Wednesday, June 24, 2009

It's not "Goodbye" - It's "See you soon!"

Classy&Sassy and FoodiePrincess, c. 2005 (pre-blog)

With a heavy heart, we're sad to announce that we'll be retiring DallasEats, effective today.  It's been an amazing two and a half years, and we've had more fun than we ever thought possible sharing our explorations, insights, cravings and observations with all of you on the blog.

This announcement comes on the heels of major developments in both of our lives.  For starters, little Miller Brant is now the apple of FP (a.k.a. Robin Brant)'s eye - and the primary focus of her time and energy. Between family fun, her day-gig and finishing up with her MBA, her moments to herself are few and far between these days.  You can stay current on the Brant
family's continuing adventures at

And C&S (aka Lisa Petty) will now be blogging for the Dallas Observer's City of Ate.  Tune in for news, trends, first looks, and events every day - your comments are welcome!  Also, beginning July 15, you can find her at as well, reporting on style and shopping around town in a new daily feature entitled "Want This".  Fun stuff!

So, as you can see, we're not saying "goodbye" fact, we might just see more of each other now than ever before.  Thank you all so much for reading, and remember:  Don't be a stranger!

With love,

Robin and Lisa

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Brownie Points

In the humble opinion of this chocolate-obsessed blogger, there is no better treat for morning, noon or evening snacking than a perfect little brownie.  Or perfectly HUGE brownie, depending on the demands of my sweet tooth that day.

Over the years, I've tried just about every brownie recipe (and box mix) known to man.  I've made them with baking chocolate, milk chocolate and chocolate syrup.  I've stirred in nuts and chips and candy, topped them with glazes and icings and frostings.  I've spread batters thin for a chewier result, and piled them high in the pan for a cake-like consistency.  High heat, low heat and everything in between - I've done it all, but now I'm done.  You see, I've finally achieved brownie Nirvana.

The following recipe is the result of meticulous testing and tasting and it incorporates elements from all my favorite brownie recipes.  For instance, the addition of honey recalls a recipe for "Honey Bear" brownies that was a favorite of mine years ago.  The sweet, sticky stuff keeps the brownies incredibly moist for days on end.  My preference for cocoa powder as opposed to bar chocolate also goes back to my teenage years.  I love the dark, earthy quality it lends to the end result, as well as a slightly more rustic texture in the crumb.  Finally, the pan dimensions are key - you may even have to buy a pan especially for these brownies.  Trust me, it's worth it.  This formula makes for a thick, chewy, fudgy brownie that will also satisfy any cake-like brownie fans in the house.  

Oh, and you'll also note there are no "stir-ins", as they're sometimes called, and that, my dears, is also by design.  I like my brownies straight-up, but you can throw in some nuts or something if you must.  They don't need 'em, though.  In fact, all these little beauties need is a tall, cold glass of milk or a warm cup of coffee - morning, noon or night.

Lisa's Perfect Brownies

¾ cup best-quality cocoa powder
¼ cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter, melted and cooled
1 2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt
1 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare an 11 x 7" baking pan by lining with a double-thickness of aluminum foil (or single layer of heavy-duty foil) and then spray with neutral flavored non-stick spray.

Combine cocoa powder, vegetable oil and butter in a large bowl.  Whisk until smooth.  Whisk in sugar and honey.  Add eggs, vanilla and salt and, again, whisk until smooth.  Add flour all at once, and using a wooden spoon or large spatula, stir only until just combined.  In fact, a few threads of flour running through the batter are fine - they'll find their way when you put the batter in the pan.  I repeat:  don't overbeat.

Bake 40 - 45 minutes, or until a pick or paring knife inserted in the center of the pan comes out with just a wee bit of fudgy crumbs.  Cool at least 30 minutes before cutting.  (Here's a tip:  If you're serving these at a party or just want them to look perfect, cool the pan completely and then refrigerate for a few hours.  You can then cut the brownies into neat squares with no mess.  Allow them to return to room temperature before serving, or just eat them cold - that's how I like 'em.)


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lion Coffee: Big Island Buzz

"High above the Pacific, cradled between the world's largest mountain, Mauna Loa, and Hualalai, are our Kona coffee groves...If ever a place existed to produce the perfect coffee bean, then Kona is surely it."

This quote is from the Lion Coffee website, and after waking up with Kona's finest for the past few days, I'm inclined to agree.  

At the recommendation of a friend, I ordered from Lion last week, seeing as I'd reached the end of my rope with the coffee selection at my usual stores.  I always seemed to find myself in a Goldilocks situation with the brands available at Kroger and Whole Foods - either the coffee was too bitter or too mellow, too expensive or too hard to find in-stock.  I've just never been able to settle on a favorite.  Exasperated, I posted a Facebook update, which lead me to Lion Coffee.

Based in Hawaii, Lion Coffee offers a wide range of 100% Kona varieties, as well as flavored coffees, teas and cookies.  For my first order, I chose the Original Lion blend, the Diamondhead Espresso and the Vanilla Macadamia decaf.  As for the Original Lion, it is indeed flawlessly smooth and subtly sweet, as described.  To tell you the truth, I don't believe I've ever tasted coffee quite so smooth as this.  And at $7.95 for 10 oz., it's a bargain to boot!  

