The Best of Big D 2009
Our annual review of the Dallas people, places, food, and drink that make us say, “Sweet!”
Best Way to Wish Someone a Happy Birthday
J-Dig Greeting Cards
Here, we’ll let the Highland Park grads tell their own story. Direct from the J-Dig website: “It all started with a guy looking for thank-you cards for some friends who had thrown him a birthday party (thank-you cards from a guy—questionable, but true). J-Dig co-founder Peter Henry was the grateful card-seeking guy, and everything he saw was too flowery and overdone and didn’t appeal to his sense of humor. Shortly after that, Peter’s brother, Josh, gave their mom a hand-drawn Mother’s Day card that cracked everyone up. The card was simple, but funny. Thus J-Dig Cards was conceived. (For the record, we do not condone incest.)” In May, Peter and Josh Henry’s 1-year-old Dallas greeting card company won a LOUIE Award, the Oscars of the industry. We can’t show you their winning entry. It was a Christmas card that employed a pun on the phrase “’tis the season.” Go to j-digcards.com to see the card, order your own copy, and find local stores that carry the line. www.jdigcards.com.
Best Cheap Art
The best part about the Art-o-mat, a retrofitted cigarette machine that sells small pieces of art for $4 to $7 a pop, is that the machine itself is a work of art. Not necessarily in the sense you might immediately think of. The vending machine itself is just a vending machine, same as any other, really. The Art-o-mat, located at the art251 gallery in Keller, is more conceptual in nature, speaking to, among other things, the idea of art as a commodity. More than that, though, it’s practical, leveling the playing field and sparking the interest of those who think they can’t collect art because it’s too expensive. And that is much better for you than a pack of cigarettes. 251 Town Center Ln., Ste. 2109, Keller. 817-898-1444. www.art251.com.
Best Zen Dining Experience
Twenty years ago, Dallas diners didn’t know sushi from Shinola. A casual evening out meant downing a plate of chicken-fried steak and gravy. We didn’t consider raw fish a delicacy; we looked at it as bait.
Today, Dallas may have more sushi restaurants per capita than any other city in America. We don’t have any official data to support that theory, but sushi spots here are like donut shops in Canada. There is one on almost every corner. Post work, colleagues spill into local sushi restaurants for daily fixes of California rolls, sashimi, and tuna tartare. It’s usually in a high-octane setting with loud music, cheap sushi specials, and cheaper sake.
Teiichi “Teach” Sakurai knows a lot about sushi. He set the standard here for upscale sushi, robata bars, and traditional Japanese food with his popular restaurants Tei-Tei and Teppo. A few years ago, he sold both and went to Tokyo to do research for his newest spot, Tei-An, a Japanese soba noodle house in One Arts Plaza. Teach is now furthering our education in Japanese dining by showing us what a Japanese soba noodle house should be. He spent 14 hours a day for 21 days in a class in Toyko to learn the fine art of crafting traditional soba noodles, a delicacy in Japan long before sushi.
The nutty-tasting, nutritious soba noodle is the heart of Tei-An’s menu, and Teach is there every night rolling them by hand, an elaborate process involving dueling rolling pins that occurs in a special climate-controlled noodle-making room. It takes him 23 minutes to make enough to feed 10 people. “Hey, I’m down from 40 minutes when I started,” he says. “My goal is to get it down to 20 minutes, but that may take me years.”
We don’t mind the wait. In fact, the slower pace at Tei-An is refreshing. There’s plenty of time to sample sake cocktails in a warm, minimalist dining room. Walls are made of tan matte cement, a contrast to the dark, cleanly angled tables and pebbled leather banquettes. A “soba bar” wraps around a fountain with water tinkling over a grouping of large rocks. Slow, healthy, and refined. Thanks to Teach, we’ve reset our mantra. 1722 Routh St. One Arts Plaza, Ste. 110. 214-220-2828.
