has come to center stage in recent years. The Southern Bistro is more of a time capsule, a manner of food and preparation that has yet to meet a portabello mushroom or sundried tomato, the kind of menu that would have, to the best of my recollection, been perfectly commonplace in this part of the world 30 years ago.
The sweet tea grilled chicken breast had a pleasant, herbal flavor that was surprisingly innovative and subtle. The chicken itself was a bit flat and only “grilled” in the same way you might grill a cheese sandwich — on a flat-top griddle rather than an open flame. In fact, a sandwich would have been an excellent place for this boneless, skinless, two-dimensional piece of yard bird. As an entrée, it lacked presence and presentation.
Our server had recommended the fried squash as one of our two sides, and it was quite tasty. The round chips were battered with a cornmeal dredge as would typically be found on okra. They were fried a nutty golden brown and served with a tangy jalapeño ranch. Also quite good were the Brussels sprouts, though they were more steamed than roasted, with none of the crispy brown edges or maple infusions currently in vogue. Just a bit of bacon was all the flavoring these sprouts needed.
The blackened shrimp with grits was a fairly standard take on a classic dish, but the plump shrimp were seasoned well and cooked perfectly. The pimiento cheese in the grits was, perhaps, the only item on the menu that might be considered trendy — it’s showing up everywhere lately — but as a combination it worked nicely with the seafood. Undercutting the success of the dish was a lackluster presentation and a ridiculous portion problem: Presenting diners with a quart of cheese grits in a serving bowl is less generous than confrontational.
We made a point of saving room for the desserts, all of which are made from scratch in-house. The bread pudding was big enough to share with a friend or two — dense and eggy with a charred sugar crust, this is one of the few desserts I’ve ever had that was just flat-out too rich to finish. The fresh cherries in the fried hand pie (served a la mode) provided welcome relief from the bread pudding’s buttery onslaught. The desserts took a while to arrive but were worth the wait.
It’s surprising to find a new restaurant embrace what is essentially an old-fashioned, outmoded outlook with such vim — “passionately un-provocative,” my guest called it — but we had to admit that we left full and happy.
[box_info]Chef Blythe’s Southern Bistro
House salad $4.49
Sweet tea grilled chicken $11.99
Blackened shrimp & grits $12.49
Bread pudding $5.99
Cherry pie $3.50[/box_info]