Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Quest for Good Pizza in Dallas Begins

Shortly after I moved to Dallas, I had lunch with a friend from New York City who basically told me I shouldn't bother eating the pizza here.  Knowing plenty of New Yorkers who would say you can't find a good slice of pizza west of the George Washington Bridge, I certainly took what he said with a grain of salt. I lived in New York for a few years and visited plenty.  I have also had plenty of pizza there, everything from a 3am slice to soak up alcohol to a dimly lit romantic Italian restaurant.   As someone from DC, I will readily admit the pizza around DC (or Boston or Philadelphia for that matter) can't touch the pizza in New York.
     At lunch, one of my friend's co-workers suggested Coal Vines, which he seemed to grudgingly grant was edible.   I thought I would begin my quest for good pizza in Dallas there.  I went to the new location in Plano, in the Legacy Town Center.  Given the fact that it opened fairly recently (in April), and it was a Friday night, it was pretty crowded when we arrived. There was a 30-minute wait for a party of two.  Thankfully we were able a swoop in and grab a seat at the bar.   The place is pretty dark, with exposed brick, and walls of black shelves full of bottles of wine.  Near the bar there was a larger than life black and white print of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin; they had the music to match.   I'm definitely no wine connoisseur, but they certainly had an impressive wine menu I had the Banfi Chianti Classico, which was flavorful and smooth.  The meal started with the bruschetta, which came with oven-roasted tomatoes and goat cheese on half the pieces and fresh mozzarella and basil on the other.  Both were very good. Flavors were on point, generous amount of olive oil, but certainly not greasy by any means, bread was fresh with the great balance of crispy without feeling like you're biting into a piece of bark and soft in the middle.
     But now the heart of the matter, because let’s face it, what really matters at a pizza joint isn’t the wine or bruschetta.  We got a half Bolognese and half regular pie.  First, the pizza came out barely room temperature.  It seemed like it had been sitting out for a while.  By the time I bit into a third slice, it was down right cold.  I’ve experienced the service being a bit off at new restaurants, and it was a busy Friday; but they have been open since the spring and one would think that since it was busy, food would come out fast and hot rather than cold.  I also noticed that the couple seated next to us ordered soup, and it arrived the same time as their pizza (the bartender did offer them a dessert to make up for it for them, no such luck for us).  As far as taste, the pizza was very good.  The crust was soft inside with a little crispness on the outside.  The Bolognese half with tomato sauce, mozzarella, Bolognese meat and Béchamel sauce was very flavorful, not heavy or oily.  The regular half with Coal Vines tomato sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan was also quite good. I certainly have no complaints 

about the taste of the pizza; I just wish it would have come out hot.
    I’m not ready to concede that great pizza can be found in Dallas, but it’s certainly enough to keep me looking.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bread Winners Café & Bakery

Coffee was very good, and most importantly kept coming
I’ve been to my fair share of Greek diners up and down the East Coast.  The great thing about Greek Diners is their menus are 80% the same no matter where you go.  There was a Greek Diner near my house back home where my friends and I would go very often.  It wasn’t exactly the height of culinary excellence, but as far a comfort food and a laid back place to go, it was all one could ask for.  It was especially good for breakfast after a night of beverages.  I haven’t been able to find any Greek Diners around, although there are plenty of diners. 
Southwest Migas

This past weekend I was looking for a good breakfast.  I had read and heard good things about Bread Winners Café & Bakery ( so decided to try there (it was rated as one of the best breakfasts in Dallas according to D Magazine, click here for the review.  Just to be clear: this is definitely not a diner; as you may guess from the name.  They have fresh baked pastries and bread, all along with full lunch and dinner menus.  The first and most important thing I need for a good breakfast (especially after a night of going out) is coffee.  The coffee was very good, and thanks to our server who was on point, my cup was never empty.  When we sat down there were a few free pieces of pastries, it was a decent sampling.  It was enough to get my appetite going, but not enough for me to order muffins or pastries for breakfast.  I decided to go with the Southwest Migas which included: eggs, tortilla strips, chorizo, onions, peppers, cheddar cheese, jalapeños along with salsa with potatoes, toast (I opted for an English muffin), and tortillas.  The eggs came with the tortilla strips, chorizo, onions, peppers, and cheese mixed in; the salsa and jalapeños came in separate cups.  The flavors mixed together very well, the chorizo was well seasoned without being overpowering.   The tortillas were okay, not the best I’ve had here (which is saying something considering I’ve lived in Dallas for about 20 minutes).  Overall, not only was the breakfast really good but very filling.  It was the kind of meal that just sits in your stomach.   If it sounded like just the thing to cure to hangover it was!  The crowd seemed to be a mix of younger people hanging out, families there after the kids’ morning game, and older folks.  We sat on the patio at the location in Plano; I assume the uptown location has a greater percentage of younger people.  As far as breakfast goes, Bread Winners was absolutely a winner in my book….regardless of what you do the night before. 
Breakfast taco

