A Whirlwind Cultural Tour in Dallas Texas

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Klyde Warren Park

I take a bite and am instantly transported to a campfire, deep in the woods.  We are dining on gently roasted potatoes and hen of the woods mushrooms, both of which have been soaking up the essence of a wood-fire for what must have been hours.  I am entranced by the texture, flavor and simple complexity of this food.  So much so that it takes a few moments for me to realize that I am not surrounded by thick, lush woods and a crackling fire, but rather sleek, straight-lined wooden tables and chairs, heat radiating from the open-air kitchen.  FT33 is buzzing.  A steady stream of conversation sails through the air, uninterrupted and smooth.

A Chef stands at marked attention at the pass, inspecting every plate before it is released to it’s new owner, using needle-like tweezers to place delicate herbs and final garnishes atop the artful dishes.  FT33 is a new restaurant in Dallas’s up-and-coming Design District and from the moment my brother Willie and I walked in the door I knew that this was a far cry from the Dallas that made up a great part of my childhood.  Willie has lived in Dallas for ten years now, settling into the Uptown district after graduating from SMU.  I hadn’t been to Dallas in nearly three years and decided that a spontaneous venture to the lone-star state was long overdue.

The trip proved to be a whirlwind as Willie took me on an invigorating tour of all things both classic and new in this famously ‘big’ city.  Throughout his ten years of residence, Willie has often commented that, while Dallas had everything, it lacked it’s own identity.  It had seemingly defined itself by borrowing from cities throughout the US, bringing in a concept and blowing it up to ten-times the size, often with highly successful results.  The adage that ‘everything is bigger in Texas’ was beginning to take a different form, however, as Willie had begun to notice a sudden blossoming of Dallas-centric venues and destinations, places he couldn’t find anywhere else.  Thus we set out to discover the ‘new’ Dallas: an artful, though-provoking and down-right delicious great American city.

Before I jump into Dallas’s latest and greatest, I feel I need to provide a little history, some context of sort, to my connection to this city.  My Grandparents, Mimi and Punchy, along with my Aunt and Uncle, moved to Dallas one month before I was due to be born.  They were transitioning from a life dedicated to the sport of football and collegiate teachings to an entirely new world and career, one that would take them to nearly every corner of the globe.  Growing up we would visit them in Dallas at least once a year, sometimes staying for entire summers at their home, Circle T Ranch.  Our days in Dallas were always blazing hot and blissfully endless, filled with wide, flat open spaces, horses, llamas, cattle and fireants.  We loved, loved, loved going to the ranch.  Growing up we honestly believed that Jesse James roamed the vast land of Circle T.  Punchy said so, after all.  It was, and will always remain, an exceedingly special part of my childhood.

A full day of work and a direct flight later, I found myself wrapped in my brother’s bear hug.  Any stress evaporated into thin air.  Willie had a detailed itinerary for us and it began almost immediately as we zipped into town and settled into our invigorating and inspiring dinner at FT33.  After dinner drinks were all lined up at Meddlesome Moth, a relatively new bar and restaurant specializing in hard-to-find beers and gastro-pub-style cuisine.  It had a lively vibe but remained chill, a perfect way to end an already perfect night.
The Perot Museum of Nature & Science

The next morning came early and we got right to it with a trip to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.  Opened just this past December, the Perot Museum added a striking element to the Dallas skyline.  What appears to be a large grey block from afar develops small details as the eye draws near.  Smooth lines begin to protrude from the otherwise flat surface of the building, catching the rays from the sun at different angles as it moves throughout the day.  The main building is anchored by a living roof, native Texas grasses and foliage blanketing a sweeping slope, solar panels lifting their face toward the Dallas sun.  Inside was like a trip back through every science, math and history class I had ever taken.  Massive dinosaurs greet you as you enter the Life Then and Now Hall, their vertebrae alone three-times the size of my head.  Wish you had wings so you could fly through the sky?

Check out the flight simulator in the Hall of Birds – you will be soaring over mountains in no time, understanding along the way how and why a bird’s body opperates in the way it does.  The solarsystem blankets above, vast and entrancing, as soon as you set foot in the Expanding Universe Hall.  Want to build a robot?  You can do that in the Engineering and Innovation Hall.  I greatly enjoyed the Energy Wing.  Being in the energy business, Willie volunteers here often and he showed off his endless knowledge as we learned about the science behind every type of energy source used in our world to date.

