The term "artisan" is hot in food marketing, joining its precursors "natural" and "gourmet" as a way to make consumer-grade food products sound like authentic works of culinary art. Tostito's Artisan Recipe chips? Wendy's Artisan Flatbread Sandwiches? Domino's Artisan Pizzas? That creepy Sargento commercial where the dude in the Authentic Wood-Grained Traditional Workshop sniffs the wheel of cheese? Come on, international corporate conglomerates. We're not that easily fooled.
We know that even in Dallas, there are lots of real people making small batches of hand-crafted, locally sourced, actually natural and delicious food. Here are a few of our current favorites.
Noble Coyote Coffee Company's Café Momentum Blend Kevin Sprague and his wife, Marta, started Noble Coyote Coffee Company after roasting coffee on their countertop for over a decade. Now roasted in small batches near White Rock Lake, Noble Coyote is regularly featured in other Dallas products, including Lakewood Brewing's Bourbon Espresso Temptress, Pop-Star's Coffee Popsicles and Carnival Barker's Ice Cream.
Their Cafe Momentum blend mixes Guatemalan and Ethiopian beans to deliver an agreeable balance of subtle cherry notes with a cocoa finish. There's a lot of great coffee in Dallas these days, but Noble Coyote has risen slightly above the rest by focusing exclusively on procuring great beans and roasting them perfectly.
Carnival Barker's Ice Cream's Fat Elvis It feels like forever ago (though it's only been about eight weeks) that Sarah Miller and Aaron Barker, the duo behind the best ice cream in Dallas, were informed that they didn't have the required dairy license to continue to sell their ice cream wholesale. To resolve this issue, they could either start using a crappy, artificial, state-certified ice cream base or spend $14,000 on a fancy pasteurizer. They chose the latter.
After a successful fundraiser, they're working hard to get back to churning, and Carnival Barker's should be available again sometime this month. Until then, you can only dream about this handmade, decadently rich and creamy perfection. Their best selling flavor is Fat Elvis, a peanut butter and banana ice cream with honey swirls and bacon pieces.
Bacon? In ice cream? The internet rejoices.
Cita's Salsa's Red Rage Salsa The only thing worse than an overworked salsa with too many ingredients is a weak, national supermarket brand jar of tomato-flavored water. Cita's is neither of those. It's substantial enough to ride out a perilous journey from the community bowl to your face without dripping, but light enough that it won't spoil your appetite for whatever's coming next. Red Rage is grounded in a base of stewed tomatoes and packs some heat, but it's pleasantly mitigated by the sweet and sour flavor of pickled carrots.
The Mozzarella Co.'s Fresh Mozzarella In the late 1970s, Paula Lambert, a Fort Worth native, traveled overseas to study Italian in Perguia, Italy. While there, she became smitten with fresh mozzarella, and upon her return to Texas was dismayed that no one here knew what the hell she was talking about. To fill the void, she created The Mozzarella Company, to provide the citizens of our fair city the joys of fresh, egg-shaped, melt-in-your-mouth cheesy goodness without the burden of traveling to a country where the government has no control over its elected officials, public transit system or social services.
Dread Head Chef's Strawberry-Mango Dessert Salsa I once asked Michael Weinsten, the Dread Head chef himself, what kind of person usually bought his line of fruit-based "dessert salsas," which are meant to be served with his own cinnamon or chocolate flavored chips. "It's a solid 50/50 mix between stoners and Highland Park baby shower hosts," he said. And how can you not like a product that fosters such camaraderie among the primary foodie demographic groups? I haven't tried a bad combination yet, but I'm particularly fond of the Strawberry-Mango salsa with cinnamon chips.
Peticolas Beer 's Velvet Hammer Is it fair to list a product that isn't available for retail sale? Or does the exclusivity make it even more artisan? I don't know the rules. I just know that Michael Peticolas, lawyer-turned-brewmaster, is quietly making North Texas' best craft beer.
Last year, after only being open for eight months, he brought home the first Great American Beer Festival gold medal ever awarded to a Dallas brewery. If you just have to drink your beer at home, all the cool kids these days are filling up growlers at a growing number of shops around town (The Bottle Shop, Craft and Growler, Certain Whole Foods Markets). Velvet Hammer is an Imperial Red Ale, 9% ABV, with flavors of sweet brown sugar cut by a modest amount of hops.
Dude, Sweet Chocolate's Tub of Love Most of the time, sweets with goofy ingredients are judged on the reduced scale of "Hey, that wasn't nearly as gross as I thought it would be!" I'm looking at you, Deep Fried Bubblegum. Not so with Dude, Sweet Chocolate. Some of Head Chef/Owner Katherine Clapner's best offerings feature dehydrated blue cheese, porcini mushrooms and orange bergamot. But if you have to pick (and we're not saying you do), go with the Tub of Love, a chocolate spread mixed with house-roasted hazelnut butter. It's like if artisanal cacao fairies decided to make Nutella, then made it so good that no one ever settled for plain old shitty Nutella again.
Pop-Star Popsicles' Cucumber Lemon Mint Artisan popsicles? In Dallas? How about I just give you all of my money and you let me live in your chopped up VW van/popsicle stand for the rest of August? Made with evaporated cane juice and loads of fresh (usually local, including Noble Coyote Coffee) ingredients, Deep Ellum based Pop-Star can carry a heat-weary soul through the North Texas summer. So, you know, a solid 8-10 months.
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Jimmy's Food Store's Homemade Sausages An East Dallas fixture since 1966, the shelves at Jimmy's are full of hard-to-find, I've-never-heard-of-that-but-I-bet-it's-delicious Italian products, and the DiCarlo family has made it a priority to support local food businesses by stocking their products.
The best part of the shop, though, is that glorious meat counter. Their Italian style sausages, all made in-house, are works of high art sculpted out of ground pork. They are Elizabethan sonnets that use meat for iambs and red peppers for line breaks. You want them. You need them. Like, now.