Few “outside-of-Arkansas” cities are as frequently visited and vacationed-to by Arkansans than Dallas, Texas, the notorious Big D. For less than a tank of gas, there is no finer place for Central Arkansans to get away and enjoy some of the greatest dining in the country. Dallas may have a reputation for being chock full of bloated, power-hungry business tycoons and money hungry moguls of all sorts, but in reality, it’s a city that appeals to folks from all walks of life—young and old, wealthy and otherwise. There’s fantastic eats for all who are interested in exploring this fine city, and all it’ll take from you is a short hop across the Arkansas state line.
I’ve mentioned before that I spent a good bit of time in Dallas, and I’ve discussed its merits with numerous Arkansans making their way there for both work and play. If you foresee a trip to Big D in your immediate future (and I hope you all do), I offer this (very) short list of some of the must-try restaurants in the city. And while it seems almost ridiculously hard to narrow down and compress this grand city into one article, I offer this—the best way to do Dallas right.
*Cane Rosso– A few years ago, a small mobile pizza vendor operating under the name “Cane Rosso” hit the Dallas food scene like ton of mozzarella. Jay Jerrier, owner and operator of this unique pizza establishment, had already tackled the corporate world, financially securing himself a comfortable future for (perhaps) the rest of his life. So what does a man do when he can essentially do whatever he feels like for the rest of his life? Jay chose to make pizza…and we should all be grateful that he did.
Jay will tell you that his pizza epiphany came on his honeymoon, where he and his wife visited Naples and sampled authentic Neapolitan pizza for the first time. He describes this as an eye opening experience, his “I’ve-got-to-learn-how-to make-this-pizza” moment. And learn he did. He studied in Naples for weeks to learn the meticulous art of Neapolitan pizza making, he purchased a mobile, wood burning pizza oven (assembled in Naples), and he brought his skill and passion for pizza home to Dallas. Within about a year, Jay Jerrier’s Cane Rosso, went from a mobile pizza oven, being dragged around Dallas on the back of a pick-up truck to a brick and mortar restaurant in the heart of Dallas’s burgeoning Deep Ellum neighborhood.
Know this…the pizza at Cane Rosso is stunning. Simply put, I have not had a finer pie in my life. Now of course, pizza is quite subjective, and some may not prefer the thin-crust and delicate, often subtle flavors of Neapolitan pie. But if you do enjoy such things, it’s unlikely you’ll find anything as spectacular, as authentic, or as delicious this side of the Atlantic. Jay jokes that he wants every customer who tries Cane Rosso for the first time to have that same “holy sh*t!” moment that he had when he first sunk his teeth into his pizza in Naples. Lucky for us, this happens on a daily basis.
Expect simple, housemade dough, constructed with imported Italian “double-00” flour, sea salt, water, and yeast. Sauce from hand crushed San Marzano tomatoes. Hand-pulled mozzarella, made in-house daily. Pizzas are cooked in a handsome, imported dome-shaped, wood-burning oven that reaches 900 degrees, and cooks the pies perfectly in about 90 seconds.
A few pies to try: The “Luana,” with locally made Italian sausage, hot soppresata, and mushrooms—a personal favorite of mine since Cane Rosso first opened their doors to the public. The “Delia,” with roasted grape tomatoes, fresh arugula, and a sweet and salty “bacon marmalade.” The “Paulie Gee” with soppresata, caramelized onions, and Calabrian chiles. Lastly, a special “off menu” item that’s nearly always offered, the “Honey Badger,” a white pie (without red sauce) flavored with hot soppresata and spicy honey.
Leave room for dessert and sample their zeppole—Italian donuts sprinkled with powdered sugar and paired with a chocolate dipping sauce. It’s the perfect way to end a fantastic meal at Dallas’s (and perhaps, America’s) best pizzeria.
*Pecan Lodge– The harsh truth is, for many years, there was no great barbecue in Dallas. Let me clarify—there was always plenty of decent and mediocre barbecue, occasionally there was even “good” barbecue. But great barbecue? Exceptional barbecue? Legendary barbecue? Huh uh. Not in Dallas. Most barbecue enthusiasts were forced to travel to the smoky center of the state, the barbecue mecca of central Texas. Dallas, for whatever reason, simply could not compete with the sultans of smoked meat operating such barbecue joints as Franklin in Austin, Louie Meuller in Taylor, Kreuz or Smitty’s in Lockhart, or Snow’s in Lexington.
That all changed with the arrival of Pecan Lodge—and I don’t think many people even saw it coming. Here’s a small barbecue stand located in the Dallas Farmer’s Market—one of many vendors in the large market pavilion which is also home to tamale makers, vegan juicers, a Chicago style deli, honey vendors, and Mediterranean bakers. But within only a few years of lighting their fires, Pecan Lodge has managed to capture some seriously heavy critical acclaim, drawing national attention with a spot on the Food Network, and being named one of the five best barbecue joints “in the world” in a recent issue of Texas Monthly. All this, and they probably deserve even more attention than they’re already received.
