A desolate downtown rooftop has blossomed into a sprawling urban garden.
This summer, the chefs at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel have quietly built a fruit and vegetable garden on its fourth-floor terrace called the Herb’n Jungle.
Once a barren expanse of concrete, the terrace is now full of raised beds whose bounty is used as ingredients for dishes in the Sheraton’s new restaurants and bars.
The garden is directly above the kitchens, and large vents fill the terrace with smells of fresh-baked brioche and chocolate chip cookies from pastry chef Amy La Rue.
At dinner time, guests can smell chile-lime flank steak or housemade tortillas wafting through the air.
Each day, bartenders clip lemon verbena and fresh mint for cocktails for the night. There are also rows and rows of basil, thyme, oregano and rosemary.
“Six months ago, no one would ever be seen on this rooftop,” says executive chef Zeb Hartline. “Now when guests see chefs out here picking weeds or trimming basil, they come out and start asking questions about the garden and our menus.”
Large, concrete boxes previously had crepe myrtles, but they’ve been replaced by a dozen fruit trees, each with playful names like Figgy Stardust and Pom Diggity marked on license plates hanging on each.
There are peach, pomegranate, fig, plum, nectarine and apricot trees. In “Pepper Corner,” Hartline is growing the hottest peppers known to man, including Carolina Reaper peppers, scorpion peppers, ghost pepper, plus Thai chiles.
All that’s growing here is surrounded by murals painted by Dallas-based artist Falk Houben, known for work in Deep Ellum. The artwork exemplifies the idea behind the Herb’n Jungle, with a tattooed tiger, a gorilla with a handful of herbs and even a poor, dead pigeon backed by the Dallas skyline. A mighty phoenix is soaring above the Sheraton’s silhouette.
“The garden has been a point of pride for our culinary team, who helped plant all of our fruits, herb and veggies,” says Ryan Littman, director of food and beverage at the hotel.
Impressively, the Sheraton has also launched a composting program in an effort to reduce waste. While most food waste is composted off-site, there are several composting bins in the garden used for items that break down more quickly, such as strawberry stems, leafy greens and nutrient-rich coffee grounds.
The space is an urban oasis ornamented with city life. Parking meters are tucked away in the garden, and an old phone booth sits in the corner. They also brought in a dozen picnic tables.
The garden marks a significant milestone for the food and beverage program at the Sheraton becoming an entirely scratch kitchen.
When Littman arrived less than a year ago, much of the hotel’s food was ordered frozen and pulled out of a box. Today, there are three giant walk-in freezers that sit empty, Littman said.
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“We’re done with the days of frozen food,” he says.
That’s thanks in large part to his hiring of Hartline as executive chef. He took the helm of the Sheraton last spring, coming from the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center.
“We have transformed the dining experience at the Sheraton and will continue giving hotel guests and Dallas residents incredible dining experiences,” Hartline says.
Sheraton Dallas Hotel, 400 N. Olive St. (downtown)