By Hannah Allen
From the time John Neely Bryan built that little log cabin on the prairie that became Dallas there have undoubtedly been whiney critics comparing that little homestead to the ones that came first. The free spirited ones in Austin or the more dignified ones in Houston, for example. Maybe these critics were, at that time, migratory birds or even well-traveled javalena hogs but it seems those pesky voices of comparison have been around since Day 1.
As a Dallas native I certainly can’t be the only one who will loudly say I don’t much appreciate this. If I wanted to live in Austin I’d live in Austin. If I wanted to live in Houston I’d move to Houston and so on and so forth. It seems a lot of the time even Dallas residents lucky enough to score writing gigs can’t actually believe we choose to be here. The critics, man, they just never stop.
There are all kinds of great things our corner of the world has to offer and among my favorites would undoubtedly be the food. From the holes-in-the-walls of our shiny exterior or hidden gems in the rougher neighborhoods to celebrated institutions or even trending greatness there is so much here to choose from and to love.
The fabulous thing is there are credible sources from far and wide as well as those in our own backyard who feel this way about the particular culinary situation we’ve got going on here. When Café 43 opened last year under the classically poised eye of former First Lady Laura Bush – a bonus to the much anticipated George W. Bush Presidential Center at SMU – with a take on Texan classics using locally-sourced produce, animal protein and dairy, it piqued my curiosity. It wasn’t just about what was going on behind the doors of that giant homage to our former commander-in-chief but about who else was digging in their spurs or stilettos into the Dallas restaurant scene.
After doing a little digging I discovered that a.) Café 43 is pretty great for a classy lunch that doesn’t break the bank and b.) It doesn’t require that hefty admission fee into W.’s library. Atmospherically speaking, you can sense Mrs. Bush’s signature all over the dining room that sits on the grounds of her alma mater. Speaking in terms of the food offerings it’s easy to imagine the former leader of the free world watching Bonanza reruns in his PJs while enjoying his favorite banana pecan ice cream with Laura snuggled up next to him as you’re indulging in this dish yourself.
In the same vein you could pop over to Society Bakery and try to pick which succulent cupcake Ellen DeGeneres savors while watching Finding Nemo. The Converse clad comedian and vest enthusiast proclaimed the establishment to be in the Top 10 Cupcakes in the U.S. of A. by way of a secret shopper several years ago. And let me just tell you, she’s by no means exaggerating. According to the Lower Greenville location there wasn’t just one particular cupcake chosen but a whole slew of its bestsellers including red velvet, chocolate and salted caramel.
While all this sugar-coated gibberish definitely makes me salivate I’ve been told there are some people who aren’t much for sweets. I don’t understand them but I can’t ignore that they exist and might want to be included in this conversation about where they might bump into a famous person in their hometown.
The logical areas are places like the W Hotel where Lamar Odom and that Kardashian he was married to lived for a minute or the Mansion on Turtle Creek where David Bowie once got into some trouble with an overzealous groupie. The ritzy places, you know. But let’s be real, these are not places the average person chooses to chill.
The still intact underbelly of the legendary nightlife scene in Deep Ellum doesn’t typically promise much more than a regional celebrity at best. Back in the day you’d see Vinnie Paul or Dimebag Darrell walking down Elm Street on a Saturday night but bona fide rock star is another story. Unless, of course, you go to Buzzbrews on Commerce Street where Jane’s Addiction and general guitar mercenary Dave Navarro stopped by while visiting Elm Street Tattoo co-owner Oliver Peck. While no one seems to remember what he ordered at least we understand the menu is fit for rock royalty – my money is on the Hare Krishna Crepes, though. Order them with bacon for a good laugh.
Further down the totem pole of legit celebrity status are the Food Network stars. In fairness, though, the gravely-voiced Rachael Ray has crossed over into the world of “household name.” Consequently, I’ve never met a man who wasn’t chomping at the bit to cuddle up with the curvy brunet and a giant pile of her homemade food. There are several likeable things about this TV star who has never claimed “chef” status, the lack of culinary training being one of them. Girlfriend just likes to cook. She grew up in restaurants working in both front and back of house in upstate New York and later The Big Apple itself. In case you didn’t know there is a certain category of amazing reserved for pausing your day to scarf down a slice of pizza while standing (not sitting) at a pizzeria counter in Manhattan. This pizza is better than anywhere else in the world but, not according to Rachael Ray. “The best pizza you’ll ever eat,” she says is at Olivella’s right here in Big D. The Neapolitan style pizzeria has a fairly extensive menu which includes lots of truffle oil and a red sauce that packs a delightful kick.
Following Ms. Ray is the mostly annoying Guy Fieri and his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program. Admittedly, this is not a show to watch when you’re hungry or stoned and especially not both. You’ve been warned. The premise is self-explanatory and it’s a great resource when taking any trip to a major city. It’s definitely no surprise that his nationwide quest for the best mom and pop shops have led him to our neck of the woods. The Uptown eatery Maple and Motor made the cut with a kitchen demo on how those hearty burgers take shape. The neighborhood favorite Il Cane Roso in Deep Ellum also was featured in one episode. Both are worth a try.
While we might not be able to throw a rock at the nearest In-N-Out Burger and hit an A-list celeb like you can in Hollywood, there is clout behind some of our favorite places. It may not be Austin or Houston but, damn it, it’s home. Home is about hanging your hat, rolling up your sleeves and sitting down to a fantastic meal. In this town there is no shortage of places to do just that!