(Welcome to "What is Best in Life," which I envision as a series of posts that include brief breakdowns of recent eats, recommendations, or just collections of things that I am enjoying lately and wish to share.)
A recent trip that I took to Dallas (to dogsit the two giant dog-beasts pictured below) pretty much perfectly illustrated what I find best in life. When looking back on the week that I spent in my hometown, it became clear what takes top priority in my eating/drinking life: bread, coffee, beer, burgers, and pizza. Based on this latest visit, I have a feeling that pie is going to sneak its way onto this list, as well. As much as I *LOVE* the Austin food scene, with several new discoveries, I am beginning to come around on what Dallas has to offer, and there are actually several places that I'm pretty jealous that we don't have in the capitol city.
Because every good day has to start with a health...well, with a breakfast...after a tough, mom-filled Camp Gladiator workout one morning, I hopped in the car and immediately went to undo any progress that was gained from my exercise. As we get to know each other, you will no doubt begin to see this trend: my exercise and eating have a direct, yet fiercely adversarial relationship. Because my fitness is *clearly* fueled by carbs, I knew that a trip to Village Baking Co. would be in order at some point during my time in Dallas.
Village Baking Co., a tiny French bakery tucked away in an alley near upper Greenville Avenue, serves some of the most legit French pastries that I have found outside of Paris. Once a farmers market-only operation, Village Baking Co. opened up a retail shop in 2012, and their fresh baked breads can be found supplying a multitude of restaurants in Dallas. Upon entering the tiny shop, the smells of fresh baked bread and sweet, indulgent pastries took hold. I'm not sure exactly HOW it happened, but I ended up with an almond croissant, a kouign amann, a loaf of perfect sourdough bread, and a croissant bread pudding (yes, bread pudding made with croissants) for later. Go fitness!
Absolutely worth the calories:
Once a part of Dallas often avoided, over the past couple of years, the Bishop Arts District has breathed new life into Oak Cliff, just south of downtown Dallas. The Bishop Arts District is home to a large selection of independent restaurants, boutiques and shops, and a vibrant night life, happily steering clear of loud and raucous bars and all that comes along with that scene. The neighborhood is very walkable, and the variety of quality restaurants ensures that there is something for just about everyone.
I first discovered Emporium Pies last Christmas, and man, am I glad that I did. I had never been super crazy about pie before, but Emporium Pies has quickly made a convert out of me. Housed in a...house (I'm a terrible writer) just off the main area of the District, Emporium Pies has made quite a splash since coming on the scene back in 2012. I have heard stories of epic lines out the door, something that we Austinites are all too familiar with. Damn you, food, for being so good!!
Emporium Pies offers a selection of 7-8 pies at a time, based upon the season, and I have been incredibly impressed with each one that I have tried. The pies are tauntingly displayed to assist in your difficult pie-decision-making.
Two slices were ordered by your friendly narrator on this visit. Pictured below are two of Emporium Pies' current offerings. First, the "Ebony and Ivory," a buttermilk chess pie with a creamy Nutella layer below. The crust is delicate, and the ebony and ivory layers are deliciously creamy and complimentary to one another. If you have ever found yourself playing a game of "Let's Dip Stuff into Nutella," then the "Ebony and Ivory" is certainly right up your alley.
The "Lord of the Pies" must be Emporium Pies' signature pie, as I have yet to see it disappear from the seasonal menu, and rightfully so: this massive deep dish pie has singlehandedly turned me into a pie fanatic. Each pie is easily 3-4 inches tall, packed to the brim with 10 fresh, soft apples, bathed in housemade caramel, and then topped with the most delicious and crunchy cinnamon streusel topping. It's just perfect.
And what goes better with (or at least, after) a piece of incredible pie? Coffee, of course! Dale Cooper knew it, and I have now subscribed to his way of thinking. While Emporium Pies does offer fresh Cultivar Coffee, my new favorite coffee stop in Dallas is easily Davis Street Espresso, which can be found a short way down Bishop Avenue, also in the Bishop Arts District. I have only been drinking coffee for a little over a year now, but since awakening to what I had been missing for the previous 30 years of my life, I have discovered the joys of leaving life behind for awhile to slowly sip and enjoy a nice coffee or espresso drink.
After reaching out to my Dallas-food-coffee-beer internet friend, @roadrunnereats, for cool coffee recommendations a few months ago, he directed me to Davis Street Espresso. I was immediately impressed with the cozy layout and decor of the shop, and it is clear that the owners truly care about the quality and presentation of their coffee.
