Road Trip! Exploring Dallas

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All photos by the incomparable Jenna Noel.

At the beginning of the year, I decided to explore the sustainable food scene in other cities.  After going to San Francisco last fall, my curiosity was piqued about how people around the country are living locally. For my first adventure, I picked a place close to home – Dallas.

Maybe it’s the Amarillo girl in me, but when I think of Dallas, I think of the big city and of a more sophisticated set of choices. Needless to say, I was a little surprised when I started researching sustainable food in Dallas and I didn’t come up with much. Hmmm….
Luckily, my friend Jenna at Edible Austin called Nanci Taylor, one of the the publishers of Edible Dallas & Fort Worth, who gave us her recommendations of places to visit. (Thanks Nanci!)  Jenna and I reviewed the list and formulated a plan. We decided to focus this trip on central Dallas rather than trying to cover the suburban areas and picked three restaurants that source locally for our adventure. We packed up the car and headed north on I-35.
When we arrived Friday night, we were famished so we headed to Smoke, a barbecue restaurant near the remodeled Belmont Hotel. Locally-sourced barbecue is one of the missing links in the Austin restaurant scene and I was excited to try some sustainable ‘cue. When we arrived, we were greeted by the warm, eclectic decor (modern art meets hunting lodge), festive atmosphere, and the inscription over the back room “Raising Hell from Scratch.”  I immediately knew we were in the right place.  
We ordered Foie Gras & Chicken Liver Pate and a Pickled Beet Carpaccio and Crudite salad to start.  The pate was terrific served with lovely brioche toast that melted in your mouth. As good as the pate was, the beet carpaccio was the star. The vegetables were bright and fresh and the horseradish vinaigrette gave it a nice kick without overwhelming the flavor of the vegetables.
For dinner, we ordered off the barbecue menu – a 1/2 pound of Andouille hot links and a 1/2 pound of brisket with sides of Potato Salad and Hominy Casserole. The Andouille was delicious, spicy with little pieces of onion sprinkled in the meat.  Even Jenna, a Louisiana native, gave it high praise.  The brisket and potato salad were solid, but didn’t have the same Wow factor as the Andouille.
We had fun playing with the four homemade sauces at the table.  I loved the horseradish mustard and Jenna’s favorite was the Tomato Molasses. We both felt the hominy casserole was flat and one note in flavor, surprising since it had green chiles in it.  It didn’t matter though as we had plenty of good food at the table. I will definitely be visiting Smoke again and I hope that we have someplace similar in Austin some day.  (Hint! Hint!)

After dinner, we popped next door to the Belmont Hotel to check out the much lauded skyline view. It was a little chilly that evening, but it would be a great place to visit with friends on a warm spring night.

We got up bright and early Saturday morning to explore the farmers market. We had been cautioned that the Dallas Farmers Market was very different than the Austin markets, but I couldn’t wait to visit. Open seven days a week, the market houses three large sheds filled with produce, most of which is brought in from the Texas Valley or other states to be resold at market. The pineapples featured at several booths were a dead giveaway that the produce wasn’t local.
One shed, however, is reserved for local farmers and vendors. Buoyed from our great experience the night before, we marched to Shed 1 (the local shed) with high hopes. As we rounded the corner, I’m pretty sure my face fell like a kid who just had a hole poked in their balloon. Where were the local vendors? 
The first four booths were “grandfathered” reseller booths packed with obviously non-local produce (pineapples, avocados, mangos, etc.). Then we spotted the local vendors – all 8 of them – two ranchers selling meat, Texas Honeybee Guild, 2 farmers selling eggs, Wackym’s Kitchen cookies, and a few other folks selling jams, jellies and canned items. No produce. Not even hydroponic greens. Nothing. Hmmm…
I had been warned that the group of local vendors would be small.  I was told to manage my expectations, but no produce? I was crestfallen. I kept making Jenna walk around the small loop with me thinking we’d missed something or that we were just early and that someone else would show up. We even walked through the other two sheds hoping to bump into a local coffee roaster or someone selling native plants. Nope.
The morning wasn’t a complete loss. We had a delightful conversation with Brandon the Bee Guy from Texas Honeybee Guild and I bought some whipped honey that is perfect for toast and sandwiches because it is so easy to spread. We also tasted and bought some terrific cookies from Wackym’s Kitchen. The Salted Caramel cookies are a tasty mix of savory and sweet and were terrific for me and my limited sweet tooth. Jenna’s favorites were the Lemon Butter with a little tartness to balance out the sweet cookie.

Determined to salvage the day, Jenna and I headed next to the East Dallas, home to the most unique “farmers market” I’ve ever visited. Tom Spicer, brother of New Orleans chef Susan Spicer, is a unique breed of farmer and urban forager. Frustrated by the lack of locally sourced food, Tom decided to take matters into his own hands, opening Spiceman’s FM 1410, a store front farmers market with local and regional produce.


