Hash Over

At-risk child
Joey Vallone, the young scion of Houston's Vallone family, which owns nine restaurants including the famed Tony's, officially denies everything.
But his self-named Oak Lawn eatery figures prominently in a series of dueling rumors--including speculation that it's for sale.

Joey's, which opened two and a half years ago to generally enthusiastic reviews, quickly established itself as a see-and-be-seen sort of place. But industry insiders say business has slacked off considerably since then, and Joey's is feeling the squeeze of a tight lease arrangement.

Joey Vallone insists these rumblings of doom are hogwash. "There are a lot of rumors going around in Dallas, but I guess that's just the price you pay for being the best," he says. "Nothing has been decided. Nothing is being changed. Nothing has gone on."

Well, not exactly. Joey's may not be in imminent danger, but stuff has gone on.

Al Biernat, longtime general manager of The Palm, says Vallone family patriarch Tony Vallone flew him down to Houston to discuss an offer to oversee the transformation of Joey's into a steakhouse similar to the new Vallone's Steak House in Houston. "They wanted me to run it, and what would happen is they would give me incentives down the line to make it worth my while," he says. Biernat wasn't interested.

Michael Cox of Star Concepts, the company formed after Cox and partner Stephan Pyles sold Star Canyon and AquaKnox to Carlson Cos., corporate parent of T.G.I. Fridays, says they were contacted by a real estate agent who was shopping the space currently occupied by Joey's. "We weren't even seriously considering it, because I think Joey was actually asking a pretty high price for it to get out," Cox says.

While Vallone still insists nothing is going on, he does admit there might be more to say six weeks from now.

1717 exhibit ends
Seventeen-Seventeen has been eighty-sixed. The Dallas Museum of Art's acclaimed restaurant will offer lunch through April and close by month's end. Dani catering, the firm that operates the restaurant, is dissolving.

Executive Chef and general manager Kent Rathbun says the decision to pull out was made at the same time dani management was in the process of developing a restaurant on McKinney Avenue, slated to open in early 1999 in the space currently occupied by offices for Harold's, a clothing chain.

"There are some difficulties working in this venue," Rathbun says of the DMA space. "It's a big place, and people perceive it as not being open at night. We are more interested in a certain type of business than we are able to do here."

That business apparently is running restaurants, not running a catering operation. The new restaurant will be a partnership between Rathbun, Dallas businessman and dani owner Robert Hoffman, and award-winning dani chef George Brown and will feature a menu with Pacific Rim influences, a large bar, and contemporary, high-tech decor assembled by a San Francisco design firm. No name has been chosen, but some of dani's major players, including Katie Brown, George's wife, will take part in the venture.

Meanwhile, the Dallas Museum of Art will hang on to the 1717 moniker and search for another operator.

Road kill
Yet another acclaimed Dallas restaurant is almost sure to slip from the city's landscape by the end of spring. Vincenzo Savino of Ristorante Savino says he's all but certain he will close his 14-year-old Italian eatery on Henderson at the end of May. He blames devastating disruptions from the construction on Central Expressway and an uncertain hold on the restaurant's space for the decision. Though Savino's lease isn't up until September 1999, he says he's received strong indications that it won't be renewed, and he sees no point in struggling for another year.

While he continues to search for ways to keep the restaurant open, Savino says, he'll most likely move back to Italy and open a small hotel with his brother.

New moon
Moon Under Water, the Deep Ellum brewpub that has been among the undead since it was shuttered in late 1996, has finally been cleared of fixtures, murals, and brewing equipment to give way to the Gypsy Tea Room, a live music and dance venue that will eventually serve food.

On the Elm Street side of the huge space, a tea room will be decked in couches and ottomans, while the Main Street side has been retrofitted with acoustical modifications and hardwood floors to make it more hospitable to live music and dancing. Operated by Mike Snider, partner in Deep Ellum's crustacean house Daddy Jacks Wood Grill, and Brandt and Brady Wood of The Green Room, Dark Room, and Trees fame, Gypsy Tea Room will feature a simple, eclectic menu to be developed under the guidance of Green Room chef Marc Cassel.

"We're not really aiming at being a sit-down, eat-a-meal type of restaurant," Snider says. "The main idea is to have finger foods and sample plates--things you can eat holding in your lap."

Meanwhile, former Moon Under Water partners and brewers Don and Mary Thompson recently sold Moon's brewing equipment to Coppertank Brewing Co. founder Davis Tucker and will partner with him in North by Northwest, an Austin brewpub slated to open in September.

--Mark Stuertz

Contact Mark Stuertz by e-mail at markstz@juno.com or call (214) 757-8422.

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