Monday, August 12, 2013
Restaurant review: HG Sply Co. combines small town hospitality and farm fresh ingredients
The Paleo-inspired restaurant isn't about the "caveman" thing so much as sensible, delicious meals for the whole family.
LOWER GREENVILLE It’s an idyllic scene that would hurdle the line from stereotype into bad cliche if it weren’t reality: the family, on the farm, kids running around and throwing the football as the sun sets over the field. Great-grandma watching contentedly over her ever-growing brood. The farm can wait until tomorrow; today, Sunday, is about family and food. Far from any overused cliche in Elias Pope’s life, those Sunday afternoons were his first introduction to what true hospitality can mean. It left an indelible impression.
“We’d sit down and eat a great meal and enjoy life,” Pope recalls. “That’s really where the whole hospitality thing for me started. I’ve never had more fun than those Sundays with all my cousins.”
It’s the food-centered hospitality and years of eating food produced either on or very near his family’s land in Greenville that gave Pope his appreciation for the impact a simple meal can make in someone’s life, and it was early on in his childhood that he decided that one day, he would have a restaurant. Decades later, HG Sply Co. opened its doors on Greenville Avenue, ready to serve high-quality, minimally processed food that comes from ranches and farms around the area – some within a stone’s throw from where Pope grew up.
Initially conceived as a sports bar for athletes, HG (Hunter Gatherer) Sply offers a menu that stemmed from an idea of offering a Paleo-centric menu. What it turned into was a family-friendly atmosphere that provides menu options from across the board and across the city. The influence from the original idea is evident, as TVs behind the bar stay tuned to the most relevant games and events of the evening and the menu sports a variety of grilled meats and minimally processed foods. However, breaking from the idea of being only Paleo, HG Sply is really more about just eating sensibly, and Pope believes that because some tenets of the diet make sense doesn’t mean that their entire menu has to follow the Paleo doctrine.
“After I heard about the diet, I thought the basic premise of the Paleo diet was exceptional – non-processed, farm-fresh food done right,” he says. “It’s not about the caveman thing to me, it’s about the right way to eat.”
And along those lines, HG unapologetically serves breads and cheeses with several menu items, and sandwiches and burgers dot the menu. Of course, steaks also take a starring role, with grilled seafood and even venison flank steaks as an option. Brick chicken with romesco sauce, crispy arctic char with caramelized onions and fennel, and bone-in ribeyes with salsa verde are HG Sply’s testament that a healthy diet certainly doesn’t have to be a boring one. The ingredients are sourced from around the city – Local Yocal being one of the several purveyors they found – and are prepared with care, but not too much fuss. It’s a culture that Pope has wanted to create since he first decided he wanted to start a restaurant.
But that dream took some time, and with it some experiences that helped to hone exactly how he wanted – and in some cases exactly how he didn’t want – to go about making it happen.
“It was in college that I decided that I wanted to make this restaurant dream a reality. I looked for the first restaurant that I could learn from, so I asked one of my professors, ‘Where would you go if you wanted to learn about opening a restaurant?” He mentioned Red Lobster,” he recalls. “So I go to Red Lobster, get hired, go to training, and I go to work that first day. It was the most God-awful experience of my life. It almost took me away from what I wanted to do. I remember walking into the kitchen and seeing plates with steamed bags in different spots and they would cut the bags open and that’s what the food was on this plate. And it was the most unprofessional thing I’ve ever done, but I just didn’t go back. I couldn’t do it.”
But instead of giving up, Pope sought one more restaurant whose culture was more in line with what he was hoping to develop. He went back to his professors and inquired again. One mentioned a steakhouse called Saltgrass.
“I went there, and it was a totally different experience. They took me through the kitchen and showed me all these raw products that they were turning into exceptional, flavorful food. Their mission was to serve these great steaks at a great price so that everybody could enjoy it. They were just really passionate about what they did,” he says. “But at the same time, I’ve also learned what corporate restaurants are about, what chains have done. I saw how much was put into our food – processed this and that.”
So with HG, it was Pope’s intention to take that passion and turn it into a neighborhood sports bar that entire families could enjoy. The food and atmosphere are casual, warm and welcoming, and Pope’s passion for service permeates the entire restaurant. The bar’s cocktail menu offers specialty cocktails and friendly service, while the dining area invites conversation with neighbors and friends alike. And while you could call it farm to table, that’s certainly not Pope’s preference.
“I wanted to make a good price point that’s fair and get all these farmers that we know – these great, passionate farmers who are great at their crafts – involved. But we didn’t want to put it all over the menu, didn’t want to say farm-to-table, we just want people to come and enjoy it and really like it,” he says. “Then if they want, we can tell them the stories, tell them about these great farms and people.”
After all, the way Pope grew up, they didn’t call their Sunday meals farm to table.
They just called it dinner.
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