Grassroots Kitchen, in the Elmwood neighborhood of Oak Cliff, is a humble and homey place. Like the other businesses around it, there are security bars on the doors and windows. Don’t let that dissuade you from going inside, where you’ll find the menu posted by the door, printed in black Sharpie on butcher paper. Instead of cloth napkins, industrial rolls of brown paper towels positioned among the tables are used to keep faces and fingers clean. There isn’t a wine list or craft cocktail menu, but maybe even better, you can BYOB at no charge.
Behind the swinging doors leading to the kitchen is Adam Loew, a professionally trained gourmet cook, who, after landing his first executive chef position at the age of 25, went on to work in cities like Las Vegas, Nashville and Kennebunkport, Maine. He has traveled with NASCAR, cooked at a resort in Boca Raton and catered fundraisers for George H.W. and Barbara Bush twice.
His proudest accomplishment, however, is his work in Oak Cliff, where two years ago, he set up a smoker and started selling what he calls international comfort food on a corner across from the Kessler Theater. Despite his impressive resume, he says, “I’d rather people think I was a guy who started on the street with a smoker.”
His mission was to get people in his neighborhood to try new foods, something outside of the usual tacos, pizzas and burgers. By meeting people and letting them sample his food, Loew was able to gauge what else might work in the area — hence the name Grassroots Kitchen, where ordinary folks can get delicious food in lavish portions at a fair price.
It's the community support that makes running a restaurant worth the work for Loew and his wife, Thania. Those looking to avoid the pretense and parking of Bishop Arts will experience communal dining at Grassroots, where a few long tables built by Thania’s father encourage people to talk to each other while eating the popular banh mi or brisket sandwiches.
“For us, it’s comforting to cook and be around people,” Thania says.
Now, it’s not just the people of Elmwood coming to Grassroots. Thanks to five-star Facebook and Yelp reviews, Grassroots is drawing people from outside Oak Cliff for Loew’s from-scratch cooking. Every item that comes out of the kitchen is made in-house: dressings, sauces, pickles, dry rubs, slaws, chips; everything but the bread that comes from Empire Baking Company is made in his self-designed kitchen.
Loew’s international comfort food makes for an eclectic menu. Diners can choose from dishes like Jamaican jerk chicken with jicama slaw and mango habanero sauce or shredded lamb gyros with tzatziki, or the best-selling banh mis that come with a choice of pork or chicken, drenched in ginger butter, cilantro mayo and Loew’s house-pickled Asian veggies. The juicy brisket sandwich with creamy horseradish sauce and three-onion jam made with fresh thyme, shallots and ACV is also not to be missed.
For appetizers, the ultra-creamy spinach artichoke dip with four cheeses tastes unlike any other artichoke dip, due to the secret, special ingredient: a small dollop of blue cheese, small enough to go undetected by blue cheese-haters. Loew once noticed that no matter where we worked, spinach artichoke dip showed up on the menu, so he decided to develop his own recipe. Not even Thania knows it, though it is one of her favorite things on the menu.
Loew’s pickles are also noteworthy. The nine-ingredient house pickling mix, which includes cloves and allspice, had this pickle-ambivalent writer wanting more. You can also get those pickles spicy, making for a perfect accompaniment to the barbecue pork or Cuban mojo sammich.
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While it seems impossible that anyone would get bored with Grassroots' extensive menu, Loew keeps coming up with more daily specials. Soups and chowders change every couple of days. Lately, he’s been making his own pasta that is selling out quickly. Bottom line: No matter what you order, it will be loaded with lots of rich, intense, homemade flavor.
When asked why he quit fine dining where he might make more money, Loew’s answer was to-the-point: “Because if I’m going to work 100 hours a week," he says, "it will be for myself. And this way, I cook what I want.”
Grassroots Kitchen, 2109 S. Edgefield Ave. (Elmwood neighborhood of Oak Cliff)