Cities always evolve and with time, we get the chance to see how neighborhoods that once would never have beckoned for brunch become hot spots. In this When in Dallas post, we revisit East Dallas, Oak Cliff and take a short road trip to Fort Worth in search of good barbecue.
E Bar Tex-Mex
Word of mouth brought me to Uptown Dallas, over on North Haskell Street for the anticipated visit to E Bar Tex-Mex. Ernie, one of the proprietors is a friend and a seasoned restaurateur. Knowing how much thought, work and preparation had gone into taking E Bar Tex-Mex from a dream to a reality, I had been eagerly waiting to experience E Bar for myself. Texans pride themselves on Tex-Mex and usually the battle for best in any Texan city could rival the Philadelphia debate on who makes the better cheesesteak- everyone has an opinion. On this particular visit with a food industry friend, we ordered the queso and found it clung to the chip well without being too thin or too thick and boasted the right amount of heat. With this, I sipped on a Swirl – margarita with sangria swirled in. I’m not much of a drinker, but would imagine it very easy to sip on this concoction all night long as the flavors complimented the food and conversation. My judgement on tex-mex always comes down to chili con carne enchiladas. Perhaps you have your own guilty pleasure and this tex-mex favorite is mine to indulge in once a year. What makes a good chili con carne you might ask? The chili sauce should be thick with enough spice to play off the melted cheese. Oh my goodness, these enchiladas had me asking for the recipe. No, seriously. I wanted to learn how to recreate it back in San Francisco. E-Bar uses sharp cheddar inside the enchiladas letting the cheese stand up to the chili con carne.
My friend ordered the Grilled Shrimp Tacos with applewood smoked bacon, corn and avocado pico de gallo and a remoulade sauce- kind of like a tex-mex version of shrimp remoulade all rolled into a corn tortilla. I appreciated that the standard fare of Mexican rice tinted red but flavorless actually tasted robust. My friend’s order of Shrimp Tacos was accompanied by Cilantro Lime Rice, a bold flavor combination that complemented her beans. The refried beans held a rich, somewhat sweet flavor note that I placed as bacon and learned later was applewood smoked bacon. Next time, I plan on trying their elote (spicy Mexican cream corn that is one of my mom’s childhood favorites) and their award-winning tacos like the Brisket with sautéed onions and poblano peppers that comes with their bean soup (borracho-style?). As they say, the devil is in the details and the food at E-Bar was as good as I could have desired it to be. Move over El Fenix, I have a new tex-mex haunt in Dallas.
I am a sucker for specialty stores especially those with local goodies I could never find cross-country. If I lived in Oak Cliff or Dallas, I might find myself becoming a regular at Bolsa Mercado. Tucked inside along one wall, multiple glass cases hold freshly baked goods, salads and a host of deli sandwiches. Perhaps you’re partial to Bruschetta? They have a full bruschetta tasting of combinations like apple butter with manchego and pecan or speck with onion and walnut. I made a mental note to one day try their Beet Salad with oranges, radicchio, feta and pistachio brittle or the Twig and Branch Flatbread studded with roasted grapes on chevre and arugula. For all you kolache fans, of which I am one, they make their own in-house. Perhaps you find yourself among good company of those who use Duck Fat to great effect- their Duck Fat Biscuits and Gravy might entice you. Given that our visit happened on a morning trek to Oak Cliff, I snagged one of their Cranberry Pecan Muffins, still warm from the oven and happily broke off bite sized pieces. I don’t eat muffins all that often, but the streusel topping and the festive combination of Texas pecans and cranberries had me smiling from the inside out. A communal table separates the in-house deli from the market. The market itself is what made our visit so memorable. Shelves of locally sourced Dude, Sweet chocolate bars and their “Crack in a Box,” candied nuts and cacao nibs enrobed in a gigantic hunk of dark chocolate sat back to back with locally stocked gluten-free pancake mixes, specialty bitters and a glass wall of Shiner Bock and local beers. Portlanders and San Franciscans could make much of this local Bishop Arts district gem.