The ordering process was also very easy, and delivery via UPS was inexpensive and prompt.  I'm now a big fan of Lion - in fact, I may add a t-shirt to my next order, so I can be a walking billboard for my new favorite coffee.  


Monday, June 15, 2009

Salsa Sunday at North Haven Gardens: The winners!

Salsa Sunday at North Haven Gardens was a hit!

I had the pleasure of tasting and evaluating more than 20 delicious entries in the North Haven Gardens salsa contest yesterday, along with fellow judges Eddie G. of Dallas Vegan, Jeffrey Kowitz of Taco Joint and the lovely Miranda Martinez, actress and Bliss Raw Cafe representative.  What a spicy day!

The vegetable garden

Before we got down to the serious business at hand, North Haven's own Nikki Crain gave us judges a tour of the gorgeous grounds.  My favorite stop was a peek inside the veggie garden, just about to explode with fresh tomatoes, peppers, herbs and flowers.

Me and Nikki

Here's a shot of me and Nikki on a sweet foot bridge over a patch of colorful Swiss Chard.  North Haven Gardens is overflowing with happy, thriving plants.  Perhaps they can tell me when to expect my own little harvest?

The contenders

After the tour, it was time to taste.  We set to sampling the salsas in question, taking turns around the table to dip and discuss our reactions.  Entries ranged from familiar, Tex-Mex restaurant-style chip dips to Italian-style salsas to downright head-scratchers (Crab meat?  In a salsa?).  But as it turned out, some of the judges' faves were in this unexpected category.  A Pina Colada Salsa, for instance, featuring pineapple, coconut chips and a surprising kick of spice, was quite popular with our selective crowd.

Eddie, judging away

My picks tended toward those salsas with a blended texture (as opposed to pico-style), concentrated tomato flavor (often found in canned tomatoes rather than fresh) and a good kick.  Kowitz, known for his own kick-butt cooking, had more specific criteria, and his knowledge of peppers and cooking styles gave us all some interesting insight.  As the contest progressed, however, it became more and more difficult to converse, what with all the running noses and water breaks!

The winners' circle

Finally, our points were tallied and Nikki announced the winners:  John Romero took 1st Place honors with his Berta's Best Salsa, a traditional tomato salsa with a moderate heat level and lots of fresh cilantro.  2nd and 3rd Place both went to Carol Castillo, a salsa-whiz who entered five different recipes altogether.  Her Pineapple-Mango and Jalepeno Salsas were both a little different and a lot delicious.  All the winning recipes will be up on the North Haven Gardens website by the end of the week.

Whether to stock your own salsa garden or just wander and wonder at all the amazing growing things, I highly recommend North Haven Gardens for anyone with a thumb (green or otherwise).  There's also a great gift shop and reading area and lots of events and education.  Happy gardening!


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Salsa Sunday: Be There or Be Square!

This Sunday June 14th is Salsa Sunday at North Haven Gardens!

Join me, Eddie G., and the awesome folks from Bliss Raw Cafe and Taco Joint as we judge this spicy showdown.  Enter your favorite recipe to win, or come on down to cheer on the contenders.  Winners will be announced at 1:30 p.m., and samples will be available for taste-testing.  Sweet!  ...Um, I mean Hot!

North Haven Gardens
7700 Northhaven Rd, Dallas

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Comment Card

What's the one food magazine you couldn't live without?

...Can you tell it's time to update my subscription list?  I need suggestions!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Smackdown at Trader Joe's!

I just got back from a whirlwind trip to the Chicagoland area for my sweet cousin Allison's wedding (Hi, Ally!).  A wonderful time was had by all, and somewhere in the midst of all the nuptial events, I managed to squeeze in a trip to Trader Joe's, that popular paradise-themed specialty grocery that has yet to grace Dallas with its presence.  

In case you've been living on another foodie planet, Trader Joe's is known for its unique selection of international products, colorful island decor and last but not least, bargain-basement prices.  (You've heard of Two-Buck Chuck, right?  They invented it.)  Here's the blurb from the website:

"Just what is this thing we call Trader Joe’s? Well, we’re a grocery store, sure, but really so much more. Our shelves are stocked full of delicious foods and beverages from the basics like milk, bread and butter to more exotic fare like imported cheeses, organic produce and hand-tossed pizza from Italy. We taste every product before we decide to sell it, and we guarantee you’ll like it.  You might expect indulgences like these to come with unbecoming prices. But at Trader Joe’s, we’re as much about value as we are about great food...So you can afford to be adventurous without breaking the bank."

Contraband Photo 1

Thing is, though, Trader Joe's only has locations on the West Coast, East Coast and a few states in between - no Texas.  So when I noticed an outpost near our hotel in Northbrook, IL, I motored on over in the rented Subaru to take a look.  And that's where things got dicey...

Excited as all get-out, I speed-walked into the store with camera in hand, ready to document every inch of the place for DallasEats.  Snapping away, I'd only made it about three yards into the store before a hula-shirted fellow sporting a wide, toothy grin approached me and asked why I was taking pictures.  "I'm a blogger from Dallas," I replied (thinking the eager tourist routine was the best tack to take).  "We don't have Trader Joe's, and I'm so psyched to finally visit one!"