Monday, November 7, 2011

Friday Night Lights

Friday night I attended another Texas institution, a high school football game.  I went to the game with my wife; her friend's husband is a coach for one for the teams.  I am a big football fan and also played in high school.  Although, I was 5'9" and 165 lbs. and I started at center and defensive end, so my experience doesn't quite compare to a lot of the teams here.  Heck, the Friday nights at our school took place Saturday morning since our stadium didn't have lights.  Like most things, high school football is most certainly bigger in Texas.  First of all the stadium we went to held over 14,000 people and is shared by three schools; the stadium at my high school held about a tenth of that.  The stadium at my high school also didn't 
have: bleachers on the other side for the opposing team's fans, a scoreboard with a video screen and instant replay, or a tower that seems to have room for coaches, scorekeepers and even a few luxury suites.  With high school stadiums like this, it's no wonder that Jerry Jones felt the need to build such a gargantuan stadium for the Cowboys.  The stature of the players was also on a different level, there were only five or so players on either team that were smaller than I was when I played.  The support of the community was also very impressive.  Parents were there not only to support their kids who were playing, but also to support their kids on the drill team and band, complete with buttons with pictures of their children.  Beyond the students and parents, there were also fans there to support the same high school football team they have been supporting for decades.  I can only imagine what it would be like to play on a team with so much enthusiastic backing behind it.     Despite the bigger stadium, bigger players, etc. it was still a group of 16, 17, and 18 year-old kids playing the same game I played years ago.  I hope the fact that it is a group of kids playing a game is not lost on them and they are actually having fun in midst of the "bigness" of everything else, or on the coaches, parents and fans around them.  My wife's friend said that maybe 5-10 of the players will play in college, for the rest of the team this was their last game.  Here's hoping no matter what they go on to do that they've had some memorable Friday nights under the lights.  I was certainly thankful to experience and get a better understanding of life in the big D.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

There are sporting goods.......then there are sporting goods

I was going through the ads in Sunday's newspaper and noticed the ad for Dick's Sporting Goods, it was very different than what I was used to.  I thought I would compare the ad in Dallas and the one from DC. There is quite a contrast between the two ads.

The Dick's Sporting Goods Sunday ad in Gaithersburg, MD (just outside of Washington, DC); Yoga pants, soccer balls, Redskins t-shirts, and tennis rackets.....

The Dick's Sporting Goods Sunday ad in Frisco, TX (just outside of Dallas, TX); guns, ammo, and guns (surprisingly no Cowboy's t-shirts).

Living here is going to take some getting used to.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Anthony Bourdain in Dallas

     I attended Anthony Bourdain’s talk last week at the Majestic Theatre (here’s a link to the D Magazine review of the event  It was definitely an adult talk (cursing, talking about drugs, etc) about his show, his perspectives, his travels and of course his views about food.  It included a few shots at his fellow hosts on the Travel Channel (at the same time confessing he himself was a “whore… compromised, jaded, bought and paid for”).  He had some warnings for people in the audience who might want to work on his show including bug bites in places you don’t want to be bitten, various injuries and sicknesses, and the doing that needs to be done for good TV.  Along with the funny stories and witty jokes, there were a few pretty profound statements. 
            The first that struck me was about being a gracious guest while traveling.  In his travels, Bourdain has been to plenty of high-end restaurants, but also had many meals in people’s homes.  He stressed that when you are a guest, you eat what is given to you, whether it’s appetizing to you or not.  It’s the “grandma rule” as he called it; when you go to grandma’s house for Thanksgiving, and she serves dry turkey, Stove Top stuffing and cranberry sauce out of a can, you happily eat it and say how good it is.  Bourdain has been to plenty of places and had plenty of meals where most of us would probably pass on a dish.  To refuse something offered, especially when served in a home, would be offensive the hosts who may have spent more time and money on this complete stranger than they do on their own family.  I think we can all stand to be reminded of the importance of being gracious guests wherever we go. 

            Another important point was that what we consider upscale food often started from poor people like, for example, escargot: “The first person to eat escargot wasn’t a gourmet, it was one hungry SOB.”  He described how if you are planning on opening an Italian restaurant and can’t cook better than every grandmother in Italy, don’t bother.  Watching his show, he often spends just as much time eating street food as he does in fancy restaurants.  I certainly prefer a small mom-and-pop restaurant where the chef is making the same food his family has been eating for generations to some fancy fusion celebrity chef restaurant.

