In 2016, for the first time in three years, Jack Perkins had a quiet Thanksgiving.
The feeling was, as he tells it, a little weird. Perkins had sold The Slow Bone, his barbecue restaurant in the Design District, which meant he had a little extra time on his hands for a few reasons. One of which is Perkins' annual Thanksgiving meal, Freebird, which he'd hosted at Slow Bone for three years before selling.
Freebird is now the official (if it’s not, it should be) name for the astonishingly delicious and — wait for it — completely free Thanksgiving meal Perkins and other major chef talents provide on Thanksgiving. In 2016, without Slow Bone, Perkins simply didn’t have the space for it. Maple and Motor wasn’t big enough to support Freebird, he says, unless you wanted a Thanksgiving meal of tater tots and burgers.
“I really, really missed it last year,” Perkins says.
The chefs smoked 100 turkeys at a time in Perkins’ “Death Star” — a charred rig inside Slow Bone that could annihilate any vegetarian resistance — and in the three years they offered Freebird at Slow Bone, Perkins says it was easily among the top three Thanksgiving meals he’s ever had.
So when Dallas requested Freebird again this year, Perkins and chef Jeana Johnson — who partnered with Perkins to create the forthcoming Mockingbird Diner, slated to open in December — decided to heed the call with a free Thanksgiving dinner. There are no reservations, no guest list, no stipulations and no strings; it's just a free meal for anyone who wants or needs it.
“I want to feed as many people as we can,” Perkins says. “We have the facility, we have the time, so I can feed people right now.”
Freebird will open at 11 a.m. Thursday at 3130 W. Mockingbird Lane, where the Mockingbird Diner will soon open its doors for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. The meal will last until around 3 p.m. Perkins and crew will prep about two days in advance; they’re expecting at least 20 turkeys, he says. They may need more; they may not. They’ll do green-bean casserole, broccoli, rice, mashed potatoes, dressing and gravy. The meal is free, it’s for anyone, and it’s being prepared by some of the great food minds in Dallas. In short, it's kindness for kindness' sake.
“There are a lot of people who need a place to go on Thanksgiving,” Perkins says. "There are people who have lost the person who was doing it. They’ve lost the mother. The father. The grandmother. So we have a lot of people who just didn’t know what they were going to do.”
Perkins and Johnson touched base with Sysco and Chef’s Produce, wholesale providers, for help with the food. They told the companies they’d take what Sysco and Produce could give and buy the rest. Sysco and Chef’s Produce agreed to take care of everything, Perkins says. For staff, his team members offered to donate their time.
“It’s kind of a way for us to share our day,” Perkins says.
Drop in, and you may catch the bubbling, intoxicating aroma of a hen frying in hot oil. You’ll definitely see Perkins and Johnson walking the line, serving as many people as they can.
Mockingbird Diner, 3130 W. Mockingbird Lane
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