Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Buttons restaurants thriving in Fort Worth, Addison, and DeSoto
Chef Keith Hicks is full of confidence.
The story is a fairly well known one now – especially to those who are familiar with Keith Hicks – but it’s a story that bears retelling, if for any reason to get a feel for the man’s personality. It begins with his grandmother many decades ago; unbeknownst to her, it was she who decided the name of the restaurant that would eventually bring her grandson to a place of culinary prominence in Dallas. To her, it was merely a nickname for the child she held so dearly, but it clearly made its mark on Hicks.
“When I was a kid out in Huntington, West Virginia, my grandmother gave me the nickname Buttons, since I was just as cute as a button,” he says, before breaking into grin, “But now I just tell everyone I’m fine as hell.”
Hicks does not suffer from a debilitating lack of self-confidence. And for his customers, that’s a very good thing.
After establishing the "Mothership" Buttons in Fort Worth three years ago, Hicks has taken his restaurant to Addison and even DeSoto, bringing with it a sort of southern-influenced fare and live music that seem to draw influences all the way from Motown to Mobile. They call it "food and music for the soul."
“I wanted to bring people back to the old-school soul food, but I wanted to make it a little bit fusion, too. Call it country, call it soul, or whatever you want. It’s a fusion of cool music, cool food, cool people, and just trying to bring that all together. It’s a place where everyone can hang out, whether it’s as a family or they’re here with a few friends,” Hicks says. “I like to call it cool comfort.”
The Buttons in Addison brings a particularly unique vibe to Dallas’s neighbor to the North. Located in the building that formerly housed Sambuca, it is (fittingly) designed around the stage that regularly hosts live music, with a large bar area off to the side. It has the feel of a lounge – or a club, even – excepting when the food makes the statement to the customer that Buttons is a restaurant first. Hicks is passionate about the music and the people, but his calling is that of a chef.
“My mom told me I made my first meal when I was seven years old, that I made pork chops and all the sides before she even got home. Just growing up surrounded by good cooks kind of made that happen. So then, years later when I got out of the military, I said ‘damn, I need a job!’" he says, noting that he spent a decade as a veterinary technician while serving.
“Well, Fort Dix (a US Army base, now a part of a larger installation) was downgrading, and the mess hall was being contracted out to civilian personnel. So I just put on the application cook. I worked from 4 to 12, and had to have about 15 pans of French toast out every day by 6. That was in 1995, and here we are now.”
Where Hicks is now is behind a massive plate of Buttons’ pot roast, talking about different techniques he likes to use, telling anecdotes about why it’s important to never get too absorbed in the creativity at the expense of the food, and ordering some shrimp from the waitress so he can illustrate a point about how they taste with thin slices of Serrano (the peppers, not the ham). The chicken and waffles are deservedly well known, he says, but too many people overlook the Salmon Florentine on the menu. If there were time enough, Hicks would undoubtedly tell at least one story behind each of his menu items, and it’s through that excitement that his passion for Buttons truly shines through – not just for the food, but what the food can lead to.
“One of the coolest things is the people we see come in. We’re like Baskin-Robbins – we bring in all sorts of folks, and it’s great to see them in here; sometimes they’ll start talking from different tables, and then by the end of the night they’re scheduling when they’re all going to come back. And that’s one of the coolest things in the world,” he says.
But Hicks also notes that each of the Buttons has a personality all its own. In fact, he even has names for them. The Addison’s Buttons isn’t "Addison," but rather "The USS Enterprise." The Desoto location? That’s the Bottle Rocket. The Fort Worth location? The Mothership. What the names mean, or where they come from (Mothership seems pretty clear) isn’t important from a customer’s standpoint, but the names mean something to Hicks, and really, that’s what matters.
Because you never know what a nickname can lead to.
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