Best Of :: Shopping & Services
You know how these big new bookstores do us. They open with all kinds of promise; they're fancy; they have real book people working there. That lasts about six months. Then it goes downhill; they hire idiots, and it's like everything else: Nobody knows nuthin', they ain't got it; go back to Amazon.com where you came from. The difference here is that the huge new beautiful bookstore at Mockingbird and Airline, a few doors down from La Madeleine, is a joint venture between B&N and the SMU bookstore. There's a big section at the back for faculty authors. There is some oversight by the university. Maybe the connection with SMU will be enough to preserve the store's literate soul.
Our experience with other stores that sell used CDs has been drought or flood, depending on who's been in lately to sell or trade. CD World's selection may not be of ark-requirement proportions every visit, but we've yet to leave empty-handed. The racks are divided by category and are in alphabetical order by artist with new, used and import CDs all together for quick comparison shopping. The local section is likewise well-stocked with both new and used (and we don't mean 10 copies of Deep Blue Something's Home and David Garza's entire back catalog).
Good Records is exactly what you'd expect from a store run by a bunch of local musicians: the latest indie label offerings, early-release copies of local records and the entire catalogs of seminal artists. From imports of alternate versions of Radiohead's latest to the aural history of Bedhead, they're all carded on the yellow shelves lined with colored lightbulbs. And if it's not on hand, the staff happily obliges special orders. But don't expect to find CDs here you could pick up at Target for $12, such as the back catalog of Metallica, which, allegedly, a fan hoping to snag a CD to be autographed by a band member dining in nearby Deep Ellum found out the hard way. "Good records" to him was just a matter of opinion.
As the organic health-food business becomes increasingly corporate (see Whole Foods' shareholders), the real thing is alive and well in the heart of Oak Cliff. For 24 years, Ann Munchrath has dispensed vitamins to undernourished Cliff dwellers. In 1998 she, along with son Matt and other family members, took a leap of faith and opened an organic grocery store that is the only thing of its kind south of the Trinity. The custom-built store is stocked with a healthy selection of rice cakes, whole grains, a mind-boggling selection of soy and rice milks, frozen dinners and just about every other organic food a health nut could want. Fruits and vegetables, bought from the Farmer's Market, are restocked daily. The meat section, though small, includes such rarities as Texas-raised lamb and bison. There is also a café that serves up smoothies, fresh juice, frozen yogurts and a chicken sandwich that will keep you coming back for more.
Back when the Trading Co. first opened its doors some two years ago, it was possible to peruse its racks and stumble across the rare and valuable oddity--say, the Criterion Collection This is Spinal Tap or The Usual Suspects, which was then out of print. It's a little harder to find such gems now that everyone, including your mom, has a DVD player; there's always someone digging through the bins, looking for a collectible to keep or sell on eBay. These days, we value the Movie Trading Co. for these reasons: For a few bucks, you can rent any disc in the store (just-released or very old) for five whole days (take that, Blockbuster); and the videotape bins are overflowing with odds and sods we never knew existed (a few months ago, we picked up hours' worth of Captain America and Captain Marvel serials dating back to the 1940s, and not long before that, we found a highlight reel of the New York Giants-Cleveland Indians 1954 World Series, and our pops was plenty pleased). It's kinda like Half Price Books: You walk in looking for one thing, and you walk out with five things you didn't know you needed.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We know. The Stoneleigh P has a better jukebox; says so in our 1997 "Best of" ish. So does the Metro Diner just down the street from the Elbow, at least if you like Muddy Waters with your coffee and smokes at 3 a.m. So do half a dozen other joints around town. It all depends on what you like, what you feel like hollering over, what you feel like grooving to before you land that pickup line with the precision of a spastic gymnast. Whim dictates we give this to the Elbow, just because it's the last bar we visited with a jukebox worth the ones and fivers we kept feeding it like a hungry beast with a bottomless appetite. There's just something about being able to listen to Chet Baker, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Sammy Davis Jr., Johnny Cash, John Coltrane, Howlin' Wolf and Ronnie Dawson over a couple of Maker's on the rocks that makes some nights (or afternoons) more special than others. It's hard not to feel a little cocky with the Clash pouring out of the speakers; it's hard not to cry into your beer when George Jones leans over your shoulder and moans his sad somethin's.
