Restaurant Review: Dish Dive
Co-owners Jeff Myers and chef Travis Carroll create a home away from home at their intimate Kirkwood restaurant
It's 6:30 p.m. on a Wednesday and all the bright blue tables inside the 16-seat Kirkwood restaurant Dish Dive are taken. A line of people holding bottles of wine and mixed six-packs of beer snakes out onto the patio where people dine al fresco in the summer heat. Electronic dance music plays. The bass vibrates the floor and the wood walls the restaurant shares with next-door hair salon Molasses. The interior of this small house on College Avenue across from the train tracks is alive. The people keep coming.
Dish Dive is co-owned by Jeff Myers and chef Travis Carroll, both formerly of Sound Table and Top Flr. Myers is a fun front-of-the-house man to watch. He doesn't walk. He struts. With his salt-and-pepper hair pulled back into a ponytail he weaves in and out of the kitchen. Myers, who also DJs, is in charge of the tunes, which play louder here than other restaurants. Dish Dive feels like less of a job and more of a lifestyle for Carroll and Myers. Their independent spirit and "I do what I want" attitude are what I love about this place.
Carroll's kitchen is so small it only has three tiny refrigerators. No walk-in. Even in such extreme proximity, the cooks seem to work in harmony. Everyone at Dish Dive is a food runner, a cook, and a server. Despite the space constraints and the staff's all-hands-on-deck attitude, the pace of a meal here feels unhurried. The food is exactly what I picture a chef would want to eat after his shift: a little indulgent, but still refined. The menu is only 10 items long on most days and includes a mix of appetizers and entrées, although there's no such delineation on paper. Ordering dishes with the intent to share is the best way to sample Dish Dive's offerings. At first, Carroll changed the menu often. Now a core of diners' most-requested items is available on a nightly basis. The six-month-old restaurant is still building relationships with farmers. For now, Your DeKalb Farmers Market, which is just down the road, is where Carroll does the bulk of the restaurant's daily shopping.
At lunch, a crusty YDFM semolina Kaiser roll served as the foundation for a pork, provolone, and broccoli rabe sandwich — the best thing I've eaten here during my daytime visits. The bread is colored a rich yellow from egg yolks, the pork cooked down and shredded so that its texture merges seamlessly with pungent cheese and intensely bitter rabe. The gooey mixture achieves that perfect ratio of bread to stuff so that everything stays in its place when you take a bite. The oyster po' boy, which is served at lunch and dinner, is not as easy to eat. The delicate brioche bun is a poor choice for the crunchy cornmeal-crusted fried oysters, sloppy cabbage slaw, and spicy rémoulade sauce. The oysters are propelled from their breading as soon as you bite down.
A mix of peaches, watermelon, and great white northern beans lightly dressed with lemon juice, ginger, and a pinch of coriander is pure summer in a bowl. Another appetizer, a plate of whole fried chicken wings, changes depending on what's in season. One night, Carroll used some of this summer's gorgeous peaches to add a little sweetness and tang to the spicy wing sauce. I suggest ordering them extra crispy (as I do everywhere). The Dive Fries are irresistible. One of the two versions on the menu is draped in mushroom gravy, pickled onions, okra, and cheddar cheese. It's everything I want in a guilty pleasure. The other version is covered in spicy pork gravy with flavors that remind me of those found in a taco seasoning packet, but so much better. The refined gut bomb is brightened by chunks of avocado, queso fresco, and more pickled onions.
Carroll says he came up with his riff on the Middle-Eastern classic shakshuka while camping with friends. Shakshuka is practically a one-pot meal where you can dump in peppers, tomatoes, and other veggies to create a base for eggs. It's a bold dish that should be more spicy than sweet. Dish Dive's version was underseasoned. A sweet potato purée at the base of the dish overpowered the tomatoes' acidity. The fried egg on top was cooked through so there was no velvety yolk to break. The pork belly with French toast hit all the sweet and savory notes you expect from a breakfast-for-dinner dish, but had a few minor execution errors. The big wedges of deep brown French toast were laid on their sides with a large hunk of tasty but limp pork belly placed in between. I would have liked to see more of a crust on the pork belly. The grits beneath the pork, studded with wild mushrooms and leeks, was a pleasant, earthy foundation. A swipe through the floral maple-sorghum jus drizzled on the plate gave the dish its balanced sweetness.
There is no beverage program here and they don't plan on changing that. You bring your own booze and drink it out of short, thick glasses. The only dessert option is a slice of spectacularly creamy cheesecake made by Myers' mom served with chunks of fresh Pearson Farm peaches. The most expensive dish is currently $16. Most others hover around $8-$11, making Dish Dive a super-affordable, solid lunch or dinner option.
Recently, chefs David Sweeney and Shane Devereux took over Dish Dive's kitchen for a week while Carroll was on vacation. While both of those chefs are well established, Carroll says he'd like to see more chefs come in and cook so that his restaurant can be a launching pad for new talent. His open-door approach is a perfect fit with how he and Myers run their business. "It really is an extension of ourselves," Carroll says. "It's like our second home. We both love restaurants, we love what they can offer, but we spend so much time there we created this one really to have that homey feel." And it does. It's just what the neighborhood ordered: A casual spot with a plucky spirit that serves good food at a nice price. This is the house that Carroll and Myers have built and they want you to stop in some time for a plate of food.