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.

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.

Lazy Sunday: Cranberry Bars and Chocolate Chip Cookies

I love fall daylight savings.  Falling back an hour is heaven that first morning.  I easily woke up at 8:30 and already felt accomplished by not sleeping in.  I went to my usual Sunday planning spot, Crooked Tree Coffeehouse, and had the usual Vanilla Chai Tea Latte.

After several hours, I finally finished writing my midterm for the semester.  I probably could have written it in half the time, but I was busy jamming out to 90s tunes on Pandora (Breakfast at Tiffany’s station is the bomb dot com), Facebooking, and other internet time wasters…in the name of making planning more bearable.  For example, I laughed at this photo for about 10 minutes because it perfectly describes me on a daily basis:


I think it’s the look of joyful denial that really gets me.  The Pretend-It-Doesn’t-Exist Forcefield was at max strength after I finished that midterm.  My roommate Allison and I got 5 tacos each at Fuel City and took them home.  After that, I found any excuse not do work-related things, such as watching TED talks.

Inevitably I got the urge to bake.  I cooked up a dozen chocolate chip cookies from some cookie dough I had left over from last night’s urge.  Then I decided to make use of some cranberries in the fridge by baking some cranberry bars.  They’re very basic but the tart cranberries remind me of the holidays AND the fact that my Thanksgiving break is TWO WEEKS AWAY!!!!

Chocolate Chip Cookies:  I used Mark Bittman’s recipe from my How to Cook Everything app.  Simple but makes some great cookies that are almost fluffy in texture.

Cranberry Bars:  I used this Gourmet recipe I found on my Epicurious app.  (Take a guess about how many food related apps I have on my phone and iPad.)  I just halved the recipe (because of lack of cranberries) and replaced water with apple cider and half the granulated sugar (that cooks with the cranberries) with brown sugar.  I also added a pinch of cinnamon and a few cloves to the cranberry mix, which I was careful to pick out later.  This was another simple recipe that could be easily dressed up, but it did the trick.  My leftover cranberries are way more useful this way than sitting in my fridge.

I’ve been dying to go back to Tennessee, which is something I’d never thought I’d write.  I miss my family.  And lately I’ve been very nostalgic about college and Nashville.  I’m definitely going to be taking a trip down memory lane when I go back and visiting some of my favorite places.

Not that I haven’t found some good places in Dallas…I ate at least four seriously gigantic slices of New York Style pizza at Serious Pizza in Deep Ellum.  I actually had to fold the leftovers so it would fit in my fridge.  I had cold pizza for lunch the next couple of days but I didn’t mind at all because it was absolutely delicious.  The sauce they use on their pizza must be seasoned because it was certainly not like the bland acidic tomato sauce you’d get at other places.

Still…I am ready to go.  I am so burnt out that I fantasize about going to grad school on a daily basis.  Post-Halloween my students were bat-shit crazy.  (Halloween should NEVER be on a Monday.)  I need a break. The kids need a break.  Everyone needs a break.  I’m sure you can sense the desperation by now.  But we’re almost there.  And I am two weeks away from some gobbling up some McDougal’s chicken tenders with buffalo sauce.  That will get me through the next 14 days.