Best Soy Latte Free of Corporate Grubbing 2004 | The Nodding Dog Coffee Co. | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

Addiction is an ugly thing. The first step is to admit you're powerless over it: You need your coffee, you will have your quintuple espresso low foam the runway mocha frappadoodle, and the rest of the world be damned. Having accepted the situation, the next step is to quit slopping the corporate hog. The Nodding Dog in Oak Cliff is a funky independent coffee house in the Bishop Arts district. It can comfortably sit 10 at its smattering of mismatched tables, not including the incongruous floral sofa. Think of it as anti-décor: The place doesn't look like a hotel lobby, it doesn't invite you to spend the night, it doesn't try to sell you a compilation CD or a ceramic mug. You can get a cup of coffee--a really good, ulcer-squirting cuppa joe. Coffee selections are for people who really enjoy the taste of coffee, so frou-frou is kept to a minimum. That said, they do make the best soy latte, hands down. The Dog also mixes Italian sodas and offers a small selection of muffins, cookies and grilled sandwiches. Owner Gus Trevino believes in giving back to the community, which is why he buys his coffees from area roasters such as the San Angelo-based La Crème Coffee and Tea. You can also catch local musicians jamming on the weekend.

Kids love to cook, and you love to rationalize any opportunity to dump them somewhere for a couple of hours on Saturday as a great educational adventure. Sur La Table meets all your needs. This classy kitchen/cookware store not only takes grown-up cooking seriously, with adult cooking classes and the most amazing gadgetry, high-end pots and pans, and chi-chi tableware, but it has homed in on your children as an untapped market of future foodies. Kids cooking classes are a little pricey--around $50 for two to three hours--but your kids really learn how to cook. Each class has a theme--cake decorating, cookie baking--and your 8- to 12-year-old comes home with a fresh-baked accomplishment, plus free accoutrements such as spatulas, spoon-ulas or offset icing spatulas.

Their motto is "eat like a sultan," and if sultans had to pick up their own trays and silverware, we'd believe it. Start at the beginning and work your way through this beautifully presented buffet of fresh Mediterranean specialties: salads and appetizers such as tabbouleh, fattoush, hummus and baba ghanouj; vegetables such as cilantro zucchini, coriander potatoes, pomegranate eggplant and balsamic mushrooms; and main dishes including beef and chicken shawarma, broiled lamb shank, roasted chicken and kababs. For $10.99 you get Fadi's Ultimate Sampler: a sample portion of all dips, salads, vegetables and one main dish. It's all prepared to accommodate low-fat, low-carb dieters, using no dairy, lard, butter or margarine. Of course, add a piece of baklava or a pistachio cookie and they'll have to roll you out in a wheelbarrow.

Any reason to go to the Four Seasons is a good one, unless it's for the Byron Nelson, in which case, ugh. The resort's restaurant, with its towering windows letting in an endless supply of sunshine, gives us the feel-good vibe of getting out of town; it's like being in the Hill Country without the drive and all those damned hippies. We're also partial to the Sunday-morning meal that lasts till noon, and with a spread like this--seafood and sushi among the normal eggs-and-bacon-and-biscuits fare--there's no reason to leave the table till you've had enough to last till Monday; no need for dinner, that's for sure. Also, you don't even need to get a room, unless you've had a few too many Bloody Marys and need to sleep it off. Or you could just go watch some golf downstairs and fall fast asleep, your belly full and mind empty, like you've just been on vacation without having to leave the area code.

Readers' Pick

Blue Mesa Grill

Various locations

Garland may not be so small-town anymore, but it still knows comfort food as well as any farming town. More specifically, the GoldMine Family Restaurant knows its "chicken fry." Fried chicken? Sure. Fried okra? Of course. But the real gem of the golden battered is the chicken-fried steak. These babies aren't frozen wholesale steaks; they're fresh cuts dredged in a homemade batter that allows for an outer crispiness, while the steak inside is fork-tender. The cream gravy is smooth, not too thick and doesn't overwhelm the meat. The partnership is perfect--both gravy and steak are flavorful, achieving a grand and comforting harmony on the tongue.

