Best Of :: Food & Drink
It's truly weird when a bit of hog can outflank a steer in an upper-crust steak house. It's even weirder when that pork piece is not a loin or a chop, but a shank. It looks like a battered, partially deflated deep-fried soccer ball: in other words, butt ugly (which is no way meant to denigrate pork butts). But Smith & Wollensky's crackling pork shank is a beautiful thing in the mouth. Sitting in a rat's nest of sauerkraut studded with poppy seeds, this crusted, crunchy brown ball is a hive of lusty rich flavor delivered by moist, tender pork flesh. And its preparation is just as ugly as its appearance. The shank is scored, cured in salt and sugar for a day or two, braised in beef lard and deep-fried in oil. The deep-frying sheathes it in crisp crust (leaking fat with every chew--yum) that seals in the juices, allowing the pork to come off like silk. You can feel your arteries quaking in fear as your tongue waters in anticipation. Get in there and get one quick, before the National Institutes of Health sends in a SWAT team and puts a stop to this vicious health crime.
A trip to the ballpark is not complete without the food: peanuts, hot dogs, pretzels, Philly cheese steaks. Yo? Philly cheese steaks? One of the best, most improbable features of the charming Dr Pepper/7UP Ballpark in Frisco is the fact that they serve the best cheese steak in this time zone--from a cart way down the left field line. A little investigation revealed that the cart at the ballpark is actually an outpost of Philly Connection, a chain of restaurants based, of all places, in Atlanta. With 12 area stores, mostly in the Northern suburbs, Philly Connection has ambitions for our market that approach Starbucks proportions. They expect to have 50 locations all across Dallas-Fort Worth within a year and double that number in five years. The reason you can expect consistently satisfying sandwiches as they grow has to do with the passion of company founder John Pollack. "I grew up in Philly," says Pollack, "and like most Philadelphians, I consider myself a connoisseur of the cheese steak. My two favorite places to get them are pretty famous: Gitanos and Big John's in Cherry Hill." Moving to Atlanta in the early '80s left Pollack with an inner need as well as a perceived opportunity, and Philly Connection was born in 1984. "Our goals have always been consistency and authenticity," he says. "Even though Southerners had no basis of comparison at the time, I did because I'd learned from the best." To ensure meeting those goals, Philly Connection has bought its meat from the same Philadelphia supplier since 1984, a 92 percent lean cut that provides the optimum balance of taste and texture. And the way the meat and grilled onions and peppers nestle into the steamy, soft, authentic roll just feels and smells right.
There are gyro sandwiches, and then there are gyro sandwiches. First, there's the thinly sliced mystery meat piled into a cold piece of flat bread and topped with a tomato and a little bland white sauce. That's not the gyro sandwich we're talking about. Z Café owner Nicholas Zotos sells gyro sandwiches that are consistently far above average. The bread is oven fresh, and the plentiful meat (not a composite) is tender and tasty. The sauce is tangy and complemented by fresh onions. Zotos knows gyros.
This inconspicuous little shop on Preston Road in far North Dallas could pass easily for just another nursery or patio furniture store, but it's what's inside that makes this hidden jewel shine. Beyond the aisle upon aisle of clay chimeneas and farther past the piles of imports ranging in origin from China to the Ivory Coast is a family restaurant serving up some of the best desserts, coffees and chicken salad in town. The Obzeet Restaurant and Tropical Bar is hidden behind rows of fine imported statues and artifacts but defines itself by being one of the most unique dining experiences in Dallas. With a menu that consists of soups, sandwiches and cigars, how can you go wrong? But none of that endears it more than its pies, cakes and other confections. Obzeet is great for a late lunch after a day spent buried among the ordinary.
Somewhere between Mi Piaci and Chef Boyardee lies the concept of the family Italian restaurant, which is best exemplified by Café Amore in Richardson. Mama makes the tomato sauce, which is sweet, satisfying but never heavy; Papa flings the pizza dough, which makes "Ray's Original" New York pizza seem, to put it mildly, unoriginal. Their friendly bambinos wait on the hungry crowds, chilling kids with fresh hot bread and little cups of shredded mozzarella (upon request) as they wait for authentic homemade pastas, pizzas and subs, all at prices so reasonable you feel as though you should be eating in your car. So what if the family is actually Albanian? The dishes are always hot, fresh, generous and cooked to order. Try the linguini with red clam sauce--which has never failed us. Never.
How bagels lost their Jewish ethnicity and became the breakfast bread of Americans from Mississippi to Maine has less to do with assimilation than it does with marketing. But we suggest that it's time for another Jewish bread to become the next crossover cuisine, even though it is more ceremonial in nature (part of the blessing before Jewish feasts) than its distant cousin, the bagel. Clearly, you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy challah: The multi-ethnic appeal of challah is obvious during any Jewish celebration (weddings, bar mitzvahs) where gentiles are in attendance. And why not? The egg bread is sweet, fluffy, great plain or with butter. And no one makes it better than Empire Baking Company, which understands that good challah needs just the right consistency--not so airy that it's all crust and no dough, and not so doughy that it can double as a doorstop. Empire's crust and dough are in perfect harmony.