            He also talked about how food is important!  Food unites people.  There are people that we many disagree with on many things, but we can agree on good food. “There is no red-state food and blue-state food… I don’t have to agree with you to like you or respect you,” Bourdain said. Coming from DC to Dallas, I am sure there are plenty of differences with me and fine people of Texas, but I’m sure I can find one thing to agree on: Good food. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Texas State Fair, full experience

I spent Saturday at one of the most revered Dallas institutions, The Texas State Fair.  This was the 125th fair, which was a mix of carnival, agricultural show, infomercial, car show, and lots of food…..There was grilled food, food on a stick,  and of course nearly every kind of  heart clogging, cholesterol raising, deep fried food you can think of.

             I started off with one of the best, or worst things depending on how you look at it, the fair had to offer: fried butter.  It consisted of pieces of breaded butter, fried, then, in my case, covered with honey and cinnamon.  It tasted similar to a Greek dessert dumpling, other than the ball of butter in the middle.  

            Then we moved on to a State Fair Classic: The Corny Dog from Fletcher’s (  It was the perfect mix of hot dog and corn breading (I also splurged for one with jalapeno and cheese).  

                  There is more to the fair than fried food though.  We walked around to experience the marketplace, which was like a live infomercial, and the auto show.  Not only could you get food, but you could also buy a car, a mattress, a cow, a tractor, and the shamwow, along with other assorted handmade crafts.

            The best food I had all day was unexpected.  We had extra tickets and saw a pretty nondescript stand. Desperados Mexican Restaurant ( had a stand, which I am hoping is a taste of what their full restaurant has to offer.  The brisket taco was perfectly seasoned and topped with tomatillo sauce, freshly chopped onion, cilantro and lime.  I also had a Desperado Flauta, similar to the brisket taco, just in a flour tortilla and deep-fried (couldn’t avoid the fried food if I tried).  Same great stuff inside, with a different texture on the outside.  In the spirit of the fair, they also had deep-fried frozen margaritas. Not sure how they are made, but by that point I had reached my limit of fried food.  Can’t wait for a full meal there!

        My fair experience concluded with a celebrity chef presentation by John Tesar, an East Coast transplant like myself.  Tesar, who is regarded as one of the most talented chefs in Dallas (and apparently one of the most despised chefs in Dallas, click here for the article), gave a presentation on the science and art of a burger.  This was only fitting considering he recently opened a high-end burger joint in Dallas named The Commissary. (  He explained the chemistry behind a burger on a grill, and his method for how he cooks burgers at his restaurant in a controlled vapor oven.  He also explained the difference between grass-fed beef and corn-fed beef, grass-fed being leaner and having a little different flavor..  The samples that were handed out were awfully good, and just enough to add the Commissary to the list of must-eats in Dallas!

       At a time when obesity is taking a bigger and bigger toll on Americans' health the health of people throughout our country, the food at the Texas State Fair doesn’t exactly promote a healthy lifestyle, but it also reminds us that the good things in life might not always be so good for us.   

Big Tex and the Cotton Bowl
Fried Butter

Fried Butter Stand, also serve fried P.B & J and fried pineapple

Jalapeno & Cheese Corndog


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Texas State Fair

Spent the afternoon at the Mecca of fried food, the Texas State Fair. Tried the fried butter and fried pumpkin pie, decided to pass on the fried bubble gum. Best thing by far was the brisket taco from Desperados Mexican restaurant.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lunch with Larry

 I met up from a friend who is from New York, but lives in downtown Dallas, for lunch a few weeks ago.  It was the day of the parade for the Texas State Fair, so I got my first taste of the fair (brisket taco).  My sense was that very few people live downtown.  He said a few thousand people do, and it's becoming more of a livable downtown.  There seemed to be plenty of restaurants and bars, but very few places to shop for groceries and basic needs.  As far the restaurants, he said I shouldn't even bother with Italian food.  Keeping in mind his New York bias, I'll have to come to that conclusion myself.  I'd be open to any suggestions people may have.  He said there are a few pizza places that would be acceptable, he suggested Coal Vines (, and I have heard good things about Cane Rosso (  I'll leave recommendations on true Texas fare like steaks, Tex-Mex, and BBQ to the people who have the authority to speak about it.
        He did have good things to say about the Arts Scene.  The Dallas Arts District spans several blocks and includes everything from theaters to museums (  I certainly give credit to the city for making the Arts an important part of life in Dallas.
        The parade was quite a sight, everything from Elvises on scooters to belly dancers with a whole lot of belly.  Looking forward to the full state fair experience.  

Texas pride at the parade

Nothing says parade like Elvises on scooters