Tom sells produce from his own farm just outside of Dallas, his urban garden behind the shop and other area farms. In addition to selling to the public, Tom has become a critical resource to restaurants who are looking for local produce. As it turned out, Bolsa, the restaurant we were having dinner at that night, called in their produce order while we were there.


I told Tom about our experience at the Dallas Farmers Market and he responded, “Well, people in Dallas are about comfort and convenience. The farmers market isn’t either of those things.” He did share that some of the suburban farmers markets are growing and that a number of CSA programs in the area were building strong foundations. I was encouraged by his comments that little by little, the local food scene is gaining ground in Dallas.

For lunch, we strayed off the locally sourced path to pay homage to a Dallas treasure, Jimmy’s Food Store, located in the small strip center down from Spiceman’s. Jimmy’s is a small Italian market with everything from produce (some local), meats, handmade pastas and all the supplies you could ever need to make a great Italian meal. 


We were told to try out their sandwiches and we were not disappointed. We split a small (this is a relative term) Muffuletta and a Cuban sandwich and couldn’t finish them. Again, Jenna found herself praising the Dallas version of one of her Louisiana favorites saying it was the best Muffuletta she’d had outside New Orleans.

We spent the afternoon walking off lunch while shopping in the Bishop Arts District in the Oak Cliff area. Several people had recommended it to us as a very “Austin” area. We had a great time poking around the boutique shops which ranged from clothing to housewares. We couldn’t resist grabbing two obscure sodas at The Soda Gallery – I got a Ting (grapefruit soda from Jamaica) and Jenna got a ginger beer.

We needed some chocolate to go with our sodas so we headed over to Dude, Sweet Chocolate. Their handmade chocolates incorporate unusual ingredients including beets, Texas Olive Oil, raz al hanout, and African curry. Katherine Clapner, owner and chocolatier, explained with enthusiasm the different products and how they made each. Her passion definitely comes through in the delicious products. I got a box of the Dude Chocolates and loved the unusual flavors in this great collection.  


We finally tore ourselves away from the aroma of the hot chocolate brewing in the back before we ruined our appetites completely. We were saving ourselves for Bolsa.
Bolsa, the sister restaurant to Smoke, is a hip, new American restaurant in the Bishops Art District that specializes in locally-sourced fare with a menu that changes daily.  Nanci Taylor of Edible DFW and Marie Tedie of Eden’s Organic Garden Center  joined us for dinner which we kicked off with the Bruschetta tasting.  The platter featured  four flavors to sample – Butternut Squash, Prosciutto, Smoked Salmon and Fuji Apple.  The Butternut Squash was my favorite with a lovely Dallas goat cheese and basil.

As we reviewed our mixed experiences from the day, we talked about the sustainable food scene in Dallas. Marie shared the challenges of building a strong membership base with their CSA program in a community that was still learning the value of eating close to home.  I noted that I’ve always been surprised that some of my favorite farmers and food artisans are closer to Dallas than Austin, but they come to the Austin markets instead. I’m happy to be the beneficiary of that windfall, but I hope it won’t be long before Dallas earns their attention.

Unfortunately, our hit and miss day continued at Bolsa. While my carpaccio was fantastic, Jenna’s quail and Marie’s chicken were overcooked. The food was good, but not great and we really wanted it to be great for Bolsa and Dallas’ sake. 


The excitement of Bolsa being profiled on the local news that night couldn’t make up for the inconsistencies from the kitchen. A friend of mine often says, “I don’t care if it’s local if the food isn’t good.” He’s right and my hope is that Bolsa can work out the kinks so that they can deliver excellent local food consistently. It was good enough that I’ll give them a second chance the next time I’m in the area.

Sunday morning, we headed to Park for brunch before our drive home. The charming restaurant in the Henderson Avenue shopping area has the ambiance of a picnic in the park and offers a number of locally sourced options, some of them coming from their own rooftop herb garden. They even give their compost to Tom Spicer for his urban garden.  Jenna had the Breakfast Flatbread and I had Green Eggs and Ham (couldn’t resist). It was a nice brunch and a good way to end our road trip adventure.

The trip to Dallas was eye-opening. It reminded me of the Austin local food scene six or seven years ago, growing slowly but surely into a viable and thriving effort.  It made me realize that I’ve gotten a little spoiled in Austin. Because we are striving for so much more, we lose sight of the fact that we have many, many options for sourcing locally in Central Texas. I found myself quietly thanking all the people who work so hard here to help our community grow – the Sustainable Food Center, Urban Roots, Edible Austin, all of our local farmers and the chefs who work with them. 

I look forward to watching the Dallas sustainable food community grow.  The promise is there, and, with the hard work of people like Nanci, Marie, Tom and all the other great folks we met that weekend, I believe Dallas will make good on that promise. And, I can’t wait to taste it! 
Other Dallas Area Restaurant Who Source Locally
As it was a short trip, we didn’t get to try everything Dallas has to offer. Also, I have not included Fort Worth as I consider that a separate city/trip.  Following are some other restaurants who are sourcing their food locally that you might want to try:
Restaurant Ava (in Rockwall, just outside of Dallas)
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