Peeks at the gayborhood’s 3 latest restaurants: Cedar Grove, Zephyr and Street’s Fine Chicken
In February, the Zephyr blew in. Then last month it was a game of Chicken. And this week? This week has been all about getting our Grove on. In the past few months, Cedar Springs Road — The Strip that really defines Dallas’ premiere gayborhood — has been inundated with new restaurant opens, perhaps the most ever in such a short time and a concentrated space. If you haven’t had time to check them out yet, well, that’s what we’re here for. And there’s never been a better time to show the community some love.
Located in the old Dish space at the ilume, Cedar Grove is a new concept from folks who already know the neighborhood. It’s by far the newest entry on The Strip’s evolving dining scene — its first official opening day was just this past Tuesday, so this was the firstiest of first looks — but owner Tim McEneny has been doing this a long time. Cedar Grove opens daily at 3 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday brunches starting this weekend. McEneny wants diners to stop by for a quick bite or a drink and still have money to spend at a club that evening.
The redesigned space is meant to be more communal, more casual. The spicy-fresh aroma of cedar wafts even as you walk up to the exterior. Inside, some things remain the same: The large, 360-degree bar dominates the entrance, but it’s the tree-like décor that grabs your attention: Long tables that seat upwards of 200 diners, framed by a canopy of abstract tree branches that give the “grove” part to Cedar Grove.
The menu reflects those changes as well. Executive chef Taylor Kearney has built on classics of the American cookbook, with some sophisticated twists: Swedish meatballs plated as appealing appetizers, not doused in a volcanic chafing dish of sauce; the “meat and three,” a daily selection of manly-meal staples like a ribeye and potatoes, only prepared less for the lumberjack than the foodie; sundae desserts gracefully layered with fluffy brownies, ice cream and fudge, yet presented in a retro soda-fountain-style glass that Marty McFly’s parents might have shared.
The McFlys would not recognize some of the brunch items, with elevated takes on eggs benedict (with a lobster hollandaise sauce over cured folds of country ham), or cinnamon-sugar dusted donut “holes” larger than most donuts. But even they would probably be pleased by a drink menu that includes select $2 drafts and $4 wells every night.
4123 Cedar Springs Road at the ilume. CedarGrove-Dallas.com.
Street’s Fine Chicken
Beating Cedar Grove by a month is this other reconsideration of a local institution. For 40 years, the Cedar Springs Black-eyed Pea was a fixture of restaurateur Gene Street’s culinary empire — really, the one that launched it. Gene himself hadn’t owned the BEP concept in decades, but he still owned the property as he expanded his reach to other gayborhood eateries, including Lucky’s and the recently-departed Snookie’s and Good Eats. In fact, losing his own leases on those area cornerstones may be what triggered his decision to reconfigure his flagship restaurant space into something he had long wanted: A gourmet chicken concept.
Street’s Fine Chicken is what its name suggests: A chicken shop in every possible way. You’d be hard-pressed to find an item on the menu not poultry-related, in name if not genetics. (Remember that Monty Python sketch where every item at the restaurant included Spam? …Kinda like that.) There are chicken lollipops. Chicken sandwiches. Chicken salad. Devilled (chicken) eggs.
And, of course, fried chicken, grilled chicken and roasted chicken. (There’s also steak … chicken-fried, of course.)
Largely absent are the extensive veggie side dishes that the ‘Pea was so revered for. (No fried okra?! Heavens!) Instead, there are thoughtfully devised gourmet alternatives: Mac and cream brie, maple-roasted Brussels sprouts, garlic-ginger snap peas, slaw.
The chicken is meant to be the star here. (The décor includes huge murals of hens and roosters. “That’s a lot of cock, even for Oak Lawn,” my friend Valentine observed).
The space is brighter than before, but the bones are recognizable: Same entrance, same bar, same slanted-tile walk to the dining room. But it seems homier, more refreshed. The space might not be a spring chicken, but this concept has a lot to crow about.
3857 Cedar Springs Road.
Zephyr Bakery Café
Zephyr has been around the longest of the three newcomers, and in many ways, it’s also the greatest departure from its predecessor. From the cocoon of the serviceable Zini’s Pizzeria has pupated this amusing take on a Parisian bistro. The décor is whimsical but precise, from the dandy-dressed waitstaff to the eclectic and colorful dishware. It’s café society with a Texas twist.
The food is a mix of country French standbys (onion soup, for instance) and bravura updates of Texas favorites (bold empanadas, elaborate deviled eggs) and classic desserts. Indeed, dominating the space is the pastry case, a kind of treasure chest from which rich baubles emerge — not necessarily rich with jewels, but with butterfat and sugar and carbs … even a little bacon on a cupcake. (Yeah… that.)
4001 Cedar Springs Road.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2016.