Contraband Photo 2

He took a deep breath (still smiling) and then informed me, "The thing is, we don't allow cameras."  I listened, wondering if this was the sort of rule that was strictly enforced, selectively enforced, or just stated out loud and then pretty much ignored.  At that point, however, I also noticed that he had positioned himself strategically between me and the rest of the store.  And he was a good six inches taller than me; no way I could take him.  He continued - kindly but firmly, "I'm going to have to ask you to put the camera away."  (Did I imagine the tiny beads of sweat forming at his hairline?  The quick clench of his jaw?)  Then, only after watching me secure the offending device in the side pocket of my handbag, did he allow me to proceed with my (now seriously impeded) fact-finding mission.  And I swear, I wasn't out of eyeshot of an employee for the rest of my visit.  Coincidence?  I think not.  

That being said, however, everyone was very nice and even under many watchful eyes, I was able to enjoy the experience.  Plus, how can you stay mad at a guy in a multi-colored floral print camp shirt?  Here are my top Trader Joe's observations:

1.  The place was overflowing with snacks, both traditional and unusual.  Wasabi Tempura Seaweed crisps and Lightly Salted Crunchy Green Beans were just a couple of the more adventurous offerings.  (Personally, I'm of the opinion that most snacks of this ilk are purchased for shock value - so people will ask "WHAT are you eating?" when they see you eating it.  You know, like Wasabi Peas ten years ago.)

2.  GREAT prices on meal/energy bars.  Luna bars and CLIF bars were both 99-cents a pop. Lara Bars were $1.29. Also, good prices on protein shakes and powders.

3.  The wine selection was as wide and low-priced as I'd heard it would be. I was especially impressed with the up-and-coming varieties:

Zarafa Pinotage from South Africa ($4.99)
Espiral Vinho Verde ($3.99)
Abrazo del Toro Cariñena from Spain ($5.99)


Layer Cake Shiraz (love this one!) for $14.99 – not bad.
Santa Rita Chardonnay for $6.49 – a stock up price!

...But great wine prices can also be found right here in the Metroplex at lots of different places (Albertson's is one of my fave bargain wine stops - always something great on sale!).

I'm totally going to show off my new Trader Joe's reusable shopping tote around town.  Like the foodie equivalent of a really sweet concert t-shirt.

4.  Overall impressions:  The store was small, with less wow-factor than I expected.  I can't say whether all Trader Joe's are as small as the one in Northbrook, though.  In selection and ambiance, it was sort of like the food and wine sections of World Market combined with Newflower Market.  I’d go if I lived near one, but I’m not quite as bummed about not having one in Dallas anymore.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Robin Recommends: The Ultimate Combination

When I was pregnant, I became pretty much obsessed with ice cream. I had to have it every night before bed, and I am pretty sure I have now tasted every kind of ice cream commercially available at Super Target, Whole Foods and Fiesta.

Because I have become such an expert, I feel very confident in what I am about to tell you. I have found the greatest ice cream experience possible. And it's not just one great flavor - it's a flavor combination so powerful that my husband and I have taken to referring to it simply as, The Ultimate Combination.

The first ingredient in The Ultimate Combination is the most crucial element - Ben & Jerry's Cinnamon Bun Ice Cream. A friend had told me about this flavor awhile back, and I had kind of blown her off at the time. Generally, if an ice cream flavor doesn't contain chocolate of some kind, I'm not interested. However, when I finally got around to trying it, it pretty much blew that theory out of the water.

For those of you who haven't yet had the pleasure of trying it, Cinnamon Bun is caramel ice cream swirled with cinnamon streusel and filled with chunks of cinnamon roll dough. One bite, and you'll be transported to the Cinnabon at the Food Court of your local mall. Only it's even better, because it's freakin' ice cream.

But it gets even awesome-er. Just as a cup of coffee is the perfect accompaniment to a cinnamon roll, if you add a scoop of Coffee Health Bar Crunch (or really any coffee-flavored ice cream), it ramps it up your bowl of ice-cream to heavenly heights. The flavors compliment each other perfectly, making it truly The Ultimate Combination.
I highly recommend that you try it the next time you're wandering the ice cream aisle. I know I won't be able to resist.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Pepper Watch '09

They're growing, they're growing!
Quite a change from last time, huh?

...and judging by Margie's tip about the whole humidity/capsaicin thing, 
they're gonna be really damn hot!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Froggies Uptown: Fun Foodie Finds!

Have you checked out the new West Village 
location of Froggies 5 & 10 yet?   
What fun!

Open since December, this Uptown outpost of everyone's favorite Dallas tchotchke shop is a little more sophisticated than its sibling up on Knox.  I stopped in yesterday, and was delighted to find a wide selection of jewelry, tote bags and gift items (no wind up chatter teeth or rubber chickens at this Froggies).  But what really got my pulse racing was the store's adorable displays of tableware, cocktail accoutrements and various other foodie finds!

pic 1:  I heart these colorful plates.  We all know a Hippie Chick, Little Princess or Happy Camper that would love these as a gift.  There were also matching cups.

pic 2:  Check out these shiny mini cocktail shakers.  They come in packs of four - perfect for parites, and cute enough to serve the drinks right in 'em!  The coasters, above, were also a find.  Love the faux cross-stitch set with messages like "Go *&%$ yourself."  

pic 3:  There was also a display of colorful cooking and cocktail books - great for hostess gifts.  And those packages up on the left are cheeky placemats.  Sweet.

