Funday alert: Sissy’s finally opens for brunch

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The variation on chicken and dumplings at Sissy’s is a standout on the new brunch menu

“Gays love their brunches,” I observe within earshot of Lisa Garza, proprietress of the genteel Henderson Avenue eatery Sissy’s Southern Kitchen. “Who doesn’t love brunch?!” Garza quickly interjects. “It’s my favorite meal.”

It must have been hard, then, for Garza to wait more than a year and a half after opening to add it to the menu here. The restaurant started out with dinner, then some months later added lunch service; brunch starts on Saturday.

It was well worth the wait. Garza says she knew what would be on the menu before the restaurant even opened — that’s how committed she is the experience.

“I’m old enough to remember places like Beau Nash [in the Crescent] that did” brunch the right way, she says. She wants to provide a similar experience now. And the selections on the menu reflect that.

The traditional Sunday Funday crowd will be delighted by the drink menu, which includes not just mimosas and bellinis and Bloody Marys, but a grapefruit julep (similar to a greyhound, truth be told) and a Texas screwdriver (made with Tito’s). But the dishes stand out even more.

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The beautiful and engaging grapefruit brulee

Among the Southern specialties making an appearance are chicken and waffles (the signature fried chicken, with a fluffy Belgian waffle and sugar-cane syrup) and the short rib hash (exquisite, with the beef braised crisply and sunny-side eggs on top). Some of the other items, though familiar, raise the bar.

Sissy’s Benedict is a crab cake pregnant with thick crab meat perched on a corn pone muffin and capped with poached eggs and a slice of jalapeno (for a Texas flair). The hollandaise — here as well as on the eggs Sardou — is so rich that you could serve it on cat litter and cardboard and it would make them taste delicious.

Best of the entrees, though, is the chicken and dumplings, a kind of chicken stew in a cast iron pot, with tiny dumplings lurking like matzoh amid the creamy base and succulent, uncommonly flavorful brined chicken. And for looks alone, the grapefruit brulee (a steal at $4) makes the table soar with its colorful finish and sweet-sour double whammy.

For now, Sissy’s will serve brunch only on Saturdays, but if Garza has her way, it won’t be long until it opens for Sundays as well … and perhaps even all week long. We can deal. Brunch is second nature to us.

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The crab cake benedict has hollandaise to die for

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Canasta for a good cause, this Sunday at Tony’s Corner Pocket

The American novelist Mary McCarthy once quipped that Canasta has the advantage of “doing away with the bother of talk after dinner.” But the classic Uruguayan card came popular among the aged and experiencing a rebirth among hipsters has much more to offer. While Canasta may not have the high-stakes glamor of Baccarat, or the back-room luridness of Poker it harkens back to the halcyon days of the 1950′s when it was first introduced to the United States, with smartly dressed men and more smartly dressed cocktails. It’s that paen for a more stylish age that has caused this once nigh-forgotten game to experience a rebirth of late.

If you’ve caught the Canasta bug there’s an opportunity this Sunday, Feb. 12, to indulge in all the melds your heart can muster at Tony’s Corner Pocket  (817 West Dallas). Brunch and registration start at noon with “Pick a Partner” at 12:30. Then at 1 pm single elimination tournament play kicks off. Canasta is played with teams of two, but don’t worry if you don’t have a partner to come with you. Single players are welcomed. Registration is $10, with half of the proceeds going to the tournament winners and the other half benefiting Montrose Grace Place, a non-profit helping homeless youth.

Register early by e-mailing houstonglbtcanasta@yahoogroups.com

—  admin

COVER STORY: Brunch meets nightclub

MIMOSAS AND DRAG | In gay culture, brunch is a major social and culinary event, where fancy eggs benedict (like that at Dish, above left) and bottomless mimosas are standard issue. But they are becoming more fun, with drag queens part of the morning’s entertainment at Dish and Axiom Sushi Lounge in the ilume, and ZaZa’s Sunday School brunch (above right) serving up sparklers, DJs and girls dancing on tables. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

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Sunday brunch in Dallas’ LGBT community has evolved into much more than just a meal; it’s a way to keep the weekend party going

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  |  Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Mad Men portrays the 1960s white businessman’s three-martini lunch. The Golden Girls ate cheesecake late night around a kitchen table. Carrie always sipped cosmos with the girls during cocktail hour while gossiping at the local club.

