Brunch at Smoke

I officially became old as hell this past month: my “little” brother turned 21 years old.  For his birthday present, I decided to fly him to Dallas to spend the weekend and, of course, get him drunk in honor this milestone.  Friday and Saturday were a whirlwind, ending in brunch at Smoke and followed by a day of relaxation triggered by a euphoric food coma.  I knew before he came here that I wanted to take him to brunch (practically a Dallas institution) and eat some BBQ.  Quick research told me that Smoke would be the perfect place to do both.  I wasn’t wrong.
Walking up to the restaurant, which reminds me vaguely of a ranch house, I could already smell the smoked meats that were waiting for me.  Their seating method is high tech—no chain restaurant dry erase podium in sight.  They use a tablet to take down your name and phone number, and they text you when the table is ready.  I’m assuming this is useful when they are really packed, but we only had a 15 minute wait, which gave us just enough time to get two bloody marys at the bar that greets you at the entrance.
The bloody marys appeared in front of us like lava lamps of alcoholic joy.  With a quick mix and a sip, I could tell that these spicy cocktails would kick the hangover right out of your mouth.  The glass was rimmed margarita-style with a hot spice mixture and served with a savory garnish of carrot, pickle, and green bean.
 
It didn’t take us long to figure out what we wanted to eat.  I confidently ordered the smoked brisket cornbread hash, having already drooled over it when I look at the menu online, and Daniel ordered the pulled pork eggs benedict, which was on every table in the room we were seated.
We were certainly not disappointed.  The brisket had a wonderful caramelized crust that gave it some crunch, and the cornbread in the hash brought out a sweet edge.  The only thing I left was the empty plate.  I tried Daniel’s pork eggs benedict and understood why it was on everyone’s table.  The hollandaise sauce was the richest and creamiest I’d ever had, and the pork was smoky and sweet with the accompanying barbecue sauce.
Smoked Brisket Cornbread Hash
Pulled Pork Eggs Benedict
I wasn’t too surprised that brunch was amazing.  Smoke and Chef Tim Byres has been lauded in high profile places.  Southern Living even named it the best breakfast in Texas last year.  I will certainly be trying their dinner menu sometime.
On another note, now that my brother has left, I am saddened to return to reality, but I’m glad to have fun new memories.  I introduced him to my favorite hamburger at Twisted Root (The Spicy Goat) and the magic that is Central Market.  We partied on Cedar Springs at S4’s drag show and Round Up.  We explored the arts district and watched The Artist at the lovely Angelika Theater at Mockingbird Station.  We ate dinner at Bolsa and bought unique chocolate at Dude Sweet Chocolate.  We rocked Alone by 80s band Heart at Family Karaoke, among other songs.  We danced among the hipsters at Beauty Bar.  We had a wonderful brunch at Smoke and we relaxed.  Not bad for a stay-cation with my not-so-little-anymore brother.
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Adventures in Hong Kong

There’s nothing like the smell of fermented beans on a chilly evening. Well, unless you count the tangy musty odor of an old boxing glove.  I exiled myself from the kitchen after my Japanese roommate over-nuked fermented beans in a defrosting attempt gone wrong.  It brought back the horrific memory of sniffing an old boxing glove before an MMA Bootcamp class at the gym: gagging and choking ensued.

I’m an adventurous eater, but the combination of this memory and my olfactory sense completely turned me from fermented beans and from my kitchen.  I went to my freshly Febreezed bedroom, Glade candle lit, with a sticky beer stein I got at Addison’s Oktoberfest filled with hot German Christmas wine.  And I could still smell it.

