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Restaurants & Bars

With a Cool New Natural Wine Menu, Bishop Arts Classic Oddfellows Reinvents Itself

The longtime brunch spot is becoming part of a rising wave of Bishop Arts wine nerd destinations.
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Monday nights mean wine and snack pairings like these at Oddfellows. $45 gets you a flight and bites for two people. Elliott Muñoz / courtesy Oddfellows

It seemed inevitable that the Bishop Arts District would attract a natural wine bar, with eclectic global wines and food pairings. It is surprising, though, that that wine bar is at Oddfellows.

The longtime brunch spot, a neighborhood favorite since late 2010, added a new identity at the start of August. Yes, you can still go for eggs benedict or buffalo chicken tenders on top of a bed of macaroni and cheese. But Oddfellows wine specialist Emily Mitchell’s new program focuses on bottles made with no or minimal additives, filtration, or other human intervention in the winemaking process. They’re crisp, clear, honest, and delicious.

The idea originated with the restaurant’s owners, Amy Wallace Cowan and Jason Roberts. They see Bishop Arts evolving and becoming maybe Dallas’ premiere wine-drinking neighborhood. Another wine bar, Blind Bishop, sits at the other end of the neighborhood, and two wine shops—Neighborhood Cellar and natural wine specialist Ampelos—sell bottles to drink at home and glasses to drink on site. If you want to have a great bottle with dinner, you can dine at Lucia, Boulevardier, or, now, Oddfellows.

The term “natural wine” can encompass many meanings, but it basically indicates wines made with minimal intervention: no additives, no manipulation to make the wine fit a pre-planned taste profile. Natural winemakers embrace what the soil, grapes, and weather give them. One vintage of the same bottling will taste very different from the next year’s version.

Since the natural wine movement has a “geeky” reputation, Mitchell uses a soft touch to sell Oddfellows’ stock. Each bottle and glass on Oddfellows’ wine list comes with a friendly, folksy description. Many of the wines are described not in the usual pretentious manner but by comparing them to people or pets. One is a “masc[uline] lesbian,” another is “a person you were sure was going to be dull, but every story they have is of insane parties in different parts of the world,” and a third “reminds me of being in my uncle’s study.”

“The goal is approachability, but that comes with the fun part of educating,” Mitchell says. “Not the condescending part. Everything we do is geared toward an emotional experience. Talking about wine not in a patronizing way, but in an I-want-you-to-have-this-kind-of-experience way, is the way to do it.”

When I visited for a recent brunch, I sat outside—the temperature was only 97—and ordered a white glass, Frico Bianco, described as a good substitute for water on a hot summer day. Well, there’s no substitute for water, but the wine was wonderfully light, refreshing, and eager to pair with all of Oddfellows’ food. (Sidebar: a truly good white wine is good at any reasonable temperature.)

As I sat with my glass in the midday Texas heat, the Frico Bianco certainly got warmer, but it never got worse, retaining its charm even as it neared room temperature. I grew up drinking white wines that tasted nasty at room temperature—because they were made with all sorts of additives, more of a chemistry experiment than a bottle of grape juice.

Mitchell, who uses they/them pronouns, confirmed this hunch. “If a winemaker wants to stretch that wine and get the most money out of it, there are techniques to do that, [techniques] that can be hidden by chill or sugar. But once that chill wears off, or once your palate becomes deadened to the sugar, you start to notice those bitter components.” They also added that the list will rotate seasonally, with lighter glasses in summer and fuller-bodied wines in cool months.

My tablemate drank Timido, a sparkling rosé from Italy—and the “short masc lesbian” mentioned earlier. The wine smells a little funky, but it’s wonderfully light to taste, highlighted by very gentle bubbles.

Although the new Oddfellows wine list is available all the time, Mitchell gets to showcase their picks on Monday nights, when the restaurant serves a flight of glasses and small plates, $45 for two people. Throw in an hour or two at nearby newcomer Ladylove Lounge, and you’ve got a heck of a Monday date night.

Another manifestation of Oddfellows’ educational mission is a novel way of selling drinks by the glass. Traditionally, wines sold by the glass are the cheaper offerings, and bottles are the pricier options. Not here.

“By the bottle, they take a leap in how geeky they are,” Mitchell explains. “If I’m not totally sure how many people are going to be into this wine, I don’t want to keep it open all the time.”

So if you’re a natural wine nerd, you can jump straight to a bottle—and it won’t be any more expensive. Oddfellows’ current offerings start at just $34 for a whole bottle. A couple sparklers come in cans.

It’s interesting to see Bishop Arts become such a wine hot spot. It is also interesting that these new wine options keep opening at a time when the American wine industry faces tough cuts and the reality that younger drinkers are less interested in wine than they are in spirits. If the wine business wants to recapture young people’s attention, Mitchell says, it would do well to move away from mass-market bottlings and toward smaller brands with individual stories, distinctive flavors, and commitments to sustainability.

“The younger generation prefers more curated products,” Mitchell explains. “Vinyl records are coming back, listening parties are coming back. Curation and being very intentional is one of the most subversive things that the young generation is doing, kicking back at consumerism for its own sake. Even drinking alcohol for its own sake.”

They hope that businesses like Oddfellows and Ampelos can help turn the tide by offering a more curated experience. Natural wine can be found in Dallas (restaurants like Sachet and the new Petra and the Beast also boast collections), but it is not as widespread here as in many other cities. National wine distributors and importers don’t always see Dallas as a geeky wine destination, and don’t always send the most interesting or unusual bottlings our way. (A sommelier at another business recently contacted me about another article, lamenting that we need to create the demand for more interesting stuff before we will receive the supply.)

In other words, a rising tide can lift all boats. If Bishop Arts feels like a natural wine hotbed now, what might it be like in a few years if Oddfellows and its neighbors succeed?

“If those distributors see initiative, if they see interest, they want to create that interest,” Mitchell says. “It is mutually beneficial. Which is why I sent people over to Ampelos after they drink a glass here. I believe in little wine shops. It’s not about spending more money. If you want a $20 bottle, go to little a wine shop, because that person has found the best $20 bottle. That’s what they did for you.” Oddfellows is doing that curation, too.

Author

Brian Reinhart

Brian Reinhart

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Brian Reinhart became D Magazine's dining critic in 2022 after six years of writing about restaurants for the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News.
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