But in gay culture, the ritual of a Sunday brunch has long served as a social nexus, a place where all the major deals are made — and the arbiters of local society convene to hold court in the sobering light of day.

Putting together the right crew is part of the finesse that comes with planning the ideal brunch experience. “Not all my friends get along so I have to juggle it,” says one brunch regular.

“I usually have a herd of about five [regular brunch buddies],” says Joshuah Welch, who manages the ilume property where two tenants — the restaurants Dish and Axiom Sushi Lounge — have recently initiated theme brunches. Today, though, it’s just Welch and one other friend: “I was in a coma until 15 minutes ago,” Welch said.

Nursing a hangover is definitely another purpose of the brunch trek: Where else can you have food and alcohol on a Sunday morning to satisfy the twin desires to ease your headache and fill your belly? But the hangover element can affect where you choose to meet your friends. A place with loud music isn’t necessarily all that welcome when you’re sound sensitive, one diner — wearing sunglasses inside — ruefully admits as the music strikes up.

And there’s definitely music, highlighting the latest local trend in brunching: Turning the traditionally staid eggs-benedict-and-mimosa chatfest into something more like a nightclub bathed in sunshine.

The glam world of the party brunch is upon us.

Gays, of course, have always made brunch more a social function than a dining one — at least in urban areas. (Out-of-towners visiting Dallas say the gay community in Northwest Arkansas does not gather routinely for brunch.)

While a hearty meal accompanied by some hair o’ the dog is a reason for brunch, it is by no means the only one. Sunday in the gay community can be akin to a war room strategy session.

“You meet to plan your week — decide what you’re going to do for Sunday Funday,” says regular bruncher Eli Duarte.

“Where else can you find our community gathered in the daylight?” asks Tim O’Connor, another diner, with a hint of sarcasm. “There are not a
lot of places to do that outside the Strip, though it can be a kind of continuation of the bar scene.”

That social aspect has caught on in the broader community, and has even been raised a notch of late in Dallas.

At Dish one recent Sunday, 200 to 250 diners are expected to enjoy the morning’s entertainment. It doesn’t come from a pianist playing songs from “Your Hit Parade,” but rather a dance-mix DJ spinning tunes louder than Grandma would probably enjoy. And that’s not the half of it: Midway through the day’s two brunch seatings (one at 11 a.m. another at 1 p.m.), Dallas drag divas Krystal Summers and Erica Andrews rend the control booth from the DJ to put on a full show for the Taste of Drag Brunch.

Taste of Drag doesn’t take place every Sunday — on special occasions like Mother’s Day a more traditional service is offered — but owner Tim McEnery says they try to do it once or twice a month. And it’s not just for the gay community.

“It really is for everyone,” McEnery says.

CHAMPAGNE | ZaZa’s Sunday School brunch serves up camp with their frittatas. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Anecdotal evidence tends to bear that out. When I mention to a middle-aged straight woman that I am headed to a drag brunch, she excitedly asks where. “I need to know where I can see a good drag show,” she declares enthusiastically. At Dish, there certainly is a mix of gay and straight folks, though queerer heads prevail.

McEnery doesn’t claim to have invented the drag brunch, but he thinks it’s high time Dallas has one. It’s been a staple in cities like San Francisco and New York for years, but has only recently gained currency outside the coasts.

On this particular Sunday, the first seating already has a nine-top (including two women — one, a former New Yorker who notes that brunch has burgeoned as a social event since she moved to Dallas); across from it, five diners, including four well-appointed women in sundresses and espadrilles, their makeup and hair obviously fussed over, have taken a prime location to watch the shows.

A decent-sized crowd fills in the 11 a.m., which is generally less well attended than the later — not surprising in the gay community, several brunch regulars quickly note.

“Part of the point of brunch is to see and be seen,” acknowledges Welch, who is not at all surprised by the girls who turned up at 11 in full, flawless makeup. “People dress up to come here.”

Of course, gays and straights can mingle together or separately anywhere in town during brunch, though there is certainly a concerted effort at Dish — which is located along Cedar Springs — to make Sunday morning feel like an extension of Saturday night.

STEAK AND EGGS | Brunch is a social function, with friends attending in crews where they enjoy a little alcohol along with steak and eggs to keep the Saturday night party going like this group at Dish. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

“Who went to church today?” asks Andrews of the Dish crowd. “I did, but I still smell like last night at the Rose Room.”

Doing the Taste of Drag Brunch, she says, makes performing on the weekend almost run together.