The fermented beans are one of the spoils (haha) from our shopping trip to Hong Kong Market, as Asian food store in North Dallas.  It’s located in a shopping center filled with Asian businesses, and on a gloomy Saturday afternoon we decided to see what we could find.  I love exploring ethnic food markets because there’s always something I’ve never seen before.
Hong Kong Market was no exception, and Hong Kong Market, like fermented beans, has a pretty distinctive smell itself.  Because of its fish section, the whole store smells somewhat like a fish market.  I got used to it quickly so it didn’t bother me.  It kind of reminded me of the smell of my grandfather’s bodega/butcher shop in New Jersey.  In my earliest memory of him, he is standing by the pastries in tall glass jars wearing his bloody white apron, letting me pick something out for free.
There are a ton of Asian products to choose from so it’s fun to browse.  The English translations on the packaging can be really amusing as well.  Most of the people shopping there were Asian so that’s a good sign.  The prices are on the low side, especially compared to buying Asian products in regular grocery stores, so I stocked up on things such as soba noodles and dried seaweed.  I was pleased to find old favorites, like the Koala cookies I used to like as a kid and puffy coconut milk snacks (bahn men?) that a college friend bought from home for me one time.  The produce section has some deals, but I eyed it warily since some of it didn’t look great.
We also bought a bamboo steamer on impulse which we immediately used for dumplings when we got home.  I’ve also since then steamed broccoli and salmon for a very healthy dinner.  I haven’t been to any other Asian grocery stores in Dallas so I have nothing to compare it to, but it seems to be an authentic place with a large selection.  I certainly wouldn’t mind going back next time the mood strikes for Asian cuisine, or I need to find something specific.
*It’s been an Asian-themed week. Check out my review of Deep Sushi on Yelp.
Spoils of my trip

City Girl Snobbery and Country Girl Guilt

“We need to get out today,” my mom said at the breakfast table, staring at the rainy windowpane.

“And do what?” I asked with a mouthful of cheerios.

“Well we can go to Walmart…We can go to JCPenny, watch old ladies buy polyester pantsuits for Thanksgiving…”

I laughed, but my mother had just snarkily summed up the most thrilling activities in my hometown.

Now it’s possible that I have a skewed perspective; I’ve been spoiled for almost 6 years.  I lived and went to college in Nashville, Music City, significantly more entertaining than my small town.  Plus I was in college, so there was, ahem, plenty of fun to be had.  I’ve been able to experience other cities such as Chicago and New York, and now I live in Dallas, the 9th largest city in the US, a city with plenty to do and see.

I’m spoiled, I know it, and I kind of feel guilty about it.  When I come back to my hometown I feel like a snob.  I can’t just hop over to a Whole Foods or Central Market and buy my favorite local milk or a unique food I’ve never tried.  I don’t have my choice of dining options in all styles from all corners of the world, from taco truck to fine restaurant.  I can’t walk to an art museum and browse.  Hell, I can’t even browse a bookstore.

I can go to Walmart.  I can go to JCPenny and watch old ladies buy polyester suits.  Actually I can go to any number of places and watch old white people do things.

When I come back now, I find myself repeating “In Dallas we have this and that.  In Dallas I can do this and that.  In Dallas I would be blah blah blah.  Dallas Dallas Dallas Food Food Dallas.”

Have I become a city girl?  Or worse, have I become a Texan???

Jokes aside, I am a city girl.  I need variety, movement, diversity, modernity, and some damn good culinary options.  My hometown has just always felt too small for me.  And though I really like Nashville, Tennessee has always felt small for me too.  But people I love love Tennessee, so I try not to sound like a broken record about Dallas for fear of sounding like a snobby d-bag.  And there are things I love about Tennessee…but not many are in my hometown.

So what did my mom and I do today?  We left.  We drove 45 minutes to Cool Springs. Went to Whole Foods.  Bought some delicious Olive & Sinclair artisan chocolate, a local Nashville company while there.  Browsed Barnes & Noble.  Watched Puss in Boots at a once-nice-now-shitty movie theater.  And we were still scraping for things to do.  If not for the heavy rain, I might have suggested driving the extra 15 minutes to Nashville, but that will be another day.  We took the scenic route back home.  There are beautiful things here, but today the rain and season casts a depressing pallor over everything and obscured one of my favorite things about Tennessee: the gorgeous sunsets.  Something else for to save for another day.

Art Crawl Dallas – Food from Trucks

I’m sitting in my pajamas in my parents’ home watching Much Ado About Nothing…and it still hasn’t quite hit me that I have a week of vacation.  I flew into Tennessee yesterday morning and the Nashville skyline with its familiar “Batman” building made me smile…and also made me realize that everything really is bigger in Texas.