Best Sugar Fix
From the owners of Mattito’s, this Frisco Square cafe serves first-rate burgers and homemade cheddar tater tots. But it’s the “extreme” shakes that we love. That’s probably because they blend two of our childhood favorites: ice cream and Hostess snack cakes. Choose from Twinkie, Sno Balls, or Zinger flavors, and watch as your server cuts two of the cakes in half, churns them with vanilla ice cream, and tops it with a slice of the snack cake and whipped cream. We prefer the Sno Balls version, with its coconut flavor and tiny bits of chocolate cake that get stuck in your teeth. Who says you can’t have your cake and suck it, too? 6129 W. Main. St., Frisco. 214-472-2715. www.gogoburgerusa.com.
Best Local Answer to Baby Einstein
Like the popular Baby Einstein series, Wee See—the brainchild of the Polyphonic Spree’s Julie and Tim DeLaughter and artist Rolyn Barthelman—is made for, well, babies. It’s meant to stimulate their brains via sounds and shapes or at least give the kiddos something to stare at long enough to give Mom and Dad time to clean the kitchen or have an adult conversation. And as with the Baby Einstein series, we see the hypnotic Wee See—with its gentle, wordless melodies and ever-morphing black and white images—appealing to another fan base. They’re a group of people who stimulate their brains with something else. You know? Oh, do we have to say it? Okay, fine: stoners. www.weeseeworld.com.
Best Flour Garden
Once upon a time, people in Dallas ate only white bread. Like lemmings to the sea, generations of students flocked on field trips to the Mrs. Baird’s bread factory on Mockingbird and Central Expressway to pay homage to the lowly loaf. The smell of baking bread blanketed the city. Millions of children pulled off the crusts and poked their fingers through the holey bread.
Then, in 1983, Dallas was seduced by a smooth-talking Frenchman with a revolutionary idea. Mr. Patrick Esquerre, in a thick French accent, announced the opening of La Madeleine, a French country bakery with fresh baguettes and breads baked in a wood-burning oven. He was brash and bold and blasphemous. He opened his first shop directly across the street from the old and ailing Mrs. Baird’s. Esquerre was to bread what Stanley Marcus was to clothes—he refined our taste. Bread in Dallas was no longer just for peanut butter and jelly. It became a gourmet item unto itself.
When La Madeleine became too corporate and automated, Robert and Meaders Ozarow emerged with their Empire Bakery to challenge La Madeleine. By 1992, chefs all over town had finally learned the importance of a great, relatively inexpensive first impression—complimentary bread on the table. It didn’t take long before Empire Bakery was rolling in more than just dough.
The key to Empire’s success is simple. They use unprocessed flour and natural starters that are a lot less aggressive and allow bread to take on different textures and tastes. Expensive ingredients include King Arthur flour, natural sea salt, Plugra butter, and Callebaut chocolate. They are the building blocks of their recipes.
Thanks to Empire, white bread in Dallas has a sophisticated new name: Pane Paisano. The fair citizens now enjoy a wide variety of breads such as kalamata olive round, hippie health load, raisin pumpernickel, walnut scallion round, whole wheat farm, and challah. Maybe if you’re nice, the Ozarows will let you see their factory. Perhaps they’ll give you a sample of their jalapeño cheese loaf. It makes a great PB&J sandwich. 5350 W. Lovers Ln. 214-350-0007. www.empirebaking.com.
Best Gay Old Time
With campy shows like Mommie Queerest and The Facts of Life: the Lost Episode (a spoof of the ’80s sitcom performed in drag), this popular 8-year-old theater troupe could be dismissed as slight. But more than 25 Leon Rabin and 14 Theatre Critics Forum awards suggest otherwise. Uptown Players presents plays and musicals that challenge audiences artistically, whether with serious works such as The History Boys and The Twilight of the Golds, the classic Hair, or queer delight Die, Mommie, Die. No other troupe in Dallas is as entertaining and provocative. Besides, when’s the last time you spent a night at the theater in a drag club? www.uptownplayers.com.