Find us on Google+ cooking lounge * FOOD * LIFESTYLE * MUSIC *: January 2012

Friday, January 13, 2012

Dallas - Fire Pits, Cocktails and Beef

Photo: Flickr - HeidiLore
 In December, Cooking Lounge checked-out a freezing cold Dallas. Dallas was a week of surprises. 
Jumped right in with Lee Harvey's. Found great reviews on Yelp. Picnic tables and a large fire pit greet you in the huge front yard beer garden. Was hungry for some charred Texas beef and wanted to check-out an authentic locals' spot. Phoned Lee Harvey's before leaving BUT got there as the kitchen closed at 10pm. The bar staff was sooo no problem; we got ya!  Fries were finished. The oil was dumped. But, the grill was still HOT. Got a perfectly charred-to-a-crunch, juicy pink medium rare Angus burger with thick cut bacon and a smoked jalapeno on the side. Topped off with a Texas Lonestar beer.

The sweet introduction kept getting better.  Sitting next to me at Lee Harvey's was well noted chef, Katherine Clapner of Dude, Sweet Chocolate. She gave the 411 on Dallas restaurants (see list below). Katherine did even more; she steered us (...we followed, winding through side streets filled with low slung, shootgun buildings and warehouses) to The Cedars Social.

Welcome to Dallas.

The Cedars Social was an instant home away from home. Unpretentious, comfy with a nod to mid century and reclaimed urban design. The menu is seasonal and local comfort food, kicked up mega notches. Ex NFL Linebacker and Super Bowl veteran, Brian Williams, an owner of the gastro den, was gracious and welcoming. He suggested The Cedars Social award-winning Old Fashioned, a balanced mix of bourbon, sours and sweet floral flavors, for a twist on the classic cocktail. Mixologist and owner Michael Martensen created an extensive drinks list of carefully crafted cocktails that curates vintage recipes, going back to the 1850's.

A few days later had dinner at Cedars Social. Sampled and shared small plates. The beet salad with red, yellow and candy striped beets with strips of speck and greens was an all-star. Much of the featured produce comes from Tom Spicer's FM 1410, organic, urban garden. Tom Spicer is legend in Dallas food circles. Cedars Social's lamb chops were simply grilled with herbs and so succulent and so good. Went caveman, fingers and all. The beef short rib tacos were not tex-mex authentic, too NY foodie; but, the beef was braised to melt in your mouth perfection. The menu is adventurous and changes often. The atmosphere is the icing. Walled-in outdoor seating with fire pits (fire pits are everywhere in Dallas), candle lit dining area, with industrial mid century pieces scattered throughout, and a library nook for more private cocktails and small plates with a group. Low key, sexy and sophisticated with some of the best music mixes I have heard anywhere.

Dallas is spread out but it never seems to take more than 15-20 minutes to drive to places in the city.

Uptown along McKinney is chocked full of bars and restaurants with glitz, sheen and valet parking. Kept hearing from Texans - Dallas is going to be the new L.A. Okay. Huuum is that because of the reboot of the "Dallas" TV series? Or Kardashians and their camera crews popping up? The Uptown place that a cross section of people recommended was Sfuzzi. Sfuzzi has several different feels - red walls and plush banquets, lots of alcoves, bistro seating, and a covered outdoor dining area with...yes, fire pits. The music was very Top 40 ho-hum and thumping. There is no real dance floor but folks were shaking it anyway. The place attracts a fairly diverse and slick crowd.

Knox-Henderson dates back to the 1920's and exudes laid back, old Dallas charm. Lots of restaurants and shops on leafy, verdant streets. Missed out on Victor Tango's. Heard several raves about the food. Suggest going early since Victor Tango's seems to close whenever they want. The Candleroom is a "progressive urban lounge" that brings a sequined, nightlife pulse to Knox-Henderson. One of those places where you need to be a member or know someone.

Deep Ellum is a story of Blues, Nightlife, Gentrification and Downturn. Music venues, bars and restaurants line the dark, quiet streets. Deep Ellum's heydays stretched from Blind Lemon Jefferson to locals' the Butthole Surfers to BIG indie and alternative bands. Deep Ellum hit its peak in the 90's and gradually declined while maintaining a mythic bohemian allure. In the shadows, you can imagine - people huddled, waiting to get into a show, folks scoring and hustling, and Punks reveling in the seamy facets that shaped Deep Ellum.

 Bishop Arts in Oak Cliff is home to Dude Sweet, Chocolate. Katherine Clapner was so cool on arrival; had to stop by before returning to New York. The shop is more like an artist studio/lab than a kitchen. The combos and treatments of chocolate was a wow moment. The dark-haired rockabillyesque woman at the counter was a sommelier of chocolate...poetic and encyclopedic. Picked up a new concoction, FM 1410 Toffee that's made with marfa tomato jam, smoked jalapeno and soft fudge like dark chocolate. The flavor is subtle and rich with a hint of smoke and heat with little crunchy, salty, crystals in the confection.

For the last night in Dallas, was set on having some Texas style barbecue. Many of the places people talked up make trendy, world class food, which was great to experience in Dallas. Total disservice to the state if Cooking Lounge did not eat some beef brisket at a down home kinda place. Stumbled upon Lockhart in Bishop Arts. No plates,  No sauce, dig in. Smoked meat served up in butcher paper. Beef brisket is the taste of Texas. When Texans say barbecue they mean smoke house brisket. The ribs, the chicken and everything else are supporting cast. Kreuz Market is the in house specialty sausage. The smokey and meaty Original sausage is from a 100 year old recipe with a secret mix of pork, herbs and spices. The Kreuz Market jalapeno sausage is meaty and spicy with sharp aged cheddar to boot. And, the baked beans way good, studded with meat in thick sweet sauce, not to be missed.

 Blew me away that Lockhart features Texas Pete, the North Carolina hot sauce I grew up with in Southeastern Virginia.

Met the Lockhart Pitmaster, Tim McLaughlin. He schooled us on the East Texas roots of Lockhart. Before leaving, Tim showed us a funny sign on the kitchen door.

Big shout out to my friend, Carlos, for the invite to Dallas, to help wrap up a project. Dallas was unexpectedly cool and subtly hip.

Downtown Dallas has a chance to create a fresh, vibrant, 24/7 urban living hub filled with the Arts, nightlife and good food.

List of Recommended Dallas Restaurants
All Good
Bistro 31
Cane Russo 
Cindy's Deli
Eno's Pizza
Stephan Pyles
Sweet Georgia Brown
Wingfield's Breakfast and Burgers
(btw some cool websites too)

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