La Popular Tamale House
Taryn Walker
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.

David's Meat Market
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."

Whole Foods Market
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.

Jack Moore doesn't care whether you call him "chef" or "cook," so long as you use the word "tasty" when describing the pies he's been cooking for 35 years. He does them all--chocolate, apple, pecan, coconut and a variety of cobblers--but his specialty is his sweet potato pie. "Been cooking 'em for a long time," he says, "and have never had a complaint." And what's to complain about? They're sweet, smooth and made from scratch. You can order a piece from the menu. Or, better yet, fork over $12 and take a whole pie home with you. And, yes, the Old Mill Inn is open daily.

Virgin Megastore
A friend dragged us to the new Virgin Megastore, which opened in September. In the parking lot, we boldly declared to everyone within earshot that we'd never buy a CD in that unholy place. No, sir. We were far too cool to shop for our Sleater-Kinney in a theme park. Down with The Man. And so on. Then we stepped through the glass doors and beheld the promised land. The Virgin store consists of 25,000 square feet of aisle upon aisle overflowing with reasonably priced digital milk and honey. CDs and DVDs and video games as far as the eye can see (not really, but we're on a roll). On a busy weekend, perhaps 20 Virgin helpers are at your disposal. Yes, they wear too-baggy pants. But they will find what you're looking for and do it with good cheer. And you can try it before you buy it. There are so many listening stations at Virgin that when asked, employees underestimated the number by half. While an exact figure was difficult to determine even after a phone call to a manager, we can safely say there are more than 100 listening stations, some of them called Megaplay Stations, which allow you to grab most any CD or DVD off the shelf, scan its bar code and listen to or view it. Does our purple prose make us uncool? No matter. We will gladly forfeit our coolness for such hyperstupendous megaselection.

If there is any truth in advertising, it certainly would apply to Darrell's Sensational Pies!, a wholesale pie company that distributes 32 flavors of these single-serving treats through 18 Dallas locations including Two Sisters Catering, Snappy's Catfish and Burger House. From the traditional apple and cherry to the more exotic pumpkin pecan and chunky peanut butter chocolate, these tidy four-and-a-half-inch minis cater to the gluttonous among us who believe that fat can be fun when delivered in small portions. Yet Darrell, a third-generation baker, tips his crust to the health-conscious, damning all use of additives or preservatives. For the small-waisted or the calorie-unconscious, a 9-incher can be ordered on demand through these retail outlets. Call Darrell direct to find the pie nearest you. Or wait six weeks until he opens his own retail store in North Dallas. Then try the blueberry and chocolate chip brownie. They're sensational!

Sigel's Fine Wines and Great Spirits
Smaller specialty stores have better and more thorough wine selections, and froufrou grocery stores have more eclectic stocks of microbrews, but two things count in a good liquor store: convenience and sauce. That's why you can't go wrong with this Sigel's location across from Old Town. An empty bottle's throw from Central Expressway, this ample store thankfully arranges its stock according to alcohol's two primary colors--clear and amber--making it easy to find what you're looking for. Should you require, there's plenty of mixers to be had, and for those big, bad, cherry-popping voodoo daddies who like to party like it's 1995, you can stock up on cigars as well. And perhaps best of all, it's only a short stroll from the Lovers Lane DART station, for those out there who need a designated driver during the day.

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