Life Then & Now Hall – The Perot Museum of Nature & Science

Z and I love museums but it hadn’t occurred to me how long it had been since I had visited one that is rooted in education through science.  And I am certain I have never been to a Museum as hands-on as The Perot.  Far gone are the days of simple placards and signs.  Now, if you’d like to find out more as you read about an exhibit, simply touch the screen.  A thousand options will appear before you, directing you simply and making sure you take away a little knowledge before you leave.  It is as good a place for kids as it is for adults and it was the ideal way to spend our Saturday morning in Dallas.

The Klyde Warren Park – aka The Deck Park
We departed the Perot to find the sun shining, not a cloud in the sky.  Hungry, we took a short walk to the newest outdoor space in Dallas: Klyde Warren Park, aka The Deck Park.  Situated above the recessed Woodall Rodgers Freeway, the Deck Park cuts through the middle of the city, wide and open, reminiscent of the farm land just a few miles beyond the Dallas boarder.  It opened in October of 2012 after a decade of planning and design.  It is filled with locals, young and old alike, throwing frisbees as far as possible, playing one of the many pianos stationed around the grounds – talk about art in an instant! – and tucking into delicacies courtesy of the dozen or so food trucks that line the perimeter.  Colorful bistro tables and chairs are up for grabs and a playground is just across the way.  I could have spent the entire day in the park and I can’t imagine that it won’t soon be a staple for all Dallas residents.  We snacked on banh mi tacos and cooled off with a beer and a margarita.  Soon to come at the Deck Park – a stage for free outdoor concerts.  I will most certainly be back!
Libations at the Katy Trail Ice House
Not yet tired of the sunshine and thirsty for another adult beverage, we moved on to another one of Willie’s favorite green spaces that spans the length of Uptown to SMU – The Katy Trail.  An urban cyclist’s and runner’s dream, the Katy Trail boasts a beautiful path through the city, trees surrounding the trail and blocking out the noise from the surrounding metropolis.  If you walk just far enough you will find The Katy Trail Ice House.  Armored with a huge patio and 50 beers on tap, it was the ideal spot for idling away an hour or two of our afternoon.  The skinny margarita was straight-forward and not at all too sweet, just how I like it.  Almost as good as a Jennings’ Margarita… almost…
Smyth

Mimi and Punchy treated us to dinner that evening and I was thrilled to catch up with my Aunt Pam.  Dinner was topped off with one of my all-time favorite desserts, strawberry shortcake.  Classic and comforting, Mimi keeps things the way they should be with a biscuit base, macerated, ripe strawberries and freshly whipped, lighter than air cream.  Fortified, we headed to our next scheduled stop: an 8pm reservation at the mysterious Smyth.  Cocktails.  That’s all they do here, no menu required.  It takes a little time for us to find the unmarked door and locate the buzzer as Smyth operates speakeasy style.  No sign, no overtly warm welcome when we buzz the intercom.  Our reservation identified, we are allowed entry into this dark space, a golden glow emanating from the bar.  We are seated at one of six curved banquettes, just enough light to see one another comfortably, just too little light to take a decent photo.  The server approaches and we engage in a dialogue about our general preferences and taste.  What sort of liquor do we prefer?  Sweet or bitter?  Still or effervescent?  I elect to live on the edge a bit and only note that I tend to prefer light liquors over dark and that I love just about any cocktail that involves champagne.  Being a good Kentucky boy at heart, Willie simply requests something with bourbon.  We are presented with two glasses, both beautiful in their deceiving simplicity.  Mine is a riff on a French 75, a splash of gin the base for a bright and bubbly champagne float anchored with citrus.  Willie samples an old fashioned, a nearly perfect pick for him and smoother than just about any he’s had in the past.  My second cocktail is all about grapefruit – bitter, bright and perfectly pink grapefruit.  There are several – several! – other elements to this drink but the overall impression is everything that is perfect about a grapefruit, a mini explosion of sparkling wine rounding out the edges.  Moving away from bourbon, Willie has a tequila manhattan – a play on the bourbon classic, with clear liquors making up each flavor element.  It is dangerously smooth.  I am already thinking up what I will order next at Smyth and can’t wait to return.  But be warned – you’d better have a reservation.  They don’t kid around about that and seat only what they have on the books for any given night.  It’s well worth planning ahead.

