The Best of Big D 2009
Our annual review of the Dallas people, places, food, and drink that make us say, “Sweet!”
Best Chicken and Waffles
The soulful combination of crisp waffles topped with crunchy fried chicken has made quite a journey: from Harlem to Los Angeles to Dallas’ own Yuppie Central, Henderson Avenue. We have a few places doing this offbeat savory-sweet combo, but of them all, Victor Tango’s does it best. The waffles are thick triangles, five lined up real nice on a rectangular plate, ladled with pancetta gravy, then topped with hot, crunchy boneless chicken tenders and a drizzle of maple syrup. That’s key—you don’t want to overdo the sweet. That said, if you need more sugar, they serve a pitcher of maple syrup on the side. Best of all: it’s only $12. 3001 N. Henderson Ave. 214-252-8595. www.victortangos.com.
Best Lounge Singer
At most bars, the best music option we can hope for is a decently stocked iPod playlist that isn’t played so loudly that it makes our ears bleed. That’s why lounge singer Aubree-Anna is such a surprise. She makes us want to put down our glass and really enjoy the music. The San Antonio native has been singing at the Warwick Melrose Library Bar for about three months now, but she’s been singing her entire life. Her adoptive mother was a music teacher who exposed her to singing at a young age. Aubree-Anna released her first CD in 2006, and she’s working on her third. On Saturday nights, you can find her doing her lounge-singer act for a crowd of adoring fans. “I’ve got about 30 regulars now,” she says, and it’s no wonder why. She’s gorgeous, friendly, and she’ll sing your favorites—everything from Billie Holiday to Diana Krall to Beyoncé, depending on the time of the evening and the crowd (“My Heart Will Go On,” by Celine Dion, and “Fallen,” by Alicia Keys, are her faves). Aubree-Anna is a true entertainer, and she takes time to greet people and get to know them during her act. “I love people,” she says. “I love to talk to them and make sure everything’s okay.” As midnight approaches, it’s not unusual to see people dancing—and getting a little passionate. “Sometimes people make out, and we think, ‘Whoa! My song must be really good!’” Her repertoire includes more than 300 songs, and she can also sing in Spanish, Hindi, and Urdu. So what won’t she sing? “Someone asked me to do T-Pain once,” she says. “I think that’s where I draw the line.” 3015 Oak Lawn Ave. 214-521-5151. www.aubree-anna.com.
Best Gardening Store for People Who Don’t Like to Garden
If, like us, you appreciate Mother Nature but don’t like to get your hands dirty, welcome to Gardens. Few shops are as stylish as this Austin import and West Village must-see. Delight in Gardens’ urbane collection of unusual planters and art-like patio furniture, not to mention succulents and orchids, which make great gifts. Find yourself plant averse? Fret not. The store also features chic home furnishings, specialty soaps and lotions, dazzling art, and epicurean delights. (Cumin-pickled green beans? Tasty.) Don’t let the name fool you. This is one of Dallas’ best boutiques for the home whether or not you’re an FOF (Friend of Flora). 3699 McKinney Ave., Ste. 310. 214-528-7770. www.gardens-dallas.com.
Best Reason to Eat in Denton
Once stuck at the undergraduate level, Denton’s food scene now boasts some worthy gourmet pit stops. There’s the excellent coffee at Hydrant Café, the highly rated sushi at Keiichi, and, finally, the luscious cinnamon buns at Ravelin Bakery, an exceptional European-style shop owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Pamela and Eric Helland. Eric has studied with masters and taught baking himself. He does both pastries and breads, which is rare, and his goods are superb: muffins, sweet rolls, tarts, coffee cakes, cookies, and more. He’s one of the few bakers to whip up his own puff pastry, which you can taste in his croissants and especially those cinnamon buns, for which people make the drive from all over. 416 S. Elm St., Denton. 940-382-8561.
Best Reason to Cry Wolf after Midnight
Michelle Rodriguez, who works overnights at The Wolf (99.5 FM KPLX), is not your normal country music DJ. She’s Hispanic. She’s liberal (despite her Aggie credentials). Her hair is tricolored. She wears a belly ring. And she tweets incessantly from the studio. You’d expect to see her at a rave, not praising Dierks Bentley and Taylor Swift weeknights from midnight to 5 a.m. But Rodriguez makes drives home from late-night poker games tolerable because of her unique on-air persona (think Latina Tinker Bell + young Tanya Tucker + Penny Lane) and obvious love of C&W. She’s so natural on air, you’d never know she was plucked from the promotions department as an emergency weekend replacement. Or that she knocked the station off the air on her first commercial break. (And again the next night.) Lucky for us, she fought through it. Yeehaw.
Best Refurbished Relics
Among the fabulous fashions and home décor at Forty Five Ten, you’ll find a standout selection of refurbished rare vintage items, like sheepskin-covered Herman Millers, Milo Baughman cork lamps, chrome-based Knoll benches, and a pair of 1950s canary yellow faux bamboo lamps. The creations are the work of Barbara Ellison, who has a knack for finding tremendous furnishings and re-creating them. Buying trips to Detroit and dealers from Europe supply the mother of four with these collector’s items that she paints, reupholsters, and spruces up. The one-of-a-kind pieces cost a pretty penny, priced between $2,500 and $6,000, but they are sure to add a special touch to your place. Available at Forty Five Ten, 4510 McKinney Ave., 214-559-4510. For custom pieces, contact Barbara Ellison at 214-707-0634.