We took French in high school and regret it. Because while finding someone who speaks English at our favorite tamale shop is a hit-or-miss proposition, finding someone who speaks French is damn near impossible. No matter. We can usually hold up our fingers or clop our hooves to indicate how many beef, chicken and pork tamales we want. These are made fresh daily. Other fillings become available as they strike the proprietor's fancy. All are made by hand and steamed in corn husks to perfection.
For 19 years at this location, David and Pat Harris have made us happy to be a carnivore. We pay about $10 per pound for rib eye, about the same as we'd pay at our local grocery store, but the rib eye from David's delivers a flavor beyond compare. That's because he sells choice, corn-fed, aged Iowa beef (the stuff at the grocery was likely fed alfalfa grass). David also makes 17 kinds of sausage at his shop. Smoked Polish sausage, hot and sweet Italian sausage, bratwurst, Cajun andouille, East Texas hotlink and Mexican chorizo. As David himself has told us, this makes him a dying breed, "like the Texas horny toad." We'll take David's word on it.
Seeing as how Dallas is landlocked, it makes sense that the owner of TJ's is from Virginia Beach. Caren Alexis and her husband, Peter, bought the joint two years ago (it has been in operation since 1989). TJ's offers a regular daily menu of 17 varieties of fresh, raw fish, including sushi-grade tuna and swordfish. If there's something else with gills or shell you want, chances are Caren can order it for you. Shipments of live Maine lobsters arrive three times per week, with Caren discounting what she has in the tank on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Her quality control and customer service make Caren a fishmonger not to be trifled with. As she says, "I look at everything that comes through the door."
Other than during the "Tour Olive," when they give 'em away, this well-established market asks $6.99 a pound for any of its 24 or so varieties, mixed as you like. A few favorites: Alphono marinated in wine; Catalan with fennel and lime; pitted Nicoise, and pitted Greek kalamatas.
Why do we drive two hours round-trip to Prosper, Texas, to buy a couple of dozen eggs every month? Because we have too much time on our hands, frankly. But also because we like our eggs fresh. Know the following: Mahard is family-owned and the 10th-largest egg producer in the country, with something like 3 million white leghorn hens busily cranking out the stuff for our omelettes and soufflés. We do not have to deal with the unpleasant smell of 3 million white leghorn hens when we visit the tiny outlet in Prosper. The hens proper are located elsewhere. We can buy Mahard eggs in the grocery store down the street, but those eggs might be three weeks old. As of press time, we could get a dozen extra large at the outlet in Prosper for 70 cents. And those eggs would have been inside a hen fewer than 24 hours prior.
For those of you who don't know how to cook, we understand why getting invited to a potluck dinner couldn't be more of a pain. Oftentimes, dessert seems like the best course to bring: After all, you can only bring chips and dip so many times, and there's no way Ramen noodles are going to make the cut as an entrée. But bringing dessert is no picnic, either. Baking is hard and hot, which leaves buying a dessert as your only option. And then what? You go to Albertson's or Tom Thumb where you are limited to bag candy, gooey day-old cookies or some Bert and Ernie cake that tastes as synthetic as it looks. Here's your solution: Call Dallas Affaires Cake Co. and order up one of their cakes. They're great. Actually, they're beyond great. They are sinful. Our favorites include the orange cake, the white chocolate cake and the standard white cake with Italian icing. But there are plenty of options to choose from. Of course, Dallas Affaires is also the best option for birthdays, anniversaries, retirements and other standard affairs.