The hardest question I've been asked since I moved here last week has come from friends back in North Carolina: What's Dallas like? Having seen little of the city beyond my apartment, my office and Ikea, I honestly had no idea.
So Friday I decided to get educated by pedaling portions of the metroplex and seeing what I could find to eat along the way. In retrospect, I probably should have toted a zoning map: I spent too much time biking long stretches populated only by office parks and billboards for as yet un-built housing developments (sorry, urban villages.)
I started my trek at the corner of Bryan and Fitzhugh, which is comfortable territory for anyone whose friends Twitter furiously about whether ramps are overrated. I wandered through the East Dallas Community Garden, and checked out Jimmy's Food Store, an institution as impressive as it is beloved.
Since I didn't think any of the fresh meats or frozen pastas would fare too well in my messenger bag, I settled for a bottle of San Benedetto water, figuring it would give my ride a bit of Breaking Away flair. Turns out the water runs sweet in San Benedetto, which the Internet tells me is somewhere near Venice. An American distributor would probably label it cannoli-flavored. I traded it for real Texas tap water at my next stop, Central Market, which I had heard was the Wegmans of the West. If the local peach I sampled was any indication, Central Market might have the edge in the produce department.
I continued north from Central Market, planning to stop when restaurants opened for lunch. At a few minutes after 11 a.m., I pulled up to Los Pinos Taqueria in Richardson. The strip mall spot's decor was encouragingly unremarkable, but - unfortunately - so was the "special taco" I tried. The little chunks of pork were terrific, but they were buried in a mess of grilled peppers, sweaty bacon and too much cheese.
Now hungry, I stopped at Twin's Hot Tofu, which pretty much redeemed Richardson for me. Twin's makes its own tofu, and shows it off with a silken tofu appetizer that's served with every meal. The jiggly mound of snow white tofu is spritzed with a scallion soy sauce that hits all the right umami notes. Perhaps it was the midday heat, but I liked the starter even better than the excellent spicy vegetable tofu stew (for which I'll surely return the moment summer allergies strike.)
My internal compass apparently failed after Twin's, since I found myself surrounded by pastures grazed by miniature horses. When I set myself right, I came upon Babe's, the restaurant that was mentioned repeatedly in response to my earlier fried chicken post. I immediately locked my bike to the nearest "no parking" sign.
I can't imagine anyone reading this hasn't been to Babe's, but the restaurant's a weird mash-up of Disney's Country Bear Jamboree and the Ritz. There's nothing high-cotton about the clientele: A few lunching mechanics ensured I wasn't the sweatiest person in the dining room. But the silverware came rolled in a white linen napkin, and the table was set with foil-wrapped pats of Plugra.
Whatever. A little reverence for food never hurt, and the fried chicken really was as good as promised. But I'd rather brag on the biscuits, which helped make sense of all those stories about men marrying ladies for their biscuit-making ways. I can imagine a bachelor rethinking his lifestyle when faced with a biscuit as light and downy as Babe's, drizzled with sorghum molasses: Well, hell, I like drinking whiskey and sleeping with prostitutes and all, but I do believe I'd trade it for a daily dose of these here biscuits. And maybe some of this creamed corn.
It's hard to manage another meal after an all-you-can-eat feast, so I finished my first Dallas eating tour at M.T.A Shaved Ice.
I'm not sure I'm much better qualified to answer the "What's Dallas like?" question yet, but a peach, tofu and a biscuit have left me even more excited to find out.