“It’s a different group than I see at the Rose Room,” says Summers. “And we tend to do different music on Sundays — more classic drag. But it’s a perfect time to catch up with friends, to talk about how your week went.”

Over at the Hotel ZaZa ballroom, the third Sunday of every month morphs into Sunday School Brunch, where staff dress as nerdy bookworms and sexy Catholic school girls for a prix fixe menu that comes with a bottle of champagne per couple.

But it’s not just the costumes and food that attract the crowd; indeed, many attendees pay the $10 SRO cover just for the entertainment: Around 2 p.m., the lights dim, the curtain pulls back and the brunch room turns into a naughty discotheque, replete with sparklers, women dancing on the bar, mood lighting and a pounding dance beat.

Today’s a mixed crowd — “about 50-50 [gay-straight] observes one regular, “though it’s often ’mo central.”

The crowd is up and dancing before long, with muscular men in surplus among the attendees as the music gets louder and the lights dimmer. The sunglasses stay on. Gossip can wait; for now, there’s still some partying left to do.

—  John Wright

Norma’s Cafe turns 55

On Tuesday, June 21, Norma’s celebrates its 55th anniversary.

For years, the Oak Cliff cafe has been the place to find the gay community on a Sunday morning for brunch. Norma’s has welcomed the LGBT community with open arms ever since the gay community began migrating to Winnetka Heights in the 1970s.

Norma’s walls document the history of Oak Cliff including photos of the original 7-11 (on the corner of Twelfth Street and Edgefield Avenue) and the 1958 tornado. That storm tore through the Kessler Theater, a block away. Though that building was restored to its original glory last year, it stood in disrepair until then.

In its 55 years, Norma’s has expanded to a second location in Far North Dallas along Dallas Parkway past Trinity Mills Road. And Momma’s Daughter’s Diner? Momma is Norma. Her daughter opened a place on Industrial Boulevard and expanded to North Dallas as well.

In 1986, Ed Murph took over Norma’s and changed nothing. (Well, actually, on a visit last weekend, we were pretty sure the white walls had been recently repainted).

To celebrate its anniversary, Norma’s is offering three of its favorite dishes — chicken fried steak, meatloaf, and chicken and dressing along with always-hefty side dishes — for $1.79 on June 21 beginning at 10:30 a.m.

Happy anniversary, Norma’s.

—  David Taffet

Cedar Springs street party to proceed as scheduled

Country singer Chaz Marie, left, and Compete Magazine Athlete of the Year Michael Holtz

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Weather and other factors have affected a number of Super Bowl-related events originally set for this week. But despite the area’s winter weather woes, crowds are still expected to turn out for the Cedar Springs Merchants Association’s Super Street Party Saturday night on Cedar Springs.

Forecasts predict that the week’s record-setting low temperatures should give way to a more moderate seasonal chill by then, and organizers predict that the excitement of the event will be enough to keep party-goers warm — not to mention the chance for some prime celebrity-spotting.

The merchants association has received calls from a number of celebrities and athletes — gay and straight — who will be in town for the big event, all asking for details on the Super Street Party. Why? Because the straight celebs assume that in a straight-laced town like Dallas, it’s the gays who know how to party.

Those requests for information have come from celebrities said to be staying at The Melrose and other hotels in the Oak Lawn area.

Cedar Springs Road will close at 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon, and the party begins at 7 p.m. Admission is free. In case it gets cold, the bars will all be open with most offering specials.

Buli promises hot chocolate and will stay open until at least 1 a.m. Hunky’s and Subway will remain open until 3 a.m., with Subway offering its Fabulous Foot-long as a Super Bowl special. Zini’s plans to operate until at least 4 a.m. and Café Brazil is open 24 hours.

The Bud Light Main Stage will be set up in the middle of Cedar Springs, with Chaz Marie as the featured entertainer. Guest DJs will provide music on the street throughout the evening.

Compete Magazine’s Gay Athlete of the Year Michael Holtz will be the MC.

Woody’s Sports and Video Bar will hold a meet-and-greet with Holtz on Friday, Feb. 4 at 9 p.m. and he will attend a brunch at Dish on Sunday at 11 a.m.

Beer booths will be set up on the street, staffed by some of the local gay sports groups raising money for their teams.

Other Super Bowl week events haven’t fared as well.

