Best Dining Diamond in the Rough 2007 | Local | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

Best Dining Diamond in the Rough


Local is a slowly evolving organism, one that seems to thrive creatively on the cusp of its own extinction. Chef/owner Tracy Miller brought forth her restaurant in 2003, an offshoot of the catering operation she's nurtured in Deep Ellum's classic Boyd Hotel since 1997. Miller opened with the commitment to shepherd and develop Local in deliberately managed increments so as not to outrun her culinary (and financial) headlights. Since that time she has added a sleek yet comfortable wine lounge and is unfolding plans to subsume the Boyd's courtyard with garden dining in the spring. Yet through all of this inching, Miller has never relaxed her snug embrace of American flavors, distinctly teased with her own earthy flair. Try her urbane steak and eggs twist, two fried quail eggs on a drift of steak tartare. Or wallow in her meticulously harmonized hazelnut- and mustard-crusted halibut in Chardonnay thyme broth accompanied by grilled country bread and a young spinach salad—pure haute meets homey. Or surrender to the rib eye in a mushroom sauté with onion risotto. Miller is a virtuoso who whirs the salivary glands with clean flavors that mingle and marry and juxtapose in well-composed essays. That it sits in the Deep Ellum urban frontier means your adventure never has to suffer the irritants (noise, parking, neglect) of the stunning and the trendy.
Spike Global Grill and the Angelika have a movie-and-dinner deal that for $22.95 per person gives you fresh mint basil salad, skewered tapas and strawberries-and-cream parfait, plus a movie ticket to any film at the Angelika. Since movie tickets now cost $9.25, the three-course dinner is fresh and tasty and a real bargain. Spike also offers two other movie packages: a wine-and-cheese tasting with three 3-ounce flights of red or white wine for $24.95, or a four-course meal (dishes selected by the chef) for $39.95. See the movie first or see it after you dine. (The ticket is good for up to one year.) It's a perfect first date—the movie gives you something to talk about when conversation lulls, and Spike stays open until 2 a.m., great for long getting-to-know-you conversation if you hit it off—or plenty of time to get really wasted if your date won't shut the hell up.
We knew the service at Central 214 was attentive when our waiter surreptitiously noted our preference for Splenda and brought a single packet with each tea refill. And the food sparked oohs and aahs too, especially the hanger steak and the "mac and cheese our way" (their way is rigatoni with a garlic cream sauce and Parmesan). But if you're really on your game, you'll parlay the delicious dinner into a suggestion of dessert...brought by room service. The chic Hotel Palomar offers sumptuous rooms to sleep off your gluttonous meal or, you know, whatever. Our tip: Request a room with a soaking tub.
Unless you really, really love Dairy Queen, the Crandall Cotton Gin is one of the last outposts for a hearty meal between Dallas and Tyler. Next time you're truckin' out to the Piney Woods, stop here for an $8.95 daily dinner special, which gets you more food than any person should eat in a single sitting. About as "fusion" as it gets is the grilled ham with pineapple on Sundays, but expect solid down-home entrees such as liver and onions, roast beef and chicken-fried steak. Just pray you've no occasion to travel east on a Monday when the Cotton Gin is closed.
The Porch
Named after Dallas lawyer Steve Stodghill, the Stodg Burger at The Porch, a lively hot spot in the Knox-Henderson neighborhood, is not only politically incorrect—high-calorie, high-fat, honest-to-God red meat—it might be a good idea to look over your shoulder for the food police while eating it. The combination of flavors would probably get you thrown out of culinary school. Here goes: the Stodg is a thick burger topped with a slice of cheddar cheese, which is topped with applewood-smoked bacon, which is topped with a fried egg, all of which teeters on a bun spread with foie gras. That's the final killer touch. Does it taste great? Yep. If you decide to order it, alert the local paramedics first or make sure your dining companion knows CPR.
It's a gangly, lowly beast with a thick crunchy stalk and curled, rippled leaves. It was once honored by the Greeks and Romans for its medicinal attributes, a weed that calms with spinach essence even as it teases with a pungency followed by a fierce, if tiny, lick of salt. In the hands of the Craft magicians this natural militancy is wrung out and somehow coaxed into harmony. Have it sautéed. The leaves are blanched and chilled before they're heated in olive oil in which garlic has been sautéed. Leaves are cooked until the leaf edges are slivery crisps. This is compelling simplicity, a kind of nourishment that if finished as a child earned you dessert with two scoops. At Craft, eating it is its own reward.
Despite its title, there is very little French in the French Room—save for the furiousness of its kitchen technique. It's more of an Italian-New York mash deliciously henpecked with Asian pinches and California thumbprints. The glory of it, aside from the paunchy flushed cherubs romping among the ceiling clouds and the gilded arches and explosive floral formations teasing the chandeliers and the greenish marble floor, is how the plates launch the senses into transcendence. Steam coiling and licking from the plate is enough to make you drool. Every thin smear of coulis or gastrique, every smudge of gelee, every emulsion stain, is of the perfect texture and temperature. Every protein—fish, scallop, fowl, meat and the decadent-and-soon-to-be-banned-at-a-PC-automaton-restaurant-near-you foie gras is as impeccable and ample as the cherub love handles in the cloud puffs. So you know the service will knock you dead. But you're in heaven. So it's OK.
You may likely encounter a different version of this embattled dish (foie gras has been banned in Chicago and California) as the Craft menu is a living document. Our fowl liver delicacy was roasted and rested in gooseberry gastrique, ornamented with tiny crouton-like cubes tumbled across its surface. It's served in a dual-handled metal roasting implement with the lobe occupying the center. Berries and a few bright green herbs are strewn here and there. It's packed with glory, delicate and texturally perfect with a slightly leathery veneer embracing the velvety cream within. The slight sting of the gooseberry cuts and eases the weight of the richness, scrubbing the palate for the next forkful—all of this from a lowly filtration organ that spits bile. The beauty of Craft foie gras is that it has none of the cumbersome culinary baubles and blings often used to dress up this gland—the heavy fruits and thick port reductions, the mounds of greens that bury it, the thick brioche or potatoes. It's just there in a pot, stark naked, hiding behind a few berries, the garden of culinary Eden before the politico snakes began to attack with their numbskull prohibitions.
The whole fried catfish at Alligator Café never ceases to inspire envy in other diners who didn't have the sense to order it. First, it's large. The breading is perfect: fried golden cornmeal so fresh and crisp the meat inside is still steaming. Dip each yummy piece in cocktail sauce, tartar sauce or alligator sauce. Just when you think you've gotten all the juicy morsels, you discover there's a whole 'nother side o' fish to tackle. The catfish basket comes with crispy French fries too. If you are really feeling frisky, go on Friday or Saturday night when the Alligator Café has live music. Close your eyes and you could be in Lafayette Parish.
We know: You like Bubba's, and they're great and all. But we just can't love a place that once somehow charged us $1 per organ for an order of chicken livers. What were they fried in, rendered unicorn fat? So give us Celebration. For around $11 bucks, we get fresh bread and muffins, all we can eat of juicy-not-greasy chicken, plus three sides or the freshest veggies available. The coating is crispy but not oil-sodden and we swear they must either marinate or brine, because the taste of herbs comes steaming out of the meat. All this is served in a comfy warren of wooden booths and tree-shaded patios by some of the friendliest servers in the city. (Scary friendly, sometimes. Really, can anyone be that cheerful on a Sunday afternoon after the post-church rush?) Compare them to the surly bunch occasionally found behind the counter at other chicken shacks. The folks at Celebration seem like they're actually celebrating something, or maybe they're just glad they're not the ones standing over the fryer.

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