Check out Froggies Uptown for yourself - these shots barely scratch the surface.  Happy Shopping!

Froggies Uptown
3699 McKinney Ave.
in the West Village
(214) 219-5867

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Comment Card

This recent Appetite for Instruction inspired us to ask:
What's your favorite boat drink?

The Blue Hawaii?  The Sea Breeze?  How 'bout a classic Pina Colada?  Anything topped with fruit, flowers or a frilly umbrella is fair game!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Marty's Taxi Report: Hula Hotties Cafe and Bakery

Nobody knows this city like Marty.  He’s been driving a big yellow cab around the Metroplex for going on 30 years, and in addition to knowing all the best rush hour routes and hidden city landmarks, he’s always up on the latest and greatest in coffee shops, diners and cafés.  In fact, one of the best parts of growing up with the guy (did I mention he’s my Dad?) was being introduced to out-of-the-way restaurants and new and exciting foods on a regular basis.

Today, we’re proud to announce Marty’s brand new restaurant beat for DallasEats: Marty’s Taxi Report.  This regular feature will focus on interesting spots that may or may not have registered on your radar, and they’ll give you the lowdown from a very unique perspective.  You see, Marty doesn’t fall for the usual dog-and-pony show when it comes to eating out; he knows good food and he knows what he likes.

For his inaugural review, we sent our adventurous new reporter to Hula Hotties Café and Bakery, a two-month-old Hawaiian-themed eatery in Oak Cliff’s Bishop Arts District.  And what did Marty make of it?  Did he enjoy this little tropical stay-cation, or did Hula Hotties leave him longing for the mainland?  Read on and find out:

Marty’s Taxi Report

Hula Hotties Café and Bakery
244 West Davis St.

First Impressions:

I made two visits to Hula Hotties: one trip alone for lunch and a return with my fiancée, Claudia, for Saturday brunch.  I noted the small restaurant’s pretty plain décor right off the bat, which was quite a surprise judging from its colorful exterior.  Frankly, I was a little afraid of winding up in a “ladies lunch” kind of joint, so this point is actually a “plus” in my book.  Nothing rubs me the wrong way like having to fight for table space with vases of pink flowers or frilly placemats.  They do have kitchy little salt and pepper shakers, but aside from that, the place isn’t all tiki’d up.

Also noted: very clean restroom.  That’s right, restroom is singular.  There is one unisex facility at Hula Hotties, which is fine by me.  You should always check out the bathroom when you visit a new place.  Clean bathroom = clean kitchen, kids.

The Food:

Lunch choices on the Asian-influenced menu included the Kona Brisket Sandwich, a Teriyaki Burger and a Thai Chicken Sandwich with Peanut Sauce.   I had the Saigon Sub, a Banh Mi-style Vietnamese sandwich.   (Menu description: Marinated Ground Pork, Thinly Sliced Ham, Spicy Mayonnaise, Mixed Greens, Assorted Pickled Veggies, Cilantro, Garnished with Peanuts, Mint, Basil. $7.95)  It was unlike other Banh Mi I’d had, in that it was served warm and almost over-stuffed with fillings.  The ground pork tasted fresh and was mildly spiced so as not to compete with the plentiful topping of herbs.  The sliced ham was also a very high-quality deli ham with a nice smoky flavor.  Though I had to ask for extra napkins (paper napkins – another “plus”), it was worth every drip.  The Saigon Sub was sloppy-good!

The Saigon Sub with Asian Cole Slaw:
There's good meat under all that rabbit food.

Brunch at Hula Hotties was really cool.  Claudia thoroughly enjoyed her Baked Monte Cristo Sandwich (Menu description: Crescent [sic] Filled with Slices of Ham, Roasted Turkey, Muenster Cheese & Raspberry-Orange Preserves.  $10.95, with sides).  I had the Loco Moco, billed as a “Hawaiian-Style Eggs Benedict”.  It was made up of steamed rice topped with a hamburger patty and poached eggs, covered in brown gravy.  To be honest, the patty was pretty dry; they might have better luck using meat with a higher fat content.  The eggs were poached just right, however, and the basic brown gravy was rich and well-seasoned.  I didn’t feel like the dish really had that much in common with Eggs Benedict, though, unless you count the “stacked” presentation.  No matter – I’d order it again.

Side dishes on both visits were a mixed bag.  Hula Hotties' Asian Cole Slaw is nothing particularly special, however, the brunch-time Rosemary Fried Potatoes were great.  Believe it or not, it's easy to mess up a fried potato, but they didn't.  They were crisp on the outside and warm and moist on the inside and the rosemary was fresh.  Also, I could make a meal of that PotatoMac Salad.  A light touch with the mayo and finely diced onion and celery are just the way to make me happy with a picnic-type salad like this one – it wasn’t heavy or gloppy or bland.