A gay-themed concert originally planned for Thursday night was cancelled, even before bad weather hit, because of poor ticket sales. The tent in the Cotton Bowl that was to house that and other concert events collapsed under the weight of the ice and snow, and the concerts were moved to the Fair Park Coliseum.

Dallas had hoped to show off many of its venues to visitors through the week but the ice that arrived early on Tuesday morning delayed the arrival of many visitors when both airports closed. The storm also caused the closing of the downtown museums for two days, as well as a number of other facilities around the area.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

‘A-List: New York’ returns in the fall

We already knew Logo was casting for The A-List: Dallas and Los Angeles, but word comes today that A-List: New York will return in the fall as well. Reichen will be back with Rodiney (still his boyfriend — I was at brunch with them in New York on New Year’s) as well as the back-stabbing Austin, and basically irrelevant regulars from last season Mike Ruiz, Ryan, TJ and Derek. Logo’s also promising some new faces.

Still no word, though on when the Dallas and L.A. editions will begin airing.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Mission accomplished on DADT repeal

By Dave Guy-Gainer

After the signing ceremony on Wednesday, 15 of us made the trek from C Street to the Mayflower Hotel on foot to have brunch.

For the most part, the group was silent and being self-reflective. Major Mike Almy and I walked together and discussed what had happened to him and the E-Ticket ride of the repeal in Congress. We discussed his future and how it looked so much brighter now than it had less than a week prior.

Arriving at the hotel, Joe Tom Easley stopped all of us and reminded us that the hotel restaurant was where J. Edgar Hoover once had lunch with his male lover every day for the last 20 years of his life. The space where Hoover’s permanently reserved lunch table sat is now a PINK store. How appropriate, I thought.

After we sat down, nearly all had e-mails and voice mails to deal with — mostly from press asking for interviews and thoughts. We ordered a bottle of champagne and toasted the fall of this one domino in the fight for equality.

Then the conversation changed. It became one more like you would hear when a bunch of lesbians and gays sit down for a meal. One person said, “We need to get Barney Frank to look gayer. Maybe darken his hair and put in a few highlights.” People roared with laughter. We talked about Christmas plans — most of which had been obliterated by the call to travel to D.C. We talked a lot about our friends over the years that were not at the ceremony. We teased each other.

When brunch was over, there were heartfelt hugs and back pats and we each went our separate ways. Probably all thinking what I was — is this the last we’ll see of each other or is there a cause that will bring us back together?

I caught myself being myself at Reagan Airport — joking with strangers, opening the door for a lady struggling with bags and kids, telling the agent that I liked her rainbow pin. Wow, I thought. You had become so focused and perhaps a little too humorless.

When I boarded the plane I reached inside my coat pocket to pull out the notes I had made, the list of strategy options we were considering, the confidential list of congressional targets, the board briefing on legal support statistics, my talking points to memorize, my to-do list — but I found nothing in the pocket. That’s when it finally sunk in. I was leaving Washington, D.C., with nothing remaining to do. The passenger beside me looked at me strangely when I laughed out loud with eyes full of tears and said to myself, “Mission accomplished.”

I am taking Aaron Belkin’s advice. I asked him at dinner the other night, “What next?” He said, “A nap, Chief.” So, this old Santa Chief is off over this most wonderful of all Christmases to have cookies, milk and lotsa naps! I’ll be back on Monday, though, to do what I can on the certification and transition. After 10 years of negative, I’ll finally get to help with the positive aspects of change.

Implosion cancelled.

Dave Guy-Gainer is a board member for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and a retired Air Force chief master sergeant who lives in Tarrant County.

—  admin

SLIDESHOW: Victory Fund Brunch NYC

Today I attended the first annual Victory Fund brunch in NYC, where headliner Rep. Barney Frank talked at length about the difficulties we face in the repeal of DADT and even getting ENDA to a vote. Comedian Alec Mapa hosted, NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn spoke, anti-Quinn activists protested outside, and a literal who’s who of political homorati mingled over mimosas.

In the house: all the gay NYC council members, activist and event co-chair David Mixner, activist Corey Johnson, early DADT activist Joe Steffan, comedian Kate Clinton and her partner Urvashi Vaid, Reichen Lehmkuhl, actor Jack Noseworthy, former GLAAD head Neil Giuliano, and a boatload of probably similarly famous people that I don’t know. I’ll let you name them in the slideshow below, since I can’t. Lots of ridiculously handsome men within. Full-screen versions of the below photos are here.

Joe. My. God.

—  John Wright