Night and Day in Dallas

If you’re going deep into the heart of steamy sunshiny Dallas in August, you should get your exercise out of the way at the crack of dawn. Where better place than Crossfit Heat? It’s the only box in walking distance of downtown Dallas.

Crossfit Heat

They aren’t kidding about the Heat, but at least there’s no sun during your 6am WOD.  Drop in classes are $20, their outside gym was rated one of the best in the country by The Box Magazine and Garry, Mel and all the rest of the coaches will make sure you’re sore and sweaty by the end of the hour. If you can squeeze in a weight lifting session with Jose, do it. He’ll make sure your squats and cleans are perfect.

Take a shower, drink lots of water and then head over to Deep Ellum for breakfast at the All Good Cafe.

All Good Cafe

The All Good’s got a Mexican truck stop thing going on with migas, tacos and chicken fried steak all on the menu. There’s a stage inside and local bands play on weekends but the best time to visit the All Good is on a mid-week morning when there’s no line and no wait. Order the breakfast tacos #1 – scrambled eggs, pepperjack cheese and avocado – and then take a glance at the pastry case just in case you need breakfast dessert.

Deep Ellum

Since you’re in Deep Ellum, do yourself a favor and check out the neighborhood. It’s one of the few neighborhoods where graffiti is encouraged so there’s a lot to look at; and there was an arts festival with live music in April, so, look for it to show up again in 2015 around the same time. This neighborhood really comes alive at night with jazz and blues clubs on every corner and there are a number of tattoo parlors if you want a permanent reminder of your Dallas stay. I’d recommend Taboo or Elm Street.

Lunch time? How about a giant chicken sandwich?

Chicken Scratch

Looks amazing, doesn’t it? That’s the garden original from Chicken Scratch where they’re serious about chicken. Tim Byres, Chris Jeffers and Chris Zielke are the three Dallas chefs who collaborated on this restaurant and beer garden. They created an easy chalkboard menu of rotisserie chicken, chicken and biscuit sandwiches and a couple salads for the health conscious. The beer selection leans heavily towards local Texas brews and the green chili and hominy mac-n-cheese is pretty bad ass. Be aware that the side of fries is enough for an entire table

Bishop Arts

Since you’re in the Bishop Arts district, take a look around this neighborhood too. Lots of vintage stores, specialty shops, wine bars, art galleries and coffee places. Enough to spend a leisurely afternoon ducking from one air conditioned space to another with a couple of stops for iced coffee and possibly a truffle at Dude, Sweet Chocolate.

No visit to Dallas would be complete without a trip to the 6th Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza and the grassy knoll.

Grassy knoll 2

Far from being simply a monument to JFK’s assassination, the 6th floor museum provides a fascinating context for the time period by way of a year by year accounting of JFK’s presidency, the Cuban Missile Crisis and all of the chaos surrounding 1960’s America. Take the audio tour so you know what you’re looking at and then walk out to the grassy knoll and get some handouts from the conspiracy theorists who hang out there so you can hear their side of the story.

I’d recommend at nap at this point in your day because that Dallas heat is a lot. Maybe a dip in your hotel pool? That sounds good too.

When you’re ready for dinner, head to San Salvaje, the newest restaurant by chef Stephan Pyles.

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When last I was in Dallas, I ate at Chef Stephan Pyle’s restaurant Samar and wrote a long breathless post about that amazing experience here. Since then, Chef Pyles decided to close Samar and open San Salvaje in the same location.

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San Salvaje means Wild Saint and Chef Pyles pays tribute to all of Latin America by merging traditional dishes with contemporary treatments and decorating his space with a corresponding blend of indigenous, Catholic and modern art. Above from the left going clockwise is the yellow fin tuna ceviche served in a young coconut, foie gras tacu tacu with banana chutney, lucuma suspiro with maracuya meringue and three cheese arepas in a salsa verde. Chef Pyles cares so deeply about food that his meals are love on a plate. I adore this place and cannot recommend it highly enough. If you’re watching your pennies, go right now during restaurant month and get a prix fixe meal for a pittance of the normal cost.

Now, you’ve survived all that and you still want to get out and see some of Dallas? First off, I salute your stamina. Secondly, Dallas Observer saw you coming and they compiled this list of the 7 best rooftops in Dallas for a drink and a view.

Pick one, order something chilly and toast to the Big D!

West Texas, metal art and no yoga

It was bound to happen. Especially with the way that I hate doing yoga in the morning and the way that I procrastinate and the pesky way that all the hours in the day are limited and I can’t seem to do everything: I missed yoga this morning. SUCH a bummer. I was actually in my car and driving but knew that I wasn’t going to make it. And even worse, I knew that it would be so close that I’d likely be pulling into the parking lot just as class began.