I spent my last night in Dallas at the Arts Crawl downtown, which was in convenient walking distance from my apartment.  Food trucks lined Flora St, vendors sold their wares, and music pounded from a DJ in a truck selling tongue-in-cheek t-shirts.  One was printed with The Price Is Right logo but restyled with “The Swag Is Right.”

Food trucks are growing more and more popular in Dallas, and I love the concept.  My roomie and I decided to hit ssahm BBQ, a food truck that sells gourmet Korean tacos.  She got two tacos, but I decided to try their kimchee fries–french fries smothered in jack & cheddar cheese, cilantro, onion, caramelized kimchee, and spicy mayo.  It was an absolutely delicious kick in the mouth.  Right now I’m wishing they could take a roadtrip to Tennessee and park in front of my parents’ house.

We waited a while for our food since it was the most popular truck, but there was plenty of people watching to be done.  Everyone was out in their artsy best, especially with the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit just down the road at the Dallas Museum of Art’s Late Night at the Museum event.  There were young families corralling their kids, couples of all orientations having their date night, art kids being art kids, etc.

We got to the Art Crawl late so I don’t know how much we missed, but we were able to browse some of the remaining vendors besides the previously mentioned t-shirt company.  One was laalicia who sells really neat recycled accessories; another artist sold really cool jewelry made from guitar strings (I’ll have to find her name because I really liked her stuff.)  Another was The Vintage Mobile, which sells vintage clothes out of a repurposed school bus.

I was feeling kind of sick that night but I’m so glad I went out.  This thoughtcatalog post I read earlier that day was in the back of my mind.  I’m young.  I need to get out.  And while currently I’m a little bummed because I’ve come to the conclusion that grad school will have to wait another year, I’m looking on the bright side.  I can still collect experiences and learn.  Oh, and eat excellent food from trucks.

Paper Cuts and BBQ Sauce

I’ve learned at least two things today:  a friendly attitude goes a long way and getting BBQ sauce in paper cuts hurts like a BIOTCH.  Today I felt like I needed to treat myself after my last full day of work before Thanksgiving break.  The past week has been filled with a lot of late nights, which included stacks of grading, calling lots of parents, and paper work–hence all of the paper cuts.  But there were also good things like my students’ basketball games and being treated to a delicious dinner, so it wasn’t all bad.

When I got home, I scoured my Yelp app for places nearby that struck my fancy.  I came across reviews of Off the Bone BBQ and most of them were very positive, touting the great service and super tender meat.  I’ve been unimpressed with BBQ in Dallas, so I was very interested.

It wasn’t at all what I expected.  Usually when I go to BBQ places, they’re hole-in-wall places or fake hole-in-the-wall places–you know the type, with the faux down-home shack decor.  Off the Bone was a neat little restaurant with no traces of the BBQ shack look.  This is probably because they tout themselves as “gourmet.”

The reviews were right about the service.  The man at the order counter, who I believe was the manager, greeted me with a smile and was very friendly.  He turned my order of a half rack of baby back ribs and two sides into one of their special combos, saving me some change.  We chatted a bit and when he found out I was a teacher, he let me get a free drink.  I was really pleasantly surprised.  Lately I’ve felt more unappreciated than usual as a teacher so even something as small as a free drink made me feel better.  I left with my take-out order feeling good, just because of the friendliness of a stranger…and also the prospect of some delicious food.

On the way home, I felt like I hit every single red light in downtown and got stuck behind the slowest drivers in existence, but it was probably the smell of bbq sauce that distorted my perception.  After eons, I finally got to my apartment and was able to enjoy.  The back back ribs were delicious and very tender.  When I was lifting one up to my mouth, the meat literally fell OFF THE BONE.  The sauce was mild with a tiny little bite, but the meat was definitely the star of the show.

For my sides, I had honey baked beans and cole slaw.  Usually most cole slaw turns me off because of the excessive mayonnaise, but he told me that his mother (he pointed and she was right there in the kitchen) makes it fresh everyday with blue cheese and bacon, two of my favorite things.    As you can imagine, I thought it was great!  For dessert I had a brownie, also baked by his mother.  It had a soft gooey frosting with walnuts on top that reminded me of german chocolate cake.  Heavenly.  I will definitely be going back for the excellent service and great food.