The space that was once home to Bolsa is alive again, this time through the lens of Encina.
Chef Matt Balke and co-owner Corey McCombs took inspiration from the former’s hometown of Uvalde for the restaurant. “Encina” is Spanish for “holm oak,” which is also the original name of Uvalde. Inside, guests will see photographs and canvas prints of scenery from Uvalde.
“I think it’s funny that when people come in and see these pictures, they’re like, ‘Is that in Texas?’” Balke says. “And nobody ever understands this small town in Southwest Texas has crystal-clear, beautiful rivers, hills and trees. It’s just a quiet oasis there.”
Balke opens Encina after more than 15 years in the hospitality industry. Before this, he was the executive chef at Bolsa for four years. He also had stints at Smoke and The Rustic.
After Bolsa closed in January, Balke decided it was time to open a place of his own.
“I’m at an age where I’m like, ‘If I’m gonna do it, then it’s time to do it.’” Balke says. “Originally, we were going to buy Bolsa, but then that kind of felt like we were taking over somebody else’s dream.”
Balke and McCombs signed the lease for the property in February, unaware that a month later, restaurants would be ordered to close because of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the major setback, the pair didn’t accept defeat. Rather, Balke says this allowed them more time to plan, execute and design.
Having worked in the building for nearly eight years, Balke knew of no other place he’d want to open his first outpost. Over time, this space has become the East Dallas resident’s home away from home.
“I’ve spent a fair amount of time in this building, and I’ve grown to love it,” Balke says. “Oak Cliff is kind of its own unique area. You’ve got tourists, you’ve got neighborhood folks. It’s out here far enough away from anything, and it has its own community.”
Encina’s menu boasts dishes inspired by Southwest Texas and California. Signature items include a veal bratwurst served on top of warm potato salad with apple mustard on the side ($19) and turkey leg confit, served with a roasted carrot salad, Brussels leaves, pomegranate and black pepper gastrique ($25).
The cocktail menu, curated by McCombs, includes signature cocktails such as the reading wood black, with Woodford Reserve rye, coffee-infused Martini & Rossi bitter and sweet vermouth ($14). Leaning sweeter is the flower patch, with strawberry and rosemary vodka, Grand Poppy amaro, lemon and bubbles ($13).
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The dining room is open, as is the spacious patio.
While the past year has been trying for Balke and McCombs, Balke looks forward to bringing joy to people’s hearts with good food.
“This is the real deal. This is mine. Everything falls on me,” Balke says. “Everybody’s been locked inside for a long time. They’ve been doing a lot of to-go orders. This is a good opportunity for people to get excited about food and dining out again.”
Encina, 614 W. Davis St., No. 100 (Oak Cliff). Open for dine-in 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday.