Here at the Observer, we’ve tried to highlight the brave efforts of restaurateurs struggling to keep staff employed and customers fed after this damn virus took away the in-house dining they specialize in. Not all of them could.
But some had to close.
“I just didn’t see it working for us because we’re so breakfast heavy,” says Mark Wootton of Garden Cafe. “And honestly it seemed risky from a health perspective. I didn’t want the anxiety and stress of that.
“I had a lot of fresh product, and it just made more sense to me to keep the staff fed as long as I could.”
He also started an employee assistance fund the day he announced the closing.
“It was hard. We’ve got people crying. They don’t know what they’re going to do,” he says. “I knew with Garden Café’s reputation, I could bring something in for them.”
When the Facebook fundraiser was approved, it went from $50 to over $2,600 in a matter of hours. If you’re not familiar with Garden Café, it’s truly a beloved institution in East Dallas.
And because you can’t go there right now, Wootton is going to teach you how to make its iconic meatloaf at home. Then I’m going to make the recipe for the purpose of validating the instruction or for comic effect, depending on whether I screw it up.
“This is really hard to screw up,” he says.
“REALLY mix the ingredients until you can see the fat breaking down. Burned garlic is awful; so don’t do that,” Wootton says. “I’m kind of trying to make something up to tell you because this is so easy.”
It was. The only thing I can tell you in the way of help is to remember that you’re eating it. If you want those vegetables processed finely, process them finely. If you want different spices, use different spices.
“I was aiming to make a badass, basic, homestyle meatloaf,” he says.
Accomplished. This is the epitome of American meatloaf.
Two variations you might want to try: 1) In lean times, home cooks stretched scarce meat by using more bread or other starch in meatloaf. Wootton’s recipe never heard of scarcity and is dense. 2) With all that ground beef, the bottom 1/3 of the loaf is essentially confit when it comes out. I love that, but if you don’t, cut the recipe by about 30% and set the loaf on top of some thin slices of potato to prop it up out of the fat while cooking. And then you have potato au gratin for a side.
Wootton fully intends to be back operating the Garden Café once it’s safe.
“We were already considering some menu changes and maybe new hours before all this. This might be a good opportunity for a fresh start,” he says.
He’s keeping himself busy helping others: This meatloaf will be featured in his Easter Sunday meal for Baylor hospital staff.
He’s optimistic. I spend a lot of time talking to owners and managers who have to let people go and to a lot of the people they let go, and I’d be lying if I told you I don’t get sad. Two things made me feel a lot better this week: making a comforting Garden Café meatloaf and making a donation to its employee fund. Join me in both, won’t you?
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
2 lb. ground beef
2 medium eggs, whisked
1/2 cup bell pepper
1/2 cup onion
2 shots Tabasco
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
3 tablespoons tomato sauce
2/3 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup fresh minced herbs, e.g. parsley, oregano, thyme, winter savory, rosemary (some or all, whatever is in the garden)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Combine all ingredients except for the bread crumbs and herbs in a large mixing bowl.
Mix all ingredients well by hand or with a paddle mixer.
Add the bread crumbs and herbs, mix them in well.
Grease a 9-inch loaf pan with pan spray.
Fill pan with mixture, pat down and shape lightly.
Cover with foil, and bake at 350 F for about 50 minutes.
Remove the foil, cover with glaze return to oven for about 20 minutes.
1/2 cup diced white onion
4 minced garlic cloves
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 cups canned diced tomato in juice
2 cups tomato sauce
1/4 cup fresh minced herbs, e.g. parsley, oregano, thyme, winter savory, rosemary
Salt & pepper to taste
Saute onion until soft and translucent.
Add sugar and continue saute until onions are well caramelized.
Add garlic and saute until very slightly brown.
Add tomato sauce and chopped tomatoes.
Let simmer on low while stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes.
Finish with herbs and salt and pepper to taste.