In the end, we'll all chug and chew from a Brown bag. Or a box, if Melrose chef Doug Brown has his druthers. Brown, the culinary wunderkind who did his teething at Nana Grill and now governs the menus at Melrose Hotel properties in Dallas, New York and Washington, D.C., is splintering from that perch, peeling off Melrose pastry chef Jason Foss and sous chef Eric Holt in the process. "It's grab and go," Brown says. Backed by 10 investors, mostly family from New Jersey, Brown has leased space in Republic Center downtown and is fashioning a 3,000-square-foot commissary kitchen to feed up to five tiny upscale fast-casual outlets throughout the city. Christened Beyond the Box, the nubs will ply fresh breads, coffees, sandwiches and entrées. "It's kind of like a mini Eatzi's, but there's a little more love involved," says Brown, who once worked as corporate chef for Phil Romano's gourmet takeout concept before he soured on the shambles corporate streamlining wrought on his culinary senses. Brown has his work whittled for him. Not only is he poised to butt noggins with Eatzi's and Central Market, he has to steer clear of the pitfalls of the commissary kitchen, which offers seductive economies of scale but can rattle quality and fray consumer perceptions, as Patrick Esquerré's capsized Café Patrique concept illustrates.
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Downtown Dallas doesn't have the lifeblood to float any more than restaurant flotsam. Just ask Monica Greene. She scuttled her fledgling Pegaso Concina Economica last weekend after just eight months. "We're ahead of our time. We didn't make money. There's no business at night," she says, crediting panhandlers, a dearth of parking and a lack of far-flung consumer support for the plug-pulling. "Downtown is not in the center of things. It's just sad that the community is not ready for that." Greene says Dallas is at least a half-generation away from fostering a magnetic urban core capable of sustaining a thriving restaurant over two meals. So she plans to replant Pegaso in Oak Lawn or on Lower Greenville Avenue. But is downtown really to blame for the Pegaso fizzle? After all, Metropolitan, Euphoria and Jeroboam are hanging on. Still, downtown operators are frustrated with the pace of the development needed to drive revenue streams beyond lunch. According to Texas alcohol sales records, Jeroboam's annual sales were off 30 percent through December from the previous year, and Metropolitan's November sales plunged some 43 percent from the same month in 2002. "I'm not a downtown basher," Greene insists. Indeed. Greene says she's building a residence in Deep Ellum and plans to announce her candidacy for the Dallas City Council in May to upheave the climate that did in Pegaso.