Of course there is a motorcycle.
With Nick Padovinos’ talent for transforming dining rooms into feasts for the eyes, we’ve been eager to see what National Anthem, his latest project in Dallas’s Eastern District, has in store, the city’s new name for the east side of downtown. Inside, however, the boisterous and cheerful attitude of other Badovinus projects was replaced by something that seemed more mature at first glance. Town Hearth has a dining room with a pair of motorbikes, an MG sports car, and 64 chandeliers. Desert Racer has its own collection of cars and motorcycles while conveying a feel of the outdoor desert of the Southwest.
At National Anthem, plants and greenery abound in the windows and shelves, contributing to an upscale yet casual atmosphere. But keep searching, and your fun touches will start to register. Of course, it’s hard to miss the neon signs above the pub announcing cold beer and liquor, which patrons of the kitchen outside the now-closed site will quickly recognize. Vintage car ads are framed and displayed in a nod to the building’s history. And there, a 1970s dirt bike from Honda perched on a partial wall separating the bar from the dining room, surrounded by plants and nested busts of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.
National Anthem occupies the trapezoidal Magnolia Oil Building, where Commerce Street, Jackson Street, and Cesar Chavez Avenue meet. A hundred years ago, this part of downtown was the center of the automobile in Dallas. The arches of the building were engulfed by cars entering a full-service gas station. The service station was on the ground floor, with the Magnolia Oil offices on the second floor (Akard’s famous Magnolia Building wouldn’t open for two more people, and the iconic Pegasus neon wouldn’t take its place on the roof until 1934). In the years since, the building was the old home of KLIF radio, and for a while, the offices of Dallas Observer.
Today, more than a century later, those graceful arches are set in glass to surround the dining room for the national anthem. Bright light abounds during the day and early evening. Inside, white oak floors and whitewashed walls combine with massive arched windows to make the space feel open and airy, even at the narrow end of the space featuring a wedge-shaped strip for the national anthem. It is a space that lights up your spirits, and you can’t help but feel that a pleasant visit awaits you. Fun is the name of the game at National Anthem, and since the space gets you in the mood for fun, the roster plays along with influences from other Badovinus establishments.
Fresh seafood often appears on the menu; Born in Washington state, his restaurant Montlake Cut in Park Cities pays homage to his Seattle upbringing, which is easy to see here, too. For openers, there’s a daily ceviche or crudo, described lightly on the menu as “wyd? Just to keep it cold and tasty.” On one of our visits, the daily was an Alaskan salmon belly, and another for oysters from Prince Edward Island. You can also find half-peeled oysters or refrigerated shrimp under the Rawish Bar section of the menu, but if you like cooked seafood entrees, the Harbor Bar Mussels Diablo ($19) will be right up your alley.
The order comes in a full bowl (we counted 19 steamed shells in our box) and a meal can easily be prepared on its own. The mussels are served in a buttery white wine broth with just enough red pepper to give a hint of heat, and a fist-sized wedge of buttered bread you’ll use to soak up the extra broth. If you run out of light, buttery bread, you can order a serving of bread ($5) with two large pieces of bread, along with lightly salted, whipped butter. The bread is great on its own, even if you don’t order mussels.
On another visit, we started our meal by ordering Meaty Smalls ($13), ground chuck meatballs served in voodoo sauce from another restaurant in Badovinus, Neighborhood Services. Goodness goes from NS standby here, and ordering six beef jerky balls is perfect for sharing. Bread service pairs well here too, if you have any leftover voodoo sauce in need of a good preparation.
Entrées continues the mixtape of Badovinus’ greatest hits. There are three steak frites that will make you feel right at home in Town Hearth, except for the National Anthem which brings them to a more affordable realm. The most expensive here, the Delmonico 14-ounce rib for $54, is the lowest admission price for something similar in Town Hearth.
The rest of the main dishes are informal. Of course, the guy who brought us an off-site kitchen includes a burger on the national anthem menu. As much as we miss the Off-Site, which closed in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, we’ve been craving to try Reuben Riff ($21), stacked with thick slices of pastrami, sauerkraut and a Russian salad, along with white cheddar cheese and Creole mustard between Two plates of toasted sourdough. It’s a delicious and delicious messy interpretation and the only thing that can make the sandwich even better is to include an extra napkin. Thin french fries overflow from a bowl next to the sandwich and are fried in truffle oil and topped with shredded Parmesan cheese; Nothing unprecedented, but addicting nonetheless.
On the same visit, our companion ordered a vodka rigatoni ($27). The thick ribbed pasta was an attractive appetizer, our only real complaint was that the vodka tomato sauce erred on the side of caution rather than flavour, although we were glad to see another piece of delicious butter bread that came on top of a plate. It is not included in the menu, but it is possible to add protein to your pasta; The waiter suggested we add chicken or shrimp and we went with the bird. It was a totally unnecessary decision; A tender marinated breast was sliced up and placed on top of our plate almost as an afterthought. For the extra $10, we expected chicken that wasn’t quite chewy, and it’s probably fitting that chicken breasts appear elsewhere on the NA menu.
We did much better with the other proteins. The country pork chop ($34) is a visually stunning cut, sliced and served with tangy honey mustard slaw and sweet corn succotash salad that would make your maimaw proud.
Both nights we visited, a duo of fresh fish dishes had specials (the menu promises “air earlier/cooked now/proper sauce”). We chose the almond halibut ($36) on one visit, with fillets of halibut sourced from Newfoundland. The fried fish was delicately fried until golden and covered in just the right amount of almond butter sauce. Bonavidus’ skill with seafood across the Montlake Cut is a boon to the ocean-based fare on the National Anthem menu.
Three choices round out the dessert menu. Your 8-year-old might be tempted to order the Chocolate Chip Sea Salt Cake with a cup of Yoo-hoo, and there’s an upside-down pineapple cake for more flavorful plates. We opted for Butterscotch Creme Brulee ($15); It was described on the menu as enough to share (also, not available to go), so we took our moment. The crème brûlée was garnished with a perfect crunchy coating of caramelized sugar, and the cinnamon whipped cream combined with the raspberries made it the perfect end to our meal.
It seems impossible to leave the national anthem in a bad mood. The cheerful decor brightens your look as soon as you step in, and while the playlist of rock and alternative songs was noticeable, the music wasn’t loud enough to interrupt our conversations during our meals. The chambray and denim servers (all wearing the same green and white Stan Smith shoes) provided friendly, attentive service and were helpful with suggestions across the extensive menu.
Under a more critical eye, one might mistake the National Anthem as a restaurant without a single focus, as if Tom Hank’s character the man and child of big He opened a loft-style restaurant from the movie, with chocolate chip cookies and motorbikes instead of trampolines and pinball machines. But to take the national anthem seriously is to miss the point. The food is very good, and the latest Padovinos project is a hodgepodge of greatest hits from all of its restaurants. But the national anthem offers them a playful smile for those of us who are into the joke. Yes, the menu offers both steak and yo-hoo. so what? The national anthem is a reminder of the joy we are supposed to feel when we eat our favorite dishes, and it’s a reminder we can all use now and then.
National Anthem, 2130 Commerce Street 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. – 11 p.m., Friday; 4 – 11 pm on Saturday, 4 – 9 pm on Sunday.