When I moved downtown, there was a new little place serving breakfast tacos and pressed wraps in Main Street Garden Park, but the Lily Pad wouldn't make it.
Neither would Rusty Taco, which came in later.
Today, there's a little more hope for what's there now: Hot Off the Press, from the owners of Spice in the City just around the corner.
They brand themselves as serving "gourmet" panini, salads and pressed coffee. While online they mention "quality ingredients," we don't see any wording at the actual stand to indicate high-quality components are driving up the cost of food. A panini here will cost you $9-$12. That's not a crazy-expensive lunch downtown, but for one sandwich from a place that doesn't have air-con, it feels steep.
On a recent visit, we weren't greeted by anyone from behind the register. There was a couple of staff members from Downtown Dallas Inc.'s Clean Team, and one of them ended up taking our order. DDI manages the park, and yes, Hot Off the Press works with them, but this was admittedly an unexpected collaboration.
The DMN lead story sandwich is supposed to come with ham, blackberry preserves, arugula, herb mayo and organic goat cheese served on a toasted ciabatta bun ($11). We were told on our recent visit they had no ham, would turkey be OK? With so much going on in the sandwich, sure, it's fine. And it was.
The main thing holding back the sandwich wasn't the swapped protein, but the blackberry preserves smashed into the bottom piece of bread. One way to ruin a dining experience: make food one handles soggy from the base. But the flavors worked just fine. The mayo is, indeed, heavy with herbs, making the pairing with the sweet blackberry somewhat odd, but the tang of goat cheese somehow brings everything together well enough.
The Gutenberg is better, with turkey breast, provolone cheese, cranberry preserves, red onion, spinach and more herb mayo on a toasted baguette ($12). This was a superior option, loaded with cheese on a slightly better form of bread.
But man, two sandwiches later, this was suddenly a more expensive lunch than we expected in the park. The queso is fine, nothing too special but better than Velveeta ($9). It is a bowl large enough to feed about four people.
For owners Andrew Pettke, Navin Hariprasad and Sarah Hartshorne, Hot Off the Press is about more than food.
"Part of our bid was doing regular community events, hosting game nights, basically hosting events and activating that space," says Pettke, who's lived downtown for 12 years.
So they have downtown game nights at 6 p.m. Wednesdays, and they've hosted karaoke nights and trivia games.
"Other plans in the future [include] pets on the patio, a pet initiative with pet rescue groups, basically provide more information on fostering," says Pettke, who wants downtown buildings to waive pet fees for people providing foster homes for animals.
Downtown will also have its second organized trick-or-treat event, where families can go around to different buildings collecting candy. It was an incredible sight to witness last year, and this year it will launch from Hot Off the Press and end with a showing of Hocus Pocus in the park.
Pettke admits the spot is a seasonal one, with no interior seating. It's been a problem for other businesses, and he's seen the slump in the heat and the resurgence of people with cooler weather. When it gets colder, he plans to have a large thermometer outside showing the temperature: Anyone walking up to the window in 50 degrees or less gets 50% off anything on the menu.
From movies to deals to hot chocolate, they're working to get people to see this large patio become a hub for the Central Business District. With the new playground just across the way in the park, it does all feel a bit elevated compared with years ago.
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The owners also just participated in the Food Network's Great Food Truck Race, about which Pettke could give no details, except he hopes to have a showing in the park when it's live.
"Honestly, we were promoting downtown Dallas," he says of their participation in the show. "That's always a huge goal of ours. ... The downtown neighborhood feels so connected. The ones who are the core downtown, they care, they support businesses, they want to get people downtown."
Even if we might be paying three or so more dollars than we'd really like for a sandwich, that goal seems worth it.
Hot Off the Press, 1920 Main St. (downtown). 214-579-9783. Open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday; noon-8 p.m. Sunday.