Savoring Sugarbacon

80 years ago, there would have been more than just a few raised eyebrows if you had suggested meeting at the northeast corner of Virginia Parkway and Church Street in McKinney for dinner. Indeed, the local mechanic would have removed his oil-stained cap, scratched his head and said, “You are not from around these parts, are you?”

Today, the refurbished gas pumps on that northeast corner still gleam in the setting sun, as modern drivers eagerly search for a coveted parking spot around McKinney’s historic square. Dusk provides a warm glow on the now hip corner, as hungry patrons enter a property-flip masterpiece to fill tanks of another sort.

If not for the vintage gas pumps out front, you would never guess this new dining destination had once been a gas station. Sleek lines and an eclectic mix of exposed brick, polished concrete floors, distressed oak, steel and copper create a comforting, edgy appeal for those seeking a casual and trendy place for an amazing dinner.

Sugarbacon Proper Kitchen opened in late June of 2015, and by the end of that same year, the restaurant received a place on the Top Ten New Restaurants in DFW list by The Dallas Morning News. The owner, Johnny Carros, has more than 30 years of experience in fine dining, leaving a trail of success at well-known establishments such as Chamberlain’s Steak and Chop House, Sullivan’s, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, Nordstrom’s Bistro N and, most recently, Kent Rathburn’s Jasper’s restaurant. “This project is the culmination of many years of experience,” Mr. Carros explains. “Our passion is creating a memorable dining experience for every guest with superior service and food. The key to success is having the drive to stand for excellence every day.”

From the moment you enter Sugarbacon Proper Kitchen and are greeted with genuine smiles and hospitality, the high-octane attention to detail is evident. You are in for a treat. Your eyes can hardly take it all in before you are seated in a comfortable booth with a rustic wood table beneath rough-hewn lights. You will marvel at the surroundings. Every wall and surface has a different texture, yet, it all blends effortlessly to create an environment that is comfortable, casual and refined. From the polished zinc panels and reclaimed oak to the copper and shimmering subway tiles, the design is authentic, modern and timeless.

The interior is unexpected — as is the food. Just as your eye delights in every turn, so does your palate. Exposed brick and steel may give a nod and wink to the location’s roots, but a glance at the menu reminds you that you are in a place on the cutting edge of cuisine. The philosophy behind the menu is that simple ingredients can be elevated by an experienced chef. Fresh ingredients used at Sugarbacon are chosen for their quality and are never frozen.

While reveling in the cocktails and appetizers, you will realize that even the music is eclectic. From classic 1980s and 1990s tunes to current hits, your ears take in a kaleidoscope of tunes. The energy in the room is relaxed, yet upbeat. Date night couples, business colleagues and families all effortlessly blend into the scene.

Appetizers with surprising ingredients create intrigue and temptation that are hard to resist. Who knew homemade tator tots ($9) with a bit of barbecue pork and pimiento cheese could create salty sweet morsels with such zing? And the signature appetizer and namesake, Sugarbacon ($10), combines house-smoked Berkshire pork belly, ancho barbecue, spicy bread and butter pickles into mouth-watering goodness.

Cocktails are designed by Sean Conner, who is formerly from Whiskey Cake and now the owner of Pie 3.14 Everyday Eatery in Castle Hills. Some of the most popular cocktails ($10) ordered at Sugarbacon are the Bee Sting, Country Grammar and Maple Whiskey Smash. The Bee Sting is a concoction of tequila, Cointreau, grapefruit juice, lime and agave, and boasts the mild sting of a muddled jalapeno. The Country Grammar reminds you of being on a big, white porch swing on a summer night, sipping a grown-up version of sparkling peach lemonade with house-infused peach tea vodka, lemon, honey, soda and mint. The Maple Whiskey Smash just might have been the winner for the night. Four simple ingredients including bourbon, lemon, maple and mint, combine to start each sip with a spark of sour, which quickly transitions to a soothing sweet taste and ends with a hint of refreshing mint. These drinks are only the beginning, though. Make a mental note to inquire about the selection of beers on tap and the restaurant’s very own aged bourbon.

Also, be sure to ask about the daily menu specials. Once we consumed our appetizer, the entrées arrived on cue, and we admired its presentation — simple but enticing. On this particular night, we reveled in the description of the daily catch seafood special ($26), featuring etouffee sauce with garlic, onions, bell peppers and lobster poured over a bed of white, long-grain rice, with five large pieces of blackened and seasoned shrimp artfully arranged on top. As if that was not enough, little bits of crispy, melt-in-your-mouth bacon are sprinkled on the dish as garnish.

While describing multiple menu items in an effort to help you decide on just one entrée, it is important to mention the pan-roasted chicken ($17) with braised green beans and bacon, roasted garlic mashed potatoes and herb jus. Just for good measure, you may want to add on a side of jalapeno-bacon mac and cheese ($9), because it sounds too good to pass up. The first bite of the braised green beans may startle you. These are not like any other green beans you have tasted before. The chicken, patiently awaiting its debut bite, finally gets its time on stage. Mouthwatering morsels of chicken, filled with flavor, entertain the palate, while fluffy clouds of garlic mashed potatoes add to the delicious scene. Indeed, the cool vibe and tunes become oddly muffled and faded as the spotlight shines on the plate before you. Oh, and the jalapeno-bacon mac and cheese? Like a sweet cheddar sunset with a Texas kick.

I quickly wondered how on Earth I could possibly manage another bite, but after a description of the desserts, I could not resist (or choose just one item)! We ordered the fresh apple crisp ($7) and the butterscotch banana pudding ($7), to share, of course.

With the first bite of the apple crisp, you will notice how the tart of the apple, the sweet of the vanilla bean ice cream and the delightful crunch of the oatmeal-almond topping all play very nicely together. It conjures memories of coming home after a long, summer day outside.  You will just melt into it. The butterscotch banana pudding, however, is not your momma’s banana pudding. Artfully displayed in a simple mason jar, the layers of sweetness play with your mind. Butterscotch pudding, bananas foster, whipped mascarpone and shortbread seem too pretty to mess up, but do not hold back. The best bite involves digging in to make sure every layer is represented on that spoon!  

The whole meal was wildly entertaining. Every bite was an amusement ride for the taste buds. After indulging in an amazing meal, your tummy may end up begging for a room addition! At this restaurant, guests can wear shorts and shirts as an everyday destination, or you can dress up to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or other special occasion. It is upscale casual with fresh, flavorful, uncomplicated food. This whole community is a pedestrian paradise. The gas pumps are decorative and look really cool. This scratch kitchen makes everything by hand and in-house. They are very serious about producing quality food and beverages while offering incredible hospitality. All of these seemingly small details make for a delightful experience.

Sugarbacon Proper Kitchen is located at 216 West Virginia Street, Suite 101, in McKinney. The hours of operation are Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Happy hour is from 3-7 p.m., Monday through Friday. Guests can even enjoy live music on Thursdays from 6-9 p.m. A special jazz brunch is served on Sundays from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Sugarbacon’s second location will open in the Lakewood area in the fall of 2016 at 6400 Gaston Avenue in Dallas. Now, it is your turn to enjoy everything that makes Sugarbacon so unique!

Amy Richmond is a writer who relishes faith, family, intriguing conversations and inspiring words. She wishes time could be saved in a bottle because one lifetime is not enough.