BREAKING NEWS: Lill stepping down from Arts District post

Veletta Forsythe Lill, the former Dallas City Council Member who since 2009 has been the executive director of the Downtown Arts District, spearheading development there since the opening of the AT&T Performing Arts Center, is stepping down, effective Nov. 1.

The move was timed in part because the City Performance Hall, which has spent the last week celebrating a week-long opening gala, was the last piece in the puzzle for the Arts District.

“I have spent 15 years on the frontlines of change. With the final opening celebrations this fall and a blueprint for the future of commercial development I believe the time is right to pass the torch to a new generation.”

Among her accomplishments was lobbying for rules that would allow food trucks in the Arts District, making it a more desirable location not just during evening performances but during the day and weekends.

Lill, a long-time friend of the gay community (she’s pictured here posing for the NOH8 campaign opposing Prop 8′s anti-gay movement in California), Lill served on City Council  for eight years.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

PHOTOS: Dallas Voice staff gets into the food truck craze to benefit Hope Cottage

We’ve been fans of food truck culture for a while (we even added a “best food truck” category to our Readers Voice Awards this year), so it was with enthusiasm that last Thursday, on what is usually a busy production day for us in the news biz, we shut down the offices for an entire hour and high-tailed it across the street to Hope Cottage, which was having a food truck fundraiser. Four trucks were there, selling lunch items, and allowing attendees to “vote” by tipping their favorites — all to benefit Hope Cottage.

From the Abbey Road-esque exodus to the face stuffing by all involved, it was a great afternoon. Ah, memories … oh, wait, this was just last week. More photos after the jump.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Top 10 tables

North Texas’ best new restaurants of 2011 provided a lesson in substance over style

MEXICAN, REINVENTED  |  The Mayan calendar may end in 2012, but that’s no reason not to enjoy the cuisine from MesoMaya, the top table of 2011.

MEXICAN, REINVENTED | The Mayan calendar may end in 2012, but that’s no reason not to enjoy the cuisine from MesoMaya, the top table of 2011.

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

2011 was the year great dining found a way to avoid being fine dining.

There are all kinds of restaurants for all tastes and pocketbooks. Truth is, fancy usually takes you further because when you evaluate an overall dining experience, atmosphere and service come into play; standing in line to eat a burger out of a napkin while standing at a counter costs some points.

Or rather, it used to.

It’s probably a combination of things — the economy, the rise of the food truck, an emphasis on the taste of food above the flash of atmosphere — that led to an emphasis of substance over style in 2011. In 2010, we happily tagged Nosh as our top eatery: Elegant and pretty, but also an easy, sociable dining experience. Still, back then, there were slim pickin’s overall: I went with a Top 5 instead of 10, because that’s all that felt warranted.

Not so this year. At least 17 restos were legitimately in play as I was whittling it down to a Top 10, and several more — Campo, Chesterfield, Texas Spice, Oak — opened too late in the season for me to give full shrift. They’ll be up for consideration next time.

Some others almost made the list. Il Cane Rosso gave Deep Ellum another great, authentic eatery — this time, a Neapolitan pizzeria that’s no fuss, all must-have. Meddlesome Moth has some strong points (terrific hummus, the best dessert — chess pie — in town) but couldn’t consistently impress me.

Oddly, many of the restaurants that impressed me most had quirky things in common that helped define them as the anti-fine-dining Class of ’11: Brushed concrete floors (at least three of them), prosaic strip-mall locations (most of them), TV celebrichefs-done-good (Nos. 7 and 8).

Also, by and large, the restaurants that stood out also tended to group around themes: Sophisticated Tex-Mex, Eastern fusion, classy retro-joints and ravenously good tacos. I’m gonna keep with those trends as well, so here are the Top Tables of 2011. (Look for reviews of some of them in the coming weeks.)

The Top 3 —Mexivention: MesoMaya, Mesa, Komali

Never tell a German how to drink beer, a New Yorker how to eat pizza or a Texan how to do anything.

But especially don’t tell him about Tex-Mex. (Or tacos, though that’ll come later.)

We Texans know what we like when it comes to Southwestern-style cuisine, and Dallasites are especially arrogant about it. After all, we claim Stephan Pyles and Dean Fearing and Avner Samuel, who basically invented it for gourmet palates.

