Roasted oysters at Gemma. (Photography by Kevin Marple)

My Five Cents: Let’s Talk About DMN‘s Ten Best New Restaurants 2014

Over the holidays, I promised myself I would not write one-sided rants and keep my Brenner observations to myself. I just fell off the wagon.

I’ve written a lot about Leslie Brenner. Some of you hate what I have to say, and some of you agree with me. Over the holidays, I promised myself I would not write one-sided rants and keep my Brenner observations to myself.

Yesterday, my first day back on the job, I read Brenner’s year-end round up, The Best of DFW: Best New Restaurants 2014, and I couldn’t sit on my hands. Brenner chose Gemma as the restaurant of the year. I won’t disagree with that choice, but I find it odd that she left chef Stephen Rogers off the Best Chefs list she published in November. She notes that she visited the restaurant in the last three months, yet Gemma still holds a three-star rating. Another on the list, San Salvaje , has four stars and chef Stephan Pyles was chef of the year.

Her list of best new restaurants includes two restaurants that are outposts of existing restaurants. Lockhart’s and Neighborhood Services are both fine restaurants, but I don’t feel they qualify as new restaurants. The menus are basically the same. And a third restaurant on her list, Pecan Lodge, was merely a relocation. What about CrushCraft? Killer.

Which leads me to what I think is an obvious omission from her list: Knife. Brenner has long maintained her ability to remain objective in her reporting. Despite Knife chef John Tesar’s childish antics and relentless Twitter rants, he has managed to open one hell of a cutting-edge steakhouse in a city where steakhouses rule.

So I emailed Brenner yesterday, and I left her a voice message this morning. My email:

I just read your Best New Restaurants 2014, and I would like to ask you a couple of on-the-record questions. I’m not looking for a fight. However, I will continue to have conversations about the Dallas restaurant scene that I have covered for 18 years. To that end:

1. How do you see Pecan Lodge, Lockhart’s, and Neighborhood Services as new restaurants when they were all operating before 2014? Two are new locations, and Pecan Lodge only switched locations.

2. I am also confused about Gemma. In November, you left Gemma’s chef, Stephen Rogers, off your list of best chefs. Yet you named the three-star restaurant as Restaurant of the Year. Is there a reason for that?

3. Chef John Tesar’s childish antics aside, how does Knife not make your best new list? Despite what any of us feels about him as a person, he has elevated the steak house experience (240-day dry-aged beef!) in a city full of         magnificent steaks. Can you help me understand?

She replied in an email: “Thanks for your message and your voice mail. The story stands on its own.”

Anybody else care to shed some light on the subject?



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  • bob

    I think if you’re trying to drag John Tesar into a fight to get some blog hits, this is an excellent way to start.

  • Pamela

    So much for off the record. Just give it up already.

    • BradfordPearson

      It literally says “on-the-record.”

  • Anonymous

    Unless Leslie Brenner is a restaurant or chef, what you think of her or have to say about her is not really of much interest to us, your readers. Your inability to focus on food, and the places where it is served, rather than Leslie, is causing many of us to wonder what is happening to you, and your writing.

  • RobertW

    Reasonable minds can disagree on whether Knife is the best new restaurant of 2014. But no reasonable and informed observer of the Dallas dining scene could conclude that it’s not even in the best ten new restaurants of the year. This is trademark Brenner petulance. As she said, the story stands on its own; but it does so to her condemnation.

  • Redfox

    Not this again. It’s her opinion – not the gospel. You two have different opinions of Knife. I think you spend too much time worrying about Leslie and what’s she’s doing or not doing. Who cares.

  • Bill

    On your list you have CBD which opened in 2013

  • Bill

    Your list includes CBD which opened in 2013. Knife is a top ten new restaurant

  • Randy

    I thought her inclusion of Nicks place and the BBQ joints was odd. I never thought about the best chef deal but that’s a valid observation. If I’m Stephan Pyles I’m wondering why my place isn’t on top. She could have answered that

  • dtownfoodie

    Screw leslie. She sucks. Why can’t we have bill Addison back.

  • BrentDude

    Another bully fail.

  • TheBradsBlog

    Obviously I agree that Knife is a Top 10 New Restaurant of 2014 (that’s rather undeniable in my opinion).
    But the Gemma issue gets me. Gemma is my favorite spot and has been since I walked in (a day late) on Dec. 27, 2013. I agree with both Nancy and Leslie giving it the top spot on their respective Best New Restaurants of 2014 lists. But Leslie sure was late to this game – overlooking Stephen Rogers for her Best Chefs, then anointing it “Best” after another of her maddening purgatorial 3 Star reviews.
    I know it’s all silliness, but it just sticks in many a collective craw.

    • Randy

      Well said, Brad. How can the best chef not have the best new restaurant?

  • Maria Whiteside Mejia

    Nancy, you are not alone, I also thought of the same inconsistencies on her selection. I am pleased that Gemma was selected No1. As far as I am concerned even from the beginning their dishes have been dazzling.

    She is entitled her opinion but I could not help feel disappointment to read “It hasn’t exactly been a year of tremendous invention and creativity on the Dallas dining scene…” praising all these restaurants yet taking it all back at the same time.

  • Michael Martensen

    These are great questions asked by Nancy. I can see everyone’s frustrations. John works hard as do others in the industry and at the end of the day they all deserve recognition for their hard work. This comes in two ways, pocket books get fatter and from culinary peers/ professionals. John is going to keep moving forward even though he is not on this list as are another 100 plus restaurants that opened in the DFW area. The unique situation at the DMN will work itself out. As long as readers keep asking for more information making DMN work harder, put more eyes on all that is going on in the DFW food scene and water down the effect of one persons opinion. A fresh set of new eyes is on the horizon with a new editor coming into town the first six months of this year will be interesting to watch. I hope to also see the chefs, servers, bartenders, line cooks, restaurants in general now working harder than ever to make sure that guest experiences are positive! The diner wins at the end of all this restaurant drama.

  • Pisser

    Woah hold the horses. What a eff-u to chef Pyles.

  • Johnyalamo

    I would have to disagree about Pecan Lodge. While technically it was a relocation, the Deep Ellum place is a brand-new restaurant, larger, with decor and a bar. And with such a great product, the only thing everyone was worried about is that the food would not be as good as when it was at the Farmers Market. But not only has it met its already high expectations, the new location has surpassed them.

  • Ampiel

    It seems to me you care more about pot-stirring than you do the Dallas dining scene. I couldn’t believe what I was reading when you aired blogger Steven Doyle’s dirty laundry on a post and tried to pass it off as concern. I’m seeing a common theme in your content, but maybe that’s just how you get clicks.

  • Cheri Donohue

    Well diners definitely win if going to Proof & Pantry but I am still not a girl that loves a guy who wants to be hated. John Tesar is a capable chef but he hates his critics and the people who come dine at his restaurant. There is a reason he is the most hated chef in Dallas and does he deserve recognition? I am not sure. If you never meet him or talk to him then his work can speak volumes for itself but if you ever have to meet him or deal with him…then eating his food is not worth the effort…nothing taste that good. However on Leslie I agree even with Tesar, she is no longer relevant to todays chef’s both existing and up and coming. Is it Drama, yes; but will it bring about change… for the Dallas Diner I certainly hope so.

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