Finally, if you visit this place, you have to take something home from the bakery case on your way out.  I was happy with my choice of a gingerbread cookie (of the soft, cakey variety), which was good to eat in the car.  It didn’t crumble all over the place, and when you’ve got clients to keep in mind, that’s a good thing.  There’s nothing worse than a crumby cab.  You can also order whole cakes for birthdays and other occasions.

The Service:

Service at Hula Hotties was slow – really slow.  That Saigon Sub took 20 minutes.   I got the impression, though, that the delays were due to the kitchen and not the servers.  Everyone who waited on me was very nice, and since the restaurant is still new, I have reason to believe that things will speed up in time.

Final Fare:

Hula Hotties is worth a trip if you’re gonna be in the neighborhood or if you’re looking for something new.  It’s a little pricier than I would normally go for a weekday lunch (around $10, plus tip), but if you’ve had a productive day and feel like taking your time with the crossword, this would be a good choice.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pepper Watch '09

Alternate title:  Slow Food Movement

Or... Alternate title:  Watching Grass Grow

What?  You can't see 'em?  Here - come a little closer:

My pal Eddie G. surprised me not too long ago with a pouch of Pimientos Padron seeds that he picked up on his last trip to Spain (don't tell customs).  They're a species of pepper that my Google device tells me are small and green and quite delicious - if unpredictable in the heat department.  Eager little local farmer that I am, I planted them almost right away.  And then checked back every 2-4 hours from there on out to stay on top of their progress.  I'm not kidding.

I come from a long line of farmers, and I married a boy who grew up on a farm.  That is not say, however, that I inherited or absorbed the patience and perseverance necessary to guide a sweet little seed from sowing to reaping with the stoic assurance that my ancestors must have possessed (I imagine them looking out over vast fields of rich, black soil, warmed to their cockles with the promise of a hearty harvest in just a few months' time.  But they also watched their TV on the radio.).  I am a kid of the 80's and 90's; Super Mario Brothers taught me to expect a prize every 36 seconds or so.  I want my red mushrooms - er, peppers - right now!

...But I'll be patient and just let them grow.  And in the meantime I'll take pictures every day like the proud little pepper parent I am!


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Quotable Quote

“The family meal is a social event, not a food ingestion event.”

- Dr. Cindy Post Senning, great-granddaughter of Emily Post, as quoted in a New York Times article on the subject of texting at the table.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Zymology: Lower Greenville's Latest Loss

“Welcome to the changing face of Lower Greenville.”

For most Dallasites these days, the phrase ‘Lower Greenville Avenue’ conjures mixed memories.  My own mind flashes to long afternoons on the patio at Grinder’s, longer nights at the Arcadia and a recent drive to take a last longing look at the space formerly known as my favorite Whole Foods.  It wasn’t a pleasant trip.  For some reason, I had misplaced my rose-colored glasses that day and could see just how those few blocks had changed for the worse in recent years.  Empty storefronts and cracked, littered sidewalks made for a bleak comparison with the West Village, for instance, which I’d visited earlier that day.   And still, something told me it wasn’t time to let go.  Not yet.  I still want to believe that the old spark might come back to what was once one of our favorite local playgrounds.

Zymology was supposed to be part of that comeback.  The stylish “gastro pub” opened early this year at 2010 Greenville (between Prospect and Oram) and earned immediate and positive attention from patrons and the press alike.  On April 23rd Dave Faries of the Dallas Observer gave it a near-glowing review.  “There’s no denying the kitchen’s talent here…” he observed, noting co-owner and chef Sam Dickey’s knowing touch with the menu.  There were a few misses on Dave’s visit, but he took away a clear impression of “brilliance” in several dishes, a sure sign that Zymology was on to something good.  Less than a month later, however, it was closed.  Where did the promising restaurant go wrong?

Zymology’s closing was announced via Facebook last week by Ben Verdooren, the other half of its ownership team.  Surprised and confused by the abrupt announcement, I contacted Verdooren himself in an effort to get to the bottom of the situation.  He was friendly and candid over the phone, and seemed saddened, more than anything, about the negative turn of events.  “How do I feel that I closed? I don’t like it,” he explained, just moments into our conversation.   “I only had three months…I was never really given a chance.”

Zymology was Verdooren’s first restaurant.  The 31-year-old South Texan moved to Dallas three years ago, after working in various capacities at a resort in Key West.  Co-owner, Sam Dickey, however, had opened four restaurants in Austin and is well-known in the hospitality business there.  The two partners planned to open a neighborhood spot focusing on great beer and wine along with a sophisticated menu - Zymology refers to “the science of fermentation”.  This idea piggybacked on a hot international trend (Google “gastro pub” and see what you get) that seemed tailor-made for Dallas’ hip Henderson Avenue.  Thus, when it came time to scout locations, Verdooren contacted a developer that played a big part in the recent revitalization of that particular area.  Smart move.

As it happened, though, that company had decided to refocus its attention on another down-and-out Dallas destination.  When Verdooren was ready to go shopping, its representatives guided the new restaurateur to a vacancy on lower Greenville Avenue instead.  That the effort rebuild the area was still in its infancy didn’t seem to affect the company’s confidence.  “They said, ‘Hey, we’ve got guys lined up for all these empty spots, except for the one you’re looking at now’,” Verdooren recalls.   “ ‘We want to re-do Greenville like we re-did Henderson.’ ”  After giving it some thought, Verdooren took a leap of faith and signed a lease in late summer of 2008.

