Best East Texas Outpost 2007 | Cotton Gin | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer
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.
They retain just enough heat from the hot oil. Piled high into a berm, these are thin fries, house-cut, desperately crisp; some golden, some bronze, some with mahogany tips. Sea salt covers them like scalp flakes on Brooks Brothers. You pick up a little tuber sweetness on the attack, but it's quickly cleansed by a gentle whoosh of vinegar that invigorates the palate, resetting it for more. Hence the addiction. That little vinegar trounce is also why they mate so well with fish—fish and frites. They go well with oysters too.
Barbec's may have cheesy décor, but you gotta love a non-chain restaurant where you can eat breakfast any time of day. There's not really anything low-fat or healthy here, but what's that old saying, "Eat breakfast like a king"? Well, we figure that still applies, whether breakfast is the first or fourth meal of the day. The beer-batter biscuits are a must, but hey, scoop a mess o' eggs and ham on there too, wouldya? We still have some unclogged arteries.
An original pick this is not; our readers anoint Ziziki's just about every year, and that's because it feels and tastes like upscale Greek, with attention lavished on top-notch ingredients, inventive touches, a warm atmosphere and polished service. This isn't your stereotypical Greek joint with gyros—they aren't even on the menu here—and laminated travel posters on the wall. The Preston Road location is our favorite, with its warm browns and yellows and sleek but non-stuffy décor. Lamb is the way to go here: The rack of lamb, grilled and nestled in a pool of red wine-and-oregano-accented gravy, is possibly the best in town. Super-tender, gently flavored lamb can also be found in the souvlaki and stuffed lamb loin, a special. Ziziki's has modestly upscale prices as well. So if you're looking for traditional favorites prepared the usual way, pick someplace cheaper. This is Greek cuisine for the gourmand.

Best Of Dallas®

Best Of