More than just a pretty setup (but it sure is pretty, eh?), the Van Buren features a creamy shop of espresso with just a bit of steamed milk, a small glass of Topo Chico, and an almond biscotti.
Davis Street Espresso has a variety of different ways of preparing coffee to your liking, and also proudly displays antique coffee setups, like this Gaggia Orione below. This adds a bit more to the "coffee laboratory" feel of the shop.
Taking a little diversion away from the Bishop Arts District, I also attended a pint night with Lakewood Brewing Company at a Whole Foods Market near my parents' home in north Dallas. Lakewood Brewing Company is not usually available in the Austin area, so I try to give some of their beers a little taste when I'm near them. On this particular week, Lakewood Brewing Company had been celebrating its two-year anniversary, and in honor of the birthday, they were offering a special tapping of their anniversary beer, Lion's Share II, a Berliner-Weisse that had been aged in wine barrels with black currants added. The resulting beer was slightly tart and sour, with a little bit of funk from the wine barrels, and sweetness from the fruit. These kinds of beers are certainly not for everyone, but I am actually a huge fan of fruit-sours like this Lion's Share II...and it was pink.
I don't have a ton of pictures from my "ladies + Jeff" brunch at Bolsa, but that may just because whenever I eat huge burgers, I become hypnotized by the amount of sheer joy that I am experiencing. As fancy and innovative as some foods and dishes can get, there is just something about burgers...they. just. work. Whenever I travel to a new city, you can bet that I will be devoting some serious research to finding the best burgers to consume. The burger at Bolsa, one of the top spots in the Bishop Arts District (yes, I know that I visited this area a TON during this last trip...that should hopefully indicate something), had been a priority to try for quite some time, and it did not let me down. Neighborhood Services Tavern still holds my top ranking for Dallas burgers, but this is no slouch.
And because I just couldn't live with myself if I went all the way up to Dallas and DIDN'T get pizza, a final stop on my way back to Austin was made at Zoli's NY Pizza. Dallas has long held my preferred pizza places, at least in Texas, and with he addition of Zoli's a year ago, my pizza-eating decisions have gotten exactly one-stop harder with each visit.
Zoli's NY Pizza, opened by Jay Jerrier, he of il Cane Rosso fame (my OTHER favorite pizza place in Dallas...and anywhere), is a pizza-lover's dream. Offering three different styles of pizza (New York style , Sicilian style, and "grandma slices"), garlic knots, Italian sandwich specials, zucchini fries, stromboli, and many more daily specials, Zoli's just gets pizza RIGHT.
Pizzas are cooked in huge deck ovens and displayed in glorious fashion for you to ogle as you wait to approach the ordering counter. Unique daily specials are carefully handcrafted using fresh ingredients like rosemary roasted potatoes, sesame seeds, fresh vegetables, pancetta, and so much more. The New York style white pizza with loads of garlic and a variety of cheeses is a personal favorite of mine and is ordered upon every visit.
As enticing as the "other" options at Zoli's may be, including some incredible looking spicy soppressata-stuffed garlic knots and meatball parm sliders, I haven't yet been able to stray from the pizza offerings, mainly because it iss always spot-on and exactly what I'm looking for. Speaking with the manager and head pizzaiolo, I couldn't help but go on and on about how "on point" the crust is for each of their styles of pizza. The New York style is right on and absolutely addictive, and the grandma slices, which are slightly thicker, pan pizzas, are just the right mix of light on top and crispy on bottom.
Perhaps what I love most about Zoli's is the creativity that is allowed in the kitchen. I cannot recommend following the Zoli's Facebook page highly enough for some of the best DAILY food porn around. Whether it's a photo of the daily New York special pie, or perhaps a shot of the new behemoth "Mother Effer" platter (one of everything of the day, along with a few extras, just for fun), Zoli's provides some of the most enjoyable food-related posts in my feed every single day...which makes it all the more difficult knowing that it is 200 miles away.
All in all, it ended up being a pretty nice visit, especially because I was able to hit some of these new favorite spots in Dallas. With each successive visit, my fondness for the city's restaurant scene grows, and I can only hope that this trend continues. AND FOR PETE'S SAKE, COME TO AUSTIN, YOU GUYS!!
P.S., I'm not exactly sure where the Zoli's crew found this gem of an art piece, but I'll just leave it here for you. Pizza is love.