Walter Van Beirendonck’s Lust Never Sleeps – Silent Secrets on display at Dallas Contemporary

I got ample Mimi and Punchy time Sunday morning when we visited one of their favorite brunch spots La Duni.  Latin American flavors take classic breakfast fare in a uniquely delicious direction, with house-made bakeries and artistic, eye-catching cakes the backbone of La Duni’s local popularity.  I selected the breakfast tacos, fluffy eggs and bacon enveloped by warm corn tortillas and served alongside spicy salsa, freshly smashed avocado and pickled jalapeños.  My take-home inspiration came from Mimi and Punchy’s order of the Huevos Finos.  A toasty popover is sliced vertically, poached eggs, ham and gruyere nestled in the airy nooks of the bakery, hollandaise sauce a blanket overtop.  Popovers are now at the top of my list for recreation.  Post brunch, Willie and I set out to visit Dallas Contemporary, a non-collecting Museum focusing on exhibiting the works of contemporary artists – local and international alike.  Unassuming and deceivingly small from the outside, Dallas Contemporary fills a vast warehouse.  Open and expansive wings lead to smaller rooms, each area home to a different exhibition.  Willie and I found Walter Van Beirendonck’s Lust Never Sleeps – Silent Secrets most intriguing and spent some time walking around the brightly clothed mannequins, each one turning slowly on his pedestal.  While not new (Dallas Contemporary has been supporting the work of today’s artists since 1978), Dallas Contemporary is a bit off the beaten path, outside of the heart of the city but still within a ten minute’s drive from downtown.  It is free and a great place to get lost on a warm Dallas Day.

Public graffiti courtesy of local graffiti artist Soner – Dallas Contemporary

Post Dallas Contemporary we made our way to The Bishop Arts District.  Located in the North Oak Cliff neighborhood, Bishop Arts is home to an eclectic assortment of local shops, restaurants and bars, all unique to Dallas.  A nice mix of clothing, nick-nacks and home goods, Willie and I wandered from store to store, finally settling down on a patio for a mid-afternoon cocktail.  As with many other cities throughout the US, the Bishop Arts District is an old neighborhood finding new footing and in the process of reestablishing itself.  It is becoming a major draw for city-dwellers and families are flocking to the area for both it’s local charm and more affordable housing.  I could certainly see the appeal.

Bishops Arts District, Dallas

The hour was drawing near and my plane back to Louisville was soon to depart.  I simply couldn’t leave Dallas without a meal at one of Willie’s favorite restaurants: Javier’s.  Known for their Continental Mexico City Cuisine, Javier’s is unlike the American-style Mexican food we’ve become accustomed to.  Some similar elements alight, however a new depth of flavor presents itself in the most basic of items, such as the salsa which is rich in it’s tomato base, more akin to marinara sauce than the jarred pace picante I grew up eating.  I select the fajitas de cabrito, goat sautéed with onions and peppers.  It is rich, tender and filled with flavor.  Javier’s is a well known Dallas institution and it pointedly strays from the Tex-Mex cuisine with which we may all be more familiar.  Javier’s goal is to take you to Mexico City through food.  He shares these authentic flavors with Dallas and you will be hard pressed to find Continental Mexico City Cuisine outside of this region of the US.

And then, almost as soon as I had arrived, I was back at the airport, making my way through security and heading east toward home.  Willie had shown me a beautiful mix of what is both new and renewed in Dallas, resulting in 48 hours of unique cultural experiences.  I was also walking away absolutely and unabashedly filled with pride for my little brother.  He is the kindest, smartest and most passionate person I know.  I miss him everyday.  There is no one else like him.  Dallas is one lucky city and I am one very blessed girl.

Lindsey McClave
Lindsey McClave has a deep love for food, wine and travel. While she has no intentions of becoming a chef or a sommelier and doesn't consider herself an expert in any culinary area, she is obsessed with learning.

She says, "the one thing I've taken away from my wine travels is that wine is meant for everyone - rich, poor, and everywhere in-between.” Whatever cooking becomes to you, she encourages you to find that foodie place, embrace it and run with it.
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