Food News

HG Sply Co.'s Chef Danyele McPherson on How to Serve Healthy Food Without 'A Lecture'

Fort Worth can celebrate this week, as the second location of Dallas’ HG Sply Co. opens on the Trinity River.

HG Sply Co. is a restaurant that boasts it cooks food that’s good "because it’s good." For those of you who aren’t fans of HG yet and are picturing plates of steamed vegetables with lean, grass-fed bison going to every table, think again.

“For those with the paleo sort of diet, there’s a ton of stuff on our menu outside of it: legumes, peanuts,” executive chef Danyele McPherson says. "We try to take things that people want to eat; it’s not just a pile of kale.”

If you Google “paleo restaurant Dallas,” HG Sply Co. pops up as a top place with the label, “American gastropub with a rooftop patio.” The Fort Worth location, McPherson says, has a large patio overlooking the river, too, by the way.

Yes, a paleo-follower can eat there, but so can someone following the keto diet, a non-dairy diet, a vegetarian diet — the average carb-inhaling American, too. 

“I think now we are so far beyond that very simplistic mentality,” McPherson says. “Coming to restaurants, it’s not only about the food, fulfilling the need to eat; it’s truly not. We want to go to a restaurant because we want to be in a communal environment. It’s almost about the pomp and circumstance. It’s fun to be at HG Dallas and it’s going to be fun to be at HG Fort Worth.”

A lot on HG's menu is healthy fare: cauliflower grits, vegan queso and a kale Caesar are a few highlights. But McPherson said the goal isn’t to make you go through the menu to identify harmful ingredients or count your macros: It’s to pick a meal and trust it will taste good and make you feel well, she said.

“There’s nothing hidden on the menu,” she says. 
“You get the double whammy of, ‘Hey, this is good for me, and it’s delicious,'" McPherson says. "We’ll use certain flour bends: It’s the best version of that that I can offer consciously, but at the end of the day, I also know that I don’t want to eat a lettuce wrap and drink a big glass of whatever every day. Do what you do when you come out to dine; don’t get a lecture from the menu.”

And that’s what customers in Fort Worth are getting.

“We’re taking what Fort Worth loves and putting our spin on it,” she says, meaning there really is a gluten-free chicken-fried steak on the menu.

“Every single person can come out and sit at a table with their friends with their own dietary needs,” she says.

McPherson was a vegetarian for nine years. She also dabbled in being vegan. “That was not what I wanted,” she says.

“When I became a chef, I abandoned all restrictions," McPherson says. "If I’m trying to provide the best experience for my customers, I need to be able to eat everything."

McPherson’s background includes a degree from the University of North Carolina in anthropology and history, then working in a university library. While she was employed in her 9-to-5 job, she kept working as a line cook in popular Chapel Hill, North Carolina restaurants.

“What I sort of realized is, I enjoy doing something that’s tactile,” she says. “I have something to show for my hard day’s work; I could feel tools and work toward that end.”

After more office jobs, she found herself at the Culinary Institute of America, which she didn’t finish before moving to Dallas to work with Stephan Pyles, then later at The Grape.
“I learned a lot about cooking and fine dining at Stephan Pyles. At the Grape, I learned this is what it means to be in charge,” she says.

She later joined the 820 Hospitality Group (which operates HG Sply Co.) to help open Remedy before moving to HG.

“I didn't have any experience really cooking that type of food,” she says. “What I sort of found is I really kind of loved it. I looked at it more as a challenge than a restriction. You have to figure out how you could make the same kind of flavor without relying on these sorts of things [cheese, heavy butter, cream]. It actually ends up being a little better sometimes.

“I think the way food has been put together, if people that don’t subscribe to the [paleo] idea, if they just eat it, they’re just going to like it because it’s good,” she says. “If people have to say, ‘For gluten-free, it’s pretty good ...’ No, it’s not. It just needs to be good because it’s good.”

HG Sply Co., 2008 Greenville Ave., Dallas and 1621 River Run Drive, Fort Worth
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Taylor Adams has written about the restaurant industry for the Dallas Observer since 2016. Now the Observer's food editor, she attended Southern Methodist University before covering local news at The Dallas Morning News.