And we all remember what came shortly thereafter.  When the economy took its much-publicized downturn last fall, all the company’s other tenants in the planned first wave of the Greenville rebirth backed out.  With a couple of notable exceptions, Zymology was on its own in a sea of bars with a decidedly different demographic.  Undeterred and still enthusiastic, Verdooren planned to drum up additional business through marketing.  He proceeded with renovations on the space and Zymology opened on February 2nd of this year.

Ben Verdooren (far right) and a smiling crew at Zymology.

Almost immediately, the restaurant caught the attention of the local media.  With pride, Verdooren boasts, “When you type in ‘Zymology Dallas’ online, you see nothing but positive reviews…the Observer, Quick, Dallas Morning News, GuideLive…go to, go to Chowhound, go to Beer Advocate.  We had a lot of exposure early, and we had the ball rolling.”  Zymology’s sophisticated yet comfortable atmosphere, wide array of beers and wine and above-average entrées seemed like a winning combination.    A camera crew even set up camp one night to film a segment for a local television station.

In addition to the free press, Verdooren also worked hard on his own to “try to convince [people] that it’s worth coming down to the lowest part of Greenville.”  He had a hard time, however, getting past the area’s stereotype as a magnet for binge-drinking party kids.  No matter how much care was put into each plate of Zymology’s grilled sirloin with pistachio Stilton butter, it was a struggle for Verdooren to get nice folks to venture down to what had become, in recent years, a distant fourth (or fifth or sixth) on the list of places Dallas goes when it wants to go out to eat.  No amount of media exposure or marketing seemed to be enough.

Ultimately, this struggle turned out to be a greater hurtle than the restaurant could clear.  Verdooren closed Zymology last week, after a short three and a half month run, citing “lack of money” and “lack of business due to the area” as the two primary causes of its demise.  His voice during our telephone conversation was heavy with hindsight and exhaustion.  Anger, however, didn’t come into play.  He doesn’t blame the development company for overselling him on Greenville Avenue.  He also doesn’t harbor any ill will toward the many potential customers who just wouldn’t drive outside their new comfort zones to visit his restaurant.  For the most part, Verdooren seems to wonder where he went wrong.  He eludes to many “what ifs”, including the possibility that things could have been different if he’d chosen a space that didn’t require such extensive renovation, or if the economy hadn’t petered out right when he decided to take the plunge.   “I don’t blame anybody,” he concluded.  “It’s really difficult right now.”

So there you have it: no explosive face-offs, no underhanded back stabbing, no shady deals gone bad.  Just a couple of guys that made an effort and are already planning their next move.  Verdooren says he’s flattered by the many folks who have inquired about his well-being and asked where they might find him next.  He’s looking into his options, and is optimistic about the future.  

My husband observed that this tale perfectly illustrates a philosophy from the world of professional boxing.  Simply stated, you never know what a fighter’s really made of until he takes his first big fall.  Something tells me Ben Verdooren isn’t down for the count.  As for lower Greenville Avenue, however, only time will tell if the glory days are gone for good.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Comment Card

Hey, Patio People!  

Where's your favorite place to chill al fresco here in Big D?

p.s. And we're giving bonus points if you also add what to drink when you're there!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Catty Corner: Rachael Ray's Mess-ipes

Note:  I have confessed numerous times on this blog to loving Rachael Ray Magazine.  I'm not proud of it.  And I'll add that this post should in no way lead you to believe that I will cease to indulge in my favorite monthly (junk) food mag just because the latest issue grossed me out.   However, those of you (and you know who you are) who have given me flack for my RR Mag habit may have had a point...

The June/July double issue of Rachael Ray Magazine started out sunny, as usual, with a spread of summer shopping essentials and the monthly kitchen disaster round table, but when the recipes started in, things took a turn for the worse.  Much, much worse.  

What with her multiple television shows, books and the magazine, RR often reaches far outside the box when it comes to recipe development.  And I find that entertaining.  I mean, when you've gotta write dozens of original recipes each month, creativity is key.  I am usually quite amused by Ray's unusual "stoups" and "sammies" and what-have-you; I read them for entertainment value and I've even made a few of her dishes over the years.  This time around, however, she lost me.  Upon reading many of the concoctions in this month's mag, instead of letting out my usual chuckle and sighing with amusement, I instead gasped in horror and threw up a little in my mouth.  

But rather than drone on about their comparatively disgusting qualities, I'll list of a few of this month's most appalling Rachael Ray Mess-ipes (as I'll now be calling them) and you can "ew" for yourself:

Tuna Salad Lasagna Stack:  This recipe combined an unholy trinity of tuna salad, boiled lasagna noodles and red pepper puree.  It didn't even get a stint in the oven before serving, so the whole mess is room temp to boot.  Ew.  I think Aunt Mavis' three bean and tuna casserole just lost its place of honor in the Gallery of Regrettable Foods.

Tropical Tuna Salad Supper:  Tuna terror strikes again - but what this disaster needed was an editor.  Eliminate the orange marmalade, frozen edamame, plantain chips (???) and a few other things from this salad recipe and maybe you could actually taste the top-dollar ahi somewhere in the mix. 