Sucks.

The more so because it’s beginning of a several day hiatus from yoga as I’ll stay in places where it’s not available. But clearly I have a lot going on so occasionally something has to go. And I got to spend an extra hour this morning hanging out with Cynthia and figuring out the rest of my week, which was quite valuable. The next time I get all sweaty and stretchy I’ll be in Tucson, about 6 days from now.

So instead of Bikram, I had the next best B word:

With Scott and Jeremy, the brothers Branks. We did the Original Market Diner in Dallas and though my waitress was bereft of a beehive and didn’t call me “honey,” it was still a great diner experience. It was also the only thing I ate all day. I think I had a bit of a food hangover after Samar, if such a thing is possible, and it contributed to me getting up late and missing yoga. Bikram probably would have helped…

After breakfast I hit the road, leaving Dallas in the early afternoon without much on my mind or my agenda except getting to Amarillo by nightfall, which sounds like a country song. Getting out of Dallas was a horror show. Narrow 2 lane detour highways created with miles of orange traffic cones, giant trucks that fill up my rearview mirror, a complete lack of ability to tell where I am, how I got there or how to get out and no exits might be my idea of hell. Driving without navigating will get me lost. Driving while navigating might get me killed. No winning. Just losing. Welcome to Dallas.

I finally busted out of that mess, traffic dropped off and I took 287 West up through Wichita Falls. There was a lot of this:

And this:

Interspersed with some of this:

So when this showed up, I had to turn around a take a picture:

Mannequins dressed in bikinis in the back of a Cadillac parked in the driveway of the only house in 20 miles on Highway 287. No rhyme. No reason. Just girls with their hair blowing in the wind getting a little air and checking out the sights.

I bet several truckers think it’s the real thing until they pass it up. So… that’s curious.

And then more miles of this:

And this:

Which was all cool in a Friday Night Lights sort of way. Given that I’ve been driving in Texas for a day and a half and I’m still not out, I can see why Texans think they’re a separate continent. It’s an island of grass and cows and more grass and a few trees and long empty roads stretching into the horizon. Mesmerizing.

I turned up 83 so I could travel the last bits by Route 66 and at the junction of 83 and 66, I found this and had to stop:

This is George Garza’s house and he’s (obviously) a metal artist who recycles old machinery, paints it and positions it artfully in little gardens.

He has a Georgia O’Keefe thing for skulls:

And he said this piece was his first one (a corn grinder that he made into a totem):

He has a glorious decorated shop behind his house:

And his house is right on the highway so he’s decorated his fences in a way that’s very inviting for strangers:

I caught him just as he was leaving and while he was really polite, answered my questions and invited me to spend all the time I wanted walking around and taking pictures, he was half in and half out of his truck and needed to be somewhere so I didn’t keep him.

I got to Amarillo after 2 hours of driving straight west into the setting sun on long flat Route 66 where things seem to pop up all of a sudden like a mirage. Very odd, that.

I’m here for the night and I’ll drive through the panhandle tomorrow and then up into New Mexico where I’ll spend the night in a special place.

More about that tomorrow.

See you then.

Americana along Route 66 and eating at Samar with Stephan Pyles

The end of my day and the beginning of my day belong in different universes. I started my day here:

I’m a fan of the Waffle House and the one I visited in Joplin MO was a particularly good one. Nice and clean, fast service, good food, in and out the door in about 30 minutes, which put me on the road late morning, headed out on the classic American road trip road:

Route 66 is hundreds of miles long and winds through several states and I’ll see parts of it here and there as I head further west. All along this road are pieces of Americana left over from the decades between 1950-1980 when families (including mine) took long road trips. Some of these pieces remain, like this classic:

Hugh Davis built the Blue Whale of Catoosa as an anniversary gift to his wife in the 1970s and surrounded it with a picnic area, a pond and a zoo in an Ark. The Ark has since fallen apart and in the 80’s the whale also fell into disrepair but then some Whale Boosters (I love those two words together) raised money and rebuilt it and gave it a fresh coat of paint.

Now the whale has a curator (with business cards) who remains devoted to keeping this little roadside attraction in good shape.