The arboretum was quite the talk of Dallas last Fall. Visiting the Arboretum, balls and rods of colored glass stuck out from the well-coiffed shrubbery. Chihuly brightened the Dallas Arboretum with his cheerful approach to colored glass and it brought people out in droves. This exhibit which should have finished in early fall was extended with opportunities to visit it during daylight hours and after dusk. A ball of blue rods that radiate out from darkness to light captured my attention To me, it resembled Krypton, the home planet of Superman. Then again, in the Poetry Garden a fantastical chandelier of goldenrod, pale blues and greens danced on the cobblestones below its base as the sun played along the contours. Or perhaps, I was most taken with a large yellow tower made up of lemon yellow branches reaching out and down. How sumptuous were the colors! Every Fall, the Arboretum takes on a harvest theme with its Pumpkin Village where umpteen varieties of pumpkins and even a house outfitted in pumpkins is a marvel to child and adult, but already a fan of Msr. Chihuly, was completely taken with the playful approach to accenting nature’s beauty through color and light. Chihuly designed a few blue and purple dancing color sculptures for the Arboretum that played against their water cascade backdrops. We also learned he had contrived of a new medium to create aqua blocks settled in the nearby stream of the Arboretum. I think the docents were as equally transfixed as the visitors. While the Chihuly exhibit is no longer at the Arboretum, this property is worth a visit and often has special events; just make sure to arrive early to beat the crowds.
DAY TRIP: Fort Worth
On a lark, we drove out to Fort Worth from Dallas one day. It’s not all that long of a drive and I am pretty sure my appreciation of roadtrips comes from the wide open roads of Texas. We set out to find a good bar-be-que restaurant close to cowtown. In my searches looking for legitimate barbeque, Cooper’s Bar-B-Que was recommended with stellar credentials. First of all, when you walk in, you are greeted by the pitmaster who cranes open the pit, revealing the different kinds of meats available. I am a pretty stalwart fan of brisket and watched hungrily as he shaved off the meat. My compatriot selected a stack of ribs and we set off to decide which side dishes should be included into our meals. The macaroni and cheese and cole slaw are nothing to really praise, but then again, people don’t go eat barbeque at Cooper’s for the sides. Where the side dishes came up short, the beans excelled. We discovered them after paying for our meal, right over by the barbeque sauce and condiments area. They were well spiced, think jalapenos and bits of pork with herbs, and so full of flavor that they almost had us forgetting the bar-be-que. It might be bad to admit, but as we found ourselves easily full from lunch, we wrapped up half our meats… and included a to-go container of the beans! The barbeque sauce was kept warm in a large pot out in a massive mess hall that I could imagine being filled up during the weekends. Cooper’s bar-be-que does the name well. They even sell frozen briskets and other refrigerated cuts of meat for the at home entertainer to cook for quite a feast. So, if you’re in the mood for meat, Cooper’s has you covered.
Fort Worth Stockyards
While you’re in Fort Worth, and perhaps after you finish your barbeque feast at Cooper’s, walk over to old Fort Worth to the Fort Worth Stockyards where you get a real sense of how the nickname, cowtown, came to be. This was actually the final stop of longhorn cattle heading where drovers would come to rest and gather more supplies. You’ll find there is much for the tourist on this street, so buyer beware. We happened in on a spice shop where a flurry of different spice combinations are prepared in-house and they also sell a number of loose teas. I marveled at the selection of dried pepper powders and conspired to pick some up, but ended up leaving with some specialty rice. I personally like the rustic feel of the NE 23rd Street as it feels like a showdown could happen at any moment or maybe even a hay bale might blow across the path. I figure if you’re planning to drive over to Fort Worth, you don’t want to miss this stop as it gives a very distinct history of the place.
While in Fort Worth and perhaps in lieu of walking through the Stockyards, should you venture to Fort Worth in the evening, consider checking out Billy Bob’s to see if any concerts appeal to you or if you like to kick up your boots while dancing the two step. Bonus, it’s right across the road from Cooper’s.