Sugar Snap Peas-and-Salami Stir-Fry:  The name says it all, people.  Serve atop steamed rice and you'll never have to put up with dinner guests again.

Runners Up:  

Rachael isn't to blame for these two stomach-turners, but they were in the mag, so they're fair game.

Dishwasher fish:  Why are people so fascinated by this mess?  Seriously - tell me if you know.  This month, RR mag rehashes the old gimmick and even points out that you can steam your foil-wrapped fish while you wash dishes (soap and all).  I don't care if not one microscopic droplet of caked-on food or Jet Dry seeps into that packet; it's still gross.  Would you poach fish the same way in a sinkful of soaking pots and pans?  Didn't think so.  Go boil a pan of water and poach your fish in there.

Michelob Ultra Tuscan Orange Grapefruit Light Beer with Natural Flavor:  Don't shoot the messenger.  Direct your complaints to Anheuser-Busch Inc., St. Louis, MO.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pinkies Up!: Tea Time at the Arboretum

Sunday was perfection.  What a day for an outing!

The sun was shining - sparkling even - and a cool breeze had blown all the heat and humidity to Houston (I think).  My sweet Momcat had arranged for tea at the Dallas Arboretum in honor of our friend B.J.'s birthday, and the three of us headed over to those gorgeous gardens on the shores of White Rock lake around noontime with visions of marigolds and ivy and tiny crustless sandwiches dancing in our heads.

After taking a leisurely hour to wander through the Arboretum under the cloudless sky, we made our way to the DeGolyer Garden Café for afternoon tea.  With sunshine streaming through picture windows and the soft sounds of a piano player in the distance, we then nibbled traditional tea-time treats while sipping from delicate china cups and catching up on all the gossip.  How civilized!

We began with the café’s Signature Zucchini Dill Soup.  Light and fragrant and ever-so-slightly creamy, it tasted just like spring.

Next we enjoyed a tiered tower of tiny sandwiches, including turkey with herb butter on rosemary bread, chicken salad on wee little croissants and creamed cucumber wedges, which were the hit of the afternoon.  I’d never tasted a cucumber sandwich before – had only heard of them on those PBS specials with folks who wear ascots – but I was surprised by their delicate and refreshing flavor.  They were an ideal match for warm sips of Apricot Orange, Strawberry Vanilla and Peach Ginger tea.

Finally, another picture-perfect tray appeared bearing mini-cheesecakes, amaretto brownies, chocolate-covered strawberries and light, buttery scones.  Slathered with strawberry jam and clotted cream, those warm scones were just the right touch at the end of such a delightful meal. (See that hand lurking in the background?  Even prim and proper ladies get impatient while waiting for fussy bloggers to figure out their cameras...)

While we did spot a few gentlemen enjoying tea in the dining room, I’d say this is a treat best enjoyed with your girlfriends – and enjoy it you will.  We left relaxed and chit-chatty, and took a spin through the gift shop before heading back home.  To top off the perfect day, Momcat and the birthday girl (see below) both found adorable souvenirs, and I bought myself the worlds’ greatest hat (think Hunter S. Thompson meets Tommy Bahama).  

To arrange an Afternoon Tea with your ladies-who-lunch 

Friday, May 15, 2009

Local Schmocal

"This mission creep has the original locavores 
choking on their yerba mate."

This sentence pretty much sums up the controversy brewing over the subject of Kim Severson's article "When 'Local' Makes It Big" from Wednesday's New York Times.  She explores the "broad interpretation" of the meaning of "local food" embraced by large corporations (such as Frito-Lay) in an effort to capitalize on this growing consumer trend.  It's an interesting and educational look at how, as Michael Pollan puts it, corporations "can turn any critique into a new way to sell food."


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Vapiano: Dinner and a Show

I had the pleasure of visiting Vapiano, Mockingbird Station's new "fresh-casual" restaurant, last weekend for lunch and a chat with owner Tim McCallum.  In addition to serving up delicious, made-from-scratch Italian pastas, pizzas and salads, McCallum is also committed to making this first Texas outpost of the European chain reflect its unique location.  Here are  just a few of the local touches I loved:

- Texas wine.  Vapiano offers an eclectic array of wines by the glass and bottle.  I was pleasantly surprised to note Grape Creek Vineyards' Bellissimo is on the list.

The restaurant's indoor herb garden

- Local "greens".  Over 1,000 herb plants are growing at restaurant, many surrounding two olive trees transplanted from Bella Vista Ranch in Wimberley.

- Resident artists.  Works by local artists decorate the walls in Vapiano's chic red cocktail lounge and a giant blackboard hangs in the dining room, painted with colorful scenes by SMU art students.

A chef at Vapiano, putting on the "show"

This attention to detail is also reflected in the food - and that's the most important part, right?  All of Vapiano's pastas and sauces are made fresh in-house, and the aforementioned herbs are harvested for use in the restaurant's signature dressings.

And speaking of pasta, one of the most interesting aspects of a trip to Vapiano is watching the chefs prepare your meal right before your eyes.  “Part of Vapiano is the show," McCallum explained to me, with a smile. Utilizing futuristic magnetic induction cooktops, their chefs can whip up a simmering sauce in the blink of an eye.  Add some fusilli and call it a meal!  Limitless choices for customization (make it spicy, try a new pasta, add some chicken or steak, etc.) also make the process interactive.

