Last week, we learned that acclaimed West Dallas barbecue restaurant Smoke had been sold to the Belmont Hotel by owners Chris Jeffers, Chris Zielke and Tim Byres, also behind eateries like the nearby Chicken Scratch. We recently named Smoke one of the Top 100 Dallas Restaurants, but Smoke's former owners say they're uncertain of the hotel's plans for the haute barbecue spot.
This week, Stephan Pyles' Flora Street Cafe dropped some equally big news: that Byres has joined the Arts District fine dining restaurant as managing director to help "casualize" one of the fanciest fine dining establishments in the city. Via a press release:
"... the first project for the duo will include a reimagining of Stephan Pyles Flora Street Café at HALL Arts, the only current Dallas Morning News 5-Star Restaurant in Dallas, by joining forces on menu, 'casualizing' some of the décor and curating their combined approach to the collective dining experience. The move will position Flora Street away from being thought of as a special occasion restaurant into a more approachable, yet still elevated, daily dining destination in the Dallas Arts District. Plan on Sunday Brunch at Flora Street Café with some programming from SMOKE in the coming year and more."
That's a major about-face for a very high-profile (and high-price) Dallas restaurant. Pyles told GuideLive that he "misjudged" the Dallas dining scene when he opened in the fine dining-friendly Arts District in the summer of 2016, and that many diners seem to save Flora Street for major special occasions rather than everyday dining. Given the current prices, that's not unexpected — you can expect to drop at least $300 for dinner for two, and the dining experience feels quite formal and often spans several hours.
Earlier this week, Observer Food Critic Brian Reinhart explained why Flora Street didn't make the cut for our list of the Top 100 Restaurants Dallas — and why it seemed to be flailing. His most recent meal, Reinhart said, "was a nonstop disaster:"
"Service, slow even on good days, turned glacial. It took the staff 15 minutes to hand us menus and 45 to offer the bread basket. Between waits, we poked at dishes like 'crispy lamb belly,' which was actually soggy fat cubes in a bowl of sweet barbecue sauce, and 'medium-rare salmon,' which was actually overcooked salmon. Even good dishes, like the tartare, were too salty. Chocolate mousse was served in a tiny square box, with a spoon too wide to fit in. As a final insult, an employee took away our wine bottle — with wine still in it. The bill, for two people: $300. Flora Street Cafe may someday be worth that price tag again. Right now, it's awful."
Byres, who's worked for Pyles in the past but left his now-closed namesake restaurant Stephan Pyles in 2009 to open Smoke, cites Pyles as a mentor.
"We have been playing in the same arena representing our regional food, just in different corners and better friends for it," Byres said of Pyles in the press release. "I have always been impressed and inspired by Stephan’s love of Texas and we both share a love of my home state California’s fresh food movement and the overall elements of fire and smoke in cooking. We have a really great time working together so it is a natural progression."
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Going casual in a space built for lavish, over-the-top fine dining — in a see-and-be-seen neighborhood like the Arts District — is big role reversal. "Combined with rapid chef turnover and rapidly declining food quality, this suggests a desperate scramble to avoid drowning in red ink," Reinhart Tweeted yesterday.
In the press release, Pyles gushed with optimism.
"I never thought after 35 years of owning restaurants I would be this excited about a new direction," he said.
Flora Street Cafe, 2330 Flora St. (Arts District)