Texans take their barbecue very seriously and most will go to great lengths to acquire something as extraordinary as Pecan Lodge. Their doors open at 11 am, but if you arrive at this time, you’ll be greeted by a line that stretches and winds around the market floor. If you’re determined to eat there, get there early…especially on weekends. We arrived at 9:30 am and we were the first in line, but within minutes we were being joined by dozens of other hungry patrons.
Why so popular? The answer is simple. Perfectly smoked meats of all sorts. Pork ribs are succulent and tender with a thick, sweet and crunchy bark. Brisket is fatty and supple. Thick and juicy housemade sausages. Wait there’s more…
Beef ribs are not something you commonly find at most barbecue restaurants. But at Pecan Lodge you’d find enormous, dino-sized hunks of rich, fall-apart tender beef barely clinging on to the bone. A single rib weighs in at close to one pound and is enough to overtake an entire dinner plate.
The “Hot Mess” is another signature item presented at Pecan Lodge. Here you’ll find a sea salt-crusted, baked sweet potato stuffed with seasoned, shredded brisket, chipotle cream, cheese, butter, and green onions. It’s a jaw dropping concoction that blends each ingredient perfectly—sweet, salty, fatty, and creamy.
Did you delay in you arrival at Pecan Lodge? This is risky behavior indeed, as they often run out of meat well before the appointed closing time of 3 pm. Should this happen to you, fret not. Grab some fried chicken. It just happens to be one of the finest representations of this classic Southern dish you’ll ever encounter. Then go back the next day (at an earlier time) and get some barbecue.
*Lucia– If you’re wondering just how exceptional Lucia is, consider this: Lucia, a small Italian restaurant, is located in Dallas’ Bishop Arts District and houses around 14 tables. Each month they announce when they will start taking reservations for the subsequent months that follow—for example, currently their website states that they will start taking reservations for December on November 1st at 9 am. Now, that “9 am” bit is important. You see, on November 1st, by 9:15 am, a mere 15 minutes after their phone lines open for reservations that are one to two months in the future, all seats will be booked for the weekends in the coming month. Wait much longer and the entire week, even the typically “slower” weeknights, will be snatched up as well. If you’re looking to get in on a particular date (by means of a reservation), you’ve got to be on the proverbial ball here. Trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way.
Why does the entire city swoon for this quaint Italian neighborhood establishment? Why do many Dallas residents consider this “the best” restaurant in Dallas? The answer comes in owner/chef David Uygur’s simple yet immaculate approach to Italian cooking. He keeps the number of customers he’s serving at any one moment to a minimum, allowing him and his crew to treat each dish, each bowl of pasta, each slice of cured pork with an adequate and unparalleled amount of attention. You see, it’s difficult to get into Lucia, but faithful customers would not have it any other way. They know that whatever effort required to get a seat at Uygur’s feet will be richly rewarded. This is not some cut-rate, sloppy sauce, pasta factory. This is elite level cooking, and Ugyur’s efforts have already been recognized and praised by nearly every major publication in Texas.
What might you expect when dining at Lucia? The menu changes regularly, seasonally, but the basic framework remains the same. Antipasti, primi, secondi, and dolci—a progression from smaller, appetizer-like plates, to larger, more substantial dinner plates, and finishing with the sweeter dessert offerings. You’ll regret missing any section of the menu. On a recent trip, we began our meal with salumi misti, a tasting of house cured meats which included a succulent, chewy speck, fennel and orange salame, thinly sliced lengua, and a rich, dark wild boar, all aside toasts with a spread of chicken liver mousse. There was crudo of Rocky Nook oysters with spicy, piquant horseradish mignonette, and a beautiful butternut squash soup with pumpkin seed oil and crushed amaretti cookie.
Nothing typifies Lucia’s meticulous attention to detail and exemplary quality more than their pastas. All handmade, in house daily—you’d expect nothing less from a place of this caliber. We were presented with a thin, egg yolk pasta called “tajarin” topped with brodo Parmigiano and shaved Burgundy truffles. It was just lovely. Our gnocchi with ragu bianco (a thin, rich, creamy white broth flavored with white wine) and sautéed chanterelles was no less impressive. We ended with a braised Berkshire pork belly and pork tenderloin under a bed of swiss chard and charred onions—every bite was a pure delight. Start to finish, you’ll rarely find an equally impressive meal.
If you’re determined to dine at Lucia but weren’t fortunate enough to score reservations, there is hope for you yet. They often offer outdoor seating when the weather permits. There’s also three “first come, first served” chef’s seatings at the bar in front of their open kitchen. If you’re willing to wait long enough, you can almost always make your culinary dreams come true at Lucia.