Politics and food are inextricably entwined. Food is the staff of political oratory, the mother's milk of stump rhetoric, the fruit of floor harrumphing. The French recognized this intimate relationship more than two centuries ago when Marie Antoinette famously remarked: "If the people have no bread, then let them eat cake." Historians doubt she ever said this, but she lost her head over it anyway during the French Revolution. French President Charles De Gaulle remarked on this intimacy more than a century later. "How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?" he asked. Even the Germans, not known for their culinary deftness, felt the need to comment on the linkage. "To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making," Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck said.

This synergy isn't lost on Americans either. "Now I'm president of the United States, and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli," President George H. W. Bush promised after his election in 1988.

In Dallas, perhaps no one understands the relationship between food and politics better than Mark Maguire, founder and operator of Maguire's Regional Cuisine and M Grill & Tap. Maguire, who has toyed with the idea of running for public office, is deeply enmeshed in the political processes on all levels: federal, state and local. "When I see opportunities to make things better, I get more fired up about getting involved," Maguire says. "Every single thing that happens with regard to regulation or ordinance has a more powerful effect on our business because of the way we are set up."

From health and environmental regulation, to employment law, to "sin" regulations, to zoning and signage ordinances, virtually everything government does can give restaurateurs indigestion, Maguire says. The reason: Restaurant operations are profoundly labor intensive, requiring a greater number of employees to generate a given level of income than most other businesses.

But while he visits Washington on a regular basis, he says restaurant issues on the national level are under control in the fists of the National Restaurant Association. "My involvement really is directed at trying to strengthen our industry when it comes to being at the table with the city and state folks," he adds. Sort of. In Austin, Maguire says, restaurateurs make up one of the three most powerful lobbies in the state. In Dallas? "Obviously there are a lot of frustrations," he admits. Even though the restaurant industry is one of the top contributors to local tax coffers and the largest employer next to government, restaurateurs are routinely dissed by City Hall, he maintains. "It's not necessarily about what you provide to the city; it's about how big a hammer you bring to the table," he says. "They have a perception of our industry that it is weak and disorganized."

Maguire doesn't dispute this assessment. He says the industry in Dallas lacks cohesion and focus, but he attributes it to the nature of the business, with its long hours and slender margins.

This lack of a united front was most conspicuously evident in the industry's fight against the Dallas smoking ban, a move Maguire insists cost him and his fellow operators thousands of dollars in revenue as smokers headed to outlying areas where they could puff freely. "We have to fight much harder on the city level," he laments. "It's more intense. I don't mind saying that I think the way our city government is set up is an absolute mess." The mess, he says, stems from a structure that produces a relatively weak mayor and a moribund city council profoundly absorbed with infighting and vote-trading to shore up individual fiefdoms. The big Dallas picture gets lost.

Maguire even hints that City Hall is infected with duplicity. "They will look us in the eye and tell us one thing and then do something completely different," he says. "It's gotten to a really negative situation here in Dallas. I don't think they care about us...Laura Miller is on her high horse looking down at the restaurant industry."

On the national level, Maguire says, his colleagues largely toe a pro-business line, not surprising as the intensive nature of the business means tighter regulations and steeper taxes almost always inflict pain on existing operators while they raise entrance barriers to fresh blood. "An extremely large majority of our industry is more leaning toward Bush and the Republican side just for that reason," he says. Maguire worries a Kerry administration might give a significant boost to living-wage proponents, who wish to set the minimum wage well above $10 per hour. "That would be devastating to our industry," he says.

Albert Einstein once said an empty stomach is not a good political adviser, which is why hotel and restaurant lunches and dinners are the bread of political campaigns and political action committees. Maguire hosts many of these events. And it's a safe bet he keeps the menu clear of French cheese.

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