...Oh, and did I mention that no dish is over $10.95?  In fact, many ring in at around $8.  Nice.  Check out for more info and menus.  


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Comment Card

Is there anything that you absolutely, positively, under no circumstances 
would ever, ever eat?  

Be honest - we're all friends here...

Monday, May 11, 2009

On the Town with Ted Allen

How do you make a girl like me very, very happy?  
Send her out for a night on the town 
with one of her favorite food personalities!

Me, Ted Allen and Eddie G. outside Mercy in Addison

I was pleased as punch to attend a private dinner with Ted Allen of Chopped and Food Detectives fame last Friday night.  (You may also remember him as one of the Fab Five on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.)  Ted was touring through town with the folks from Robert Mondavi wines, and he joined me, Eddie G. and several other local food-lovers at Mercy Wine Bar before we all headed over for front-row seats at his Taste Addison appearance.

The crowd was comprised of contest winners (myself included) and their guests who had written in with a culinary question for Ted to tackle.  There were also a couple of local media-types in attendance, including Kim Pierce of the Dallas Morning News and Arnold Wayne Jones of the Dallas Voice.  (Eddie G. and I shared a table with Mr. Jones, who kept us in stitches throughout the evening!)

Ted arrived at the restaurant with little fanfare - no entourage for this down-to-earth guy - and proceeded to set everyone at ease with his friendly, outgoing personality.  Clad in a sport jacket, jeans and those trademark specs, he mingled with the crowd, shaking hands and signing cookbooks before we all settled in to a multi-course feast.  Ted, unfortunately, didn't get more than a few bites of the meal (which included, among other treats, tuna tartare with avocado and grilled filet mignon) as he discussed our prize-winning questions while we ate.

My question centered around my new pal Eddie G. of Dallas Vegan and our mutual love of wine.  Choosing a perfect bottle is rarely a problem for yours truly, but I wondered if Ted had any suggestions for vegan food pairings we could enjoy alongside.  While he admitted that veganism was a relatively unfamiliar concept to him, Ted seemed genuinely interested in learning more about the animal-free way of life, and even encouraged Eddie to "vegan-ize" a few recipes from his new cookbook and share the results.  Cool!

Speaking of wine, our dinner dishes were paired with four wines from the Robert Mondavi Private Selection line, including a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and a luscious Meritage blend that was the favorite at our table.  As Ted pointed out early in the evening, these wines drink much more "expensive" than their actual price tags.  Coming it at around $10-$15 each, they are definitely a great bottle for your buck.  I also enjoyed the Chardonnay, which is light on the oak and pairs well with food.

Ted Allen cooking for the crowd at Taste Addison

After dinner, we all headed over to Taste Addison (in a private luxury bus!) to watch Ted's live demo.  He cooked Shrimp Scampi over Zucchini Carpaccio for the crowd and took additional questions relating to food, wine and his days as a judge on Top Chef (he left the show when he got his own gig on the Food Network).  Afterward, Eddie and I headed back to Mercy for a little debriefing session and reflected on the evening.  We both agreed that Ted is a great guy - knowledgeable, approachable and engaging.  The whole night was a treat, made all the better because I could enjoy it with a dear friend.  Big thanks to Ted Allen and Robert Mondavi and Eddie G., my favorite vegan!


Friday, May 8, 2009

Reader Recipe File: Taco Soup and Southern Cornbread

Today's featured cook (on the right) last year in Vegas 
celebrating his 50th birthday.  ...I still have my commemorative shirt!

Rodd Gray is unlike anyone you'll ever meet - because he's actually several awesome people rolled into one.  As Ms. Patti le Plae Safe, he is an entertainer extraordinaire (and host of Gay Bingo each month in the Rose Room); as Hott Rodd the Hair God he's one of Dallas' finest stylists; and as just plain Rodd (who is anything but plain), he is a loving, caring friend to all who know him.  

What many people might not know about Rodd is that he is quite the cook.  Whether it's a down-home favorite he learned back in Arkansas or a sophisticated new dish he created on his own, pretty much everything that comes out of his kitchen is seconds-and-thirds good.  Today I'm sharing two easy recipes that Rodd always serves together.  This Taco Soup, ladled over a slice of Southern Cornbread and generously sprinkled with cheddar cheese, is a plate of pure heaven.  And it makes enough for plenty of extra helpings.  Enjoy!

Taco Soup

3 1/2 pounds ground chuck
1 pound bulk sausage (your favorite)

1 can each:
navy beans
black beans
garbanzo beans
yellow corn
white corn
green beans
sliced black olives

2 envelopes taco seasoning
2 envelopes ranch dressing

Brown beef and sausage in a soup pot and add all other ingredients (do not drain cans).  Simmer for one hour or longer.

Southern Cornbread

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 tsp. salt
4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cups milk
3 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Combine all dry ingredients.  Combine eggs and milk in a separate bowl and add to dry ingredients, stirring just until incorporated.  Heat oil to boiling in the microwave and add to the batter.  Pour batter into a baking pan (Rodd doesn't specify size - C&S) and bake at 450-degrees until golden brown.