Growing up in Amarillo, Mat Nugent's mom was, in today's lingo, a "foodie." She taught classes in French cooking, hosted parties to display her culinary skills and, of course, watched Julia Child. Her interest rubbed off on son Mat, who split his TV time between cartoons and cooking shows.
So when Nugent's mom had to bring his older three sisters to Dallas for camp, she wanted to take her epicurean-inclined 5-year-old son to a special restaurant: The Mansion. When the waiter asked Mat what he would like to eat, he responded, "I'll have the lobster bisque and duck."
The waiter looked at his mom and asked if he could actually have that, to which his mother said, "I guess if he can order it, then he can have it."
Since that lunch at The Mansion, Nugent has come a long way down the road of culinary exploration. He received a bachelor's degree from the CIA, worked with Roy Yamaguchi in Austin, then with the Consilent group of Dallas at both Cuba Libre and Hibiscus. And just over two years ago he and his wife Breean decided to open their own place in Rockwall.
So, why Rockwall?
With a huge grin, Nugent spreads his hands out and says, "Wide open spaces."
In 2009 the chef and his wife, who has a Level 2 certification with the International Sommelier Guild, opened Bin 303, a charming chef-driven restaurant near downtown Rockwall in a craftsman historic home originally built in 1920.
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The menu at Bin 303 is where the big city meets the (quickly growing) small town.
"Our original menu and what we have now are completely different," says Breean. "We've learned what works and what doesn't. We've branched off so that there's something approachable, but there are twists within the menu that make it different and unique. You have to appreciate and understand food to really even find them."
Breean worked at the Millbrook Winery in New York while Mat was at the CIA, and her experience there has helped her create a wine selection that, while not high in number, is primarily from small-production lines that compliment the food at Bin 303. Every Thursday they both showcase their skills with a three-course wine dinner; although sometimes it's a beer dinner, for which they have a "koozie klub." On December 8 it's a Chinaco Tequila & Sambra Mescal feast. Their facebook page is a good place for the particulars.
Burgers are widely popular at Bin 303, but entrees like whiskey-marinated pork tenderloin, tipsy garlic studded chicken, braised short ribs (with fried jalapeño cheese grits, arugula and manchego cheese) and grilled Texas redfish topped with crab and lemon caper cream sauce make the drive over Lake Ray Hubbard well worth it. And for those counting, it's 24 miles from downtown Dallas to Bin 303. Just a smidge under a marathon if you're running.