A little further down the road is another Route 66 attraction:

Recently rebuilt after a fire destroyed everything except the 4 rock walls and the giant iron stove in the kitchen. The owner, Dawn Welch, was the model for the car “Sally” in Cars and the café serves down home food. I stopped and had some great peach cobbler, but knowing what the evening had in store for me I’d have had a cup of coffee and taken a picture and kept on driving.
I did a lot of driving today and didn’t see much beyond those two attractions. I’d have liked to stay on Route 66 but I had to go south to Dallas where friends and dinner reservations were waiting. It wasn’t a frantic day of driving but I didn’t get any yoga in either, so I was happy to get out of the car at 6pm when I finally pulled into town. I got a brief chance to talk to my high school friend Cynthia, her kids and her parents before she and I changed and headed downtown to go to Samar.

Samar is a Stephan Pyles restaurant, named one of Esquire’s 20 best new restaurants of 2010. Stephan Pyles is a James Beard award winner, he’s had his own TV show and he’s the only celebrity chef with whom I have any connection because he happens to be good friends with my friends Scott and Cynthia. Don’t you love it when that happens? I met Stephan the last time I was in Dallas but didn’t get to eat at his restaurants so I wanted to make sure I did this time.
It was Tuesday night so we didn’t have trouble getting a table on the patio. We expected that maybe Scott would join us so we told the waiter to set the table for 3 and she took the 4th place setting away. She then brought us drinks and we ordered the first couple plates. Samar’s food merges influences from India, Spain and the Eastern Mediterranean. Plates are meant to be shared and that means we’d get to taste a lot of different things. We figured we’d order 4 or 5 plates and share them all. The first plate came out:

House made naan with hummus, moutabal (smoked eggplant, like babaganoush) and labne (thick creamy yogurt).

And the waiter brought a 4th plate and said “Scott and Stephan should be here in about 10 minutes.” Oh good, Scott’s going to make it. Wait a minute, Stephan? Stephan Pyle’s coming to eat with us at his own restaurant? We get to eat with the chef? Whoa.

AWESOME.

And then the Executive Chef – Jonathan – came out to introduce himself and say that Stephan had called ahead and asked him to prepare the chef’s tasting menu for us and did that sound ok? He would just have the waiter take the menus because we wouldn’t need them and since Stephan was running late, he said to just start bringing food out. If there was anything we needed, just ask. It was a pleasure to cook for us. Thanks for coming in.

Let’s be very clear that from this point forward I cannot be objective because I’m sitting on the breezy cool patio of a gorgeous restaurant created and designed by a famous award winning chef who will now be ordering for me and eating with me. It simply doesn’t get better than that.

But perhaps a tasting of pictures? How about my favorite subject to start, “patatas y chorizo con huevo organico,” potatoes and chorizo with a fried egg:

Or this called “Tres Vasos” filled with such esoteric things as lemon air, vanilla scented potatoes and foie gras mousse:

Possibly this? “manti maa lehme,” “Lahmacun” and “battah tangine maa couscous” – or lamb “pizza,” Turkish pasta in a yogurt garlic sauce so good you want to drool on yourself and duck confit over couscous:

And that’s just a sampling! We ate things off the menu, we ate things I can’t remember, we ate things I didn’t take pictures of because I was eating. We ate for hours.

And Stephan actually took time from his busy life and the planning he’s doing for an event this weekend called the Buffalo Gap Food and Wine Summit and he ate with us. He told us where he got some inspiration for the dishes and recounted stories of hunting for restaurant furnishings in the Damascus markets and fighting with his designer to get them all incorporated. He was charming and lovely and interested in the food and when we finished everything he said “dessert?” then looked around the table and said to the waiter “bring us one of everything.”
Here’s are some of my favorites:

I started with the candied ginger stuffed semolina croquettes (at the bottom right) and put my hands in the air in what Scott called a “Pentecostal moment” because I just couldn’t contain myself over the subtle aromatic flavors. My final bite was the dark dense rich delicious Turkish coffee pot de crème (bottom left) and that small pot seemed to last forever because the flavors were so intense and powerful. Stephan had a bite of everything, seemed to make notes of things he might change and then had to run back to his obligations. But we three stayed while the moon came up over the patio. They lit the firepit and we talked about art, photography, travel and pending screenplays over fragrant licorice tea and a hookah pipe with rose flavored smoke.

Perfectly perfect perfection. Thank you to Jonathan for incredible food. Thank you to Stephan for his unparalleled generosity. Thank you to Lisa for her waitstaff skills arranging the table and smiley patience while I took pictures during her descriptions of all the food. And to Scott and Cynthia for companionship, conversation, smoke blowing, story telling and years and years of shared history.

I’m too stuffed to move and have yoga tomorrow. Pray for me.
See you tomorrow.