Between comfort and culinary flash, Carson Kitchen hits the sweet spot

Is this the best turkey burger you’ll ever taste?
Photo: Spencer Burton

Kerry Simon stepped in for Robin Leach a couple years ago, filling the column space usually devoted to celebrity buzz with sincere shout-outs to the cogs of local dining, from food trucks to “small places and unknown chefs doin’ their thing … Las Vegas is a real goldmine if you’re willing to dig.”

Carson Kitchen's bacon jam is a fast favorite.

Carson Kitchen's bacon jam is a fast favorite.

Despite the star chef’s battle with debilitating MSA (multiple system atrophy), his presence is keenly felt at Carson Kitchen, the latest addition to Downtown’s hot-and-getting-hotter food scene. The first thing that draws your eye in the cool, cozy space inside the born-again John E. Carson building is a white wall bearing the dark purple charge: “Keep calm and Kerry on.” The kitchen and the ceiling beams are exposed, and tables are armed with fancy pink salt you’ll never need for this approachable, beautiful food. Executive chef Matt Andrews told the Weekly back in July: “You want to feel like you’re having dinner at Kerry’s house.”

The menu is accordingly compact, and while it leans heavy, these deep flavors are worth a little tummy rubbing. Exhibit A is the bacon jam ($12), a formidable mix of smoky pork and smothered onions and peppers with a sweet kick, served with grilled baguette. The vein of Brie in the sea of bacon is overkill and impossible to pick out against so much richness. Yet the flaky, juicy Wellington empanada ($10) begs for stupid-rich duxelles reduced into a velvety gravy.

Carson Kitchen's short rib sliders.

Carson Kitchen's short rib sliders.

Other fun starters include green beans wearing super-crisp tempura like delicate lace ($6) and the surprising “Devil’s” Eggs ($8). The yolk is mostly unadorned—not salty or overwhelmed with mayo—which may throw you, but give the egg’s natural umami a chance to melt into bursts of caviar, fresh herbs and pancetta.

The fried green tomato sandwich ($12) is tasty, the tomato the acidic star between crab ravigote and airy bread, and who can resist sliders of short rib ($14) glazed in root beer? Stunningly, the best bite between bread is the Jerk Turkey Burger ($14), with the mysteriously succulent (it’s turkey!) meat’s bouquet of allspice and garlic contrasting a slaw made bright with mango chutney. All sandwiches come with spicy tots, lest you forget this is lowbrow comfort food.

Kerry and company do great pizza, too, like this sausage and ricotta flatbread.

Kerry and company do great pizza, too, like this sausage and ricotta flatbread.

The menu has grown-up takes on steak, chicken and swordfish, but the playful atmosphere favors shareable dishes like Sprouts & Spuds Hash ($10), the poster child for Mom’s eat-your-vegetables edict with its tender, caramelized jewels. Your friendly bartender might spill the “secret” of the addictive mac and cheese ($12), but you’ll keep wondering how a humble flatbread of sausage, fennel, broccoli and rustic globs of house-made ricotta ($12) steals the show from that bacon jam.

Show stealing is kind of a thing at Carson Kitchen. The flashy side is outdone by the simple goodness, like Simon, the “rock ’n’ roll chef” who wants all of his restaurants to make guests feel like they could eat there every day. Crispy chicken skins with smoked honey might not sound like a daily habit, but the dish is solid gold. And you don’t even have to dig.

Carson Kitchen 124 S. Sixth St., 702-473-9523. Daily, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Tags: Dining
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