Jack MacDonald has to excuse himself from the interview – a bartender at his restaurant has just come up and whispered something. He gets up in a hurry, makes his way to the back of the restaurant, and doesn’t come back for ten minutes.
“Sorry about that,” he says. “Someone ordered a hamburger, and I do most of the cooking here.”
Such is the story at Jack Mac’s Swill and Grill, where Jack and his wife Amy have found a restaurant home of their own, a welcoming spot off Preston Road in Far North Dallas that focuses on scratch food, local products, and providing a comfortable, laid-back atmosphere. For Jack, whose 25-year restaurant career has seen involvement with Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Iron Cactus, and most recently the Press Box in Downtown, it’s an opportunity to create exactly the sort of restaurant that he and Amy envision.
“We wanted to create a place we would feel comfortable just hanging out in,” Amy says. “And that’s how we want everybody to feel – when people walk in here, we want them to feel like they’re at home.”
“We knew we wanted to have a focus on food and a great beer selection, but also create a place where families with kids could come and have a great time,” MacDonald says. “I would describe us as an American pub with upscale food.”
The decor and atmosphere certainly fall in line with MacDonald’s description; the bar, centrally located between the dining room and a back, private-party room, is a visually focal point of the restaurant. The line of taps on the bar reads like a directory of Texas breweries – there’s Deep Ellum Brewing Company, Rahr, 512, and, of course, Shiner, but to take a look at the other drinks will reveal more than just an affinity for local beverages of the hoppy variety. There’s Firestone & Robinson whiskey out of Ft. Worth, Tito’s vodka from Austin, and a bevy of house-made infusions waiting to be tasted. Even the wine is from Texas.
“All of our beers are American craft beers, and all our drafts are Texan, where we try to keep it at least 75 percent Dallas breweries,” Jack observes. “And then our infusions, which we’ll do with bourbon, gin, vodka, tequila – anything – are all made with Texas liquors. We try to do everything we can within reason from scratch, and that extends to a lot of the drinks.”
The scratch cooking, as Jack describes it, is more than just lip service – they grind their own burger meat from brisket and short rib, their own pickles and pickled jalapenos, they make their own chorizo, and Jack and Amy even have their own spice line. To call their food scratch is more than a description; it’s a philosophy that Jack believes leads to not only better food, but contributes an overall revelatory experience. And while the burgers and pizzas are big draws, it’s culinary diversity that seems to be the calling card thus far.
“What we hear from a lot of our guests is that it’s unexpected – that they don’t expect to see a lot of the items we have on our menu. They’ll come in and be surprised not only by what’s on the menu, but the quality of it,” Amy observes.
“Take the ribeye,” Jack adds. “We cut our own ribeyes, so you can get our eight ounce, but I’ve had guys come in and order a 30-ounce. We rub that with our espresso blend and it turns it into something you absolutely would never expect. Same with our bone-in pork chop. That’s not bar food, that’s something entirely different.”
Different is a word the MacDonalds embrace, too, having made some significant changes to Jack Mac’s over their six-month tenure.
“We’re changing a little as we go, for instance, we’re 100 percent craft and we weren’t when we opened – we’ve changed the menu once already, and we’ve shifted to grinding all our meats in house,” Jack says. “We have a lot of foodies that come in, and sometimes they’ll make a great suggestion and I’ll run with it. That’s something that a lot of places can’t do.”
“We knew what we wanted it to be going in, but we expected it to change,” Amy adds. “We can evolve at the pace we think is appropriate, and at the pace our customers deserve.”
And what’s just as nice, is that for the first time, it’s at their own pace, too.