Best Of :: Food & Drink
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.
Ultimately, the purpose of an appetizer is to whet, to arouse, to salivate. It's to kick-start the innards and make them receptive to the more weighty compositions to follow. Mansion Chef John Tesar's crab "scampi style" does this. Six ounces of king crab leg meat is torn from the shell in ropes, flecked with parsley and set in a pool of Riesling butter sauce with touches of garlic and shallot. Riesling creeps to the forefront, launching a fascinating interplay of focused minerality and torrents of fruity acid that seem to reach around the crab's sweet buttery richness, targeting the minerals a few layers deep in the soul of the meat. Here, bitterness kisses the front of the mouth before the butter slides the crab's rich sweetness across the palate. Then the acids clear away a little of that, and it becomes almost floral. All of this is framed in a steely mineral component that is strong in the wine but subtler in the crab. Hence, the complex flavors of the crab instantly become understandable. This is a laser beam of a dish. It is visceral. It has gobs of charisma. It is pure mouth joy.
You know Jimmy's sausage and meatballs (and mortadella and prosciutto) are the stuff of legend, forcing chefs and gastronomes (why does foodie sound like a term for someone with a sippy-cup fetish?) alike to knuckle under its culinary weight in devoted reverence. You also know the wine selection is the best ever brought forth from the entirety of the boot, flowing from Veneto, Compania, Tuscany, Piedmont, Friuli, Sicily, Sardinia, Trentino Alto Adige, Basilicata, Umbria and Marche. Jimmy's even stocks the wines from Avellino bottled by Riccardi's Italian Dining owners Anita and Gaetano Ricardi. But what you may not know is that Jimmy's now has a back room—borne of reconstruction after the devastating 2004 fire that nearly destroyed its circa 1920s building—where wine dinners and wine flights will be launched and indulged and disabused, some hosted by Italian wine experts such as Andrea Cecchi of the Chianti producer Cecchi. More to follow. More to flow. Much to love.
For a third of a century John's Café on Greenville Avenue was one of those chipped mug of coffee places you could go on a Sunday morning and get your feet planted squarely back on planet Earth for the week to come. Then two years ago they deep-sixed it for a bank. Story of our life. But now John's is back from the grave, this time deeper on Greenville, almost at the corner of Ross, and many of the old familiar faces are gathering again for coffee, Greek salad and one of the best big burgers in town. The new location hits it just right, clean and plain, lean and mean—the way Old East Dallas likes it.
There are plenty of bars where you can grab a decent bite in Dallas—Lee Harvey's, the Meridian Room and the Lakewood Landing all come to mind—but the Old Monk is the only one we frequent even when we're not drinking. From the sizable burgers to the awesome fish and chips, everything on the menu is tasty, and it's all better with a side of the best skinny fries in town. And don't forget your vegetarian friends, who'll surely love the renowned (in our world at least) vegetarian Reuben. You'll find us on the large patio, a must in our book since most of Dallas' bar scene still hasn't come around to the idea that food tastes a lot better when it's not accompanied by the smell of cigarettes.
Years ago Sonny Bryan's got rolled out into 10 different Dallas-area locations, and they're all great, but the original on Inwood is proof that part of the barbecue is the shack. Since 1910—that's when Sonny Bryan started peddling his incomparable ribs and brisket from a tumbledown dive near Parkland Hospital—a whole lot of smoke and flavor must have gotten rubbed into the joint's well-worn benches and little school desks. It helps that you can see people back behind the counter pulling those big racks of ribs out of the smoker: You know for sure it's not coming down here quick-frozen from New Jersey. This is real-deal Dallas, the old-fashioned way, and every bite a treat for sure.
It's not always on the menu, but you can get it if you call ahead 24 hours with insistence in your voice. Shinsei's perfectly grilled salmon, polished in Mongolian barbecue sauce, is an astonishing thing. A neatly cleaved square of pink rests on a banana leaf. The thick, sweetish sauce drools from its edges. Sesame seeds and parsley are trapped in the tarry thick of it. It's rich. It flakes easily, sliding into neat shingles on the thin layer of fat that bleeds through its fibers. Sweet is counteracted by smoke. Salt wrestles with tang. Skewers of pineapple, water chestnut and peppers are laid in front of this delicious fish. Catch it if you can.
Popular convention maintains that the appropriate time to consume a Bloody Mary is some Saturday or Sunday morning after a hard night out, perhaps accompanied by a plate of migas. But that's a shamefully short amount of time to dedicate to such tomatoey goodness. So when we discovered that the barmen at the Green Elephant could pour the damn tastiest Mary in town, we welcomed the Bloody Mary into the night, where it belongs, especially given its violent nomenclature. It's hard to say what makes the Green Elephant Bloody Mary so great, but we have a sneaking suspicion it has something to do with the splashes of Newcastle and Shiner Bock that the Bloody Mary connoisseurs at the Elephant add to the drink. And remember, when you're asked "Like it spicy?" make sure you have guts of steel before saying "yes." Because they mean business. Delicious business.
In almost every bowl of mussels served in these parts you'll get one or two that possess the lingering flavors of highly extracted morning mouth. You wince. You cringe. You struggle to spit into your napkin while maintaining decorum. If you narrowly miss a brush with the emergency room, you gulp a shot of vodka and move on to the tiramisu. This won't happen at The Porch, where fruit crisp is the preferred desert and mussels are prepared in Hefeweizen steam. These tiny, clean shellfish rest in an addictive pool of wine, saffron, smoked paprika, tomato and garlic. The broth tosses off licks of smoke thanks to the garlic smoked right alongside the beef for The Porch's chopped brisket sliders, which are good to dip into the mussel broth when the shellfish are depleted—a serving suggestion.
As much as we love Tex-Mex, it's easy to overload on refried beans and queso in this town. So when we want Latin, but are tired of the enchilada platters, we head to Zaguan, a bakery and cafe with a South American flavor. The menu seems to be constantly evolving, but standards include cachapas, sweet corn pancakes with your choice of fillings; arepas, white corn cakes that resemble English muffins, again filled with a selection of meats or cheese; and pabellón criollo, a hearty meal of shredded beef, seasoned black beans, plantains and rice. Our favorite is the pabellón. A freshly squeezed juice (including unusual ones such as watermelon and papaya) completes the meal.
Unlike the Starbucks across the street, Legal Grounds is a cozy neighborhood staple with a regular cast of servers and customers who seem as if they've known each other for years. But the easygoing nature of the place would be for naught if the coffee and food didn't come along for the ride. From the delicious and rich muffin tops to the one-of-a-kind French toast that soaks up a medley of fresh fruit, Legal Grounds delivers one of the best breakfasts in town and that rare Dallas blend of good food and friendly people. You don't have to dress up to eat at Legal Grounds or, even worse, look like a hipster. (AllGood Café, we turn our lonely eyes to you.) Instead you can come in after a bike ride around White Rock Lake or 10 minutes after you wake up and still feel right at home.
This is the sort of place that makes a breakfast that will keep you full well past lunch. Try the huevos rancheros, or any one of their omelets; you can't go wrong. But what this place is known for are its breakfast burritos. Filled with eggs, bacon, sausage and whatever else you want them to put on it, they're the best breakfast burritos in town. Plus, the service here is excellent. Come in one time and they already treat you like a regular, which, if you ride DART rail downtown to the St. Paul station, you may well become.