But even we can be surprised. The menu at MesoMaya Comida y Copas has a lot of familiar elements (posole, enchiladas, tacos), but this isn’t Tex-Mex: It’s central Mexican cuisine, resplendent with Mayan influence — Latin-Mesoamerican fusion par example. (1190 Preston Road, MesoMaya.com)

If MesoMaya is fiercely flavorful peasant food, then Mesa in Oak Cliff and Komali in Uptown are its sophisticated cousins. Komali, the companion restaurant to Mex-born chef Abraham Salum’s eponymous eatery, exudes an easy polish with soft features that don’t distract from the modern, urban-Mexican dishes, full of moles and wonderful salsas. (4152 Cole Ave., KomaliRestaurant.com)
Mesa, south of the Trinity, is less slick-looking that Komali (the exterior looks like a wig shop) but the food boasts soaring flavors from the Veracruzana region, with deft technique. And both have bar programs worthy of a cocktail hour. (118 W. Jefferson Ave., MesaDallas.com)

4 through 6 — Eastern artistry: Baboush, Malai Kitchen, Pho Colonial (Downtown)
Whether you’re talking the Far East or the Middle East, exotic cuisine gained a foothold in Dallas. Baboush claims the closest inspiration — a North African-influenced restaurant that brings a touch of the Mediterranean to the West Village. Forward flavors dominate even though the lush, genie-in-a-bottle atmosphere has its appeal. (3636 McKinney Ave., BaboushDallas.com)

Go to the Far East for two inventive restos. Across the street from Baboush is Malai Kitchen, one of the few eateries on this year’s list that takes décor seriously, but not as seriously as its food (especially its curries and a fantastic brunch). (3699 McKinney Ave., MalaiKitchen. com). Downtown’s Pho Colonial (there’s another in Far North Dallas) takes counter-service that should feel like Vietnamese comfort food and turns it into haute cuisine with expertly cooked meats, big portions and a wallop on the tongue. (164 N. Ervay St., PhoColonial.com)

7 and 8 — Traditional Fine-Dine: Private | Social, Marquee Grill
Two Dallas chefs who gained national fame as fan favorites on Top Chef — Tiffany Derry and Tre Wilcox — ventured out on their own with favorable results. Derry’s Private | Social, with its seafood-heavy menu, interesting concept and sparkly interior, has the edge over Wilcox’s old-school eclectic New American cuisine at Marquee Grill, but both harken to event restaurants that were common before the New Casual took over. 3232 McKinney Ave., PrivateSocial.com; 32 Highland Park Village, MarqueeGrill.com)

9 and 10 — Street Food Goes Big: Taco Ocho, Good 2 Go Tacos
Food anthropologists 100 years from now will probably note a straight line from waist girth, the legitimization of food trucks and the indulgent taco stand in 2011. As gourmet taquerias proliferated, these two — Taco Ocho, a slick, likeable, well-lit suburban place and the woman-owned Good 2 Go Tacos, a glorified lunch counter in East Dallas — made the most significant impact on us, forever and finally making the Old El Paso paradigm on thing of the past. (930 E. Campbell Road, Richardson, TacoOcho.com; 1146 Peavy Road, Good2GoTaco.com)
For a review of Good to Go Tacos, see sidebar on Page 21.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Next big food truck event set for Nov. 12

In this week’s print edition, I have a story about the first-ever Dallas food truck meet-up, which took place last week in the Sigel’s parking lot on Greenville. Well, they are gonna try it again on Nov. 12 — same place, different trucks. Well, some different. Veterans 3 Men and a Taco, Nammi, Jack’s Chowhound and Gandolfo’s N.Y. Deli will be joined by confirmed newcomers Butcher’s Son, Cane Rosso, City Street Grille, Entice Ice and Gennarino’s. See you there.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Truck me!

Dallas’ food truck trend hits terminal velocity at massive meet up

dining
FOOD ON WHEELS | The lines were long at every truck in the Sigel’s lot last week, as Dallas foodies turned out for the first major food truck event. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

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

The food truck has been an American tradition — as expected as corrupt politicians —  for decades. But if you don’t recall seeing them in Dallas much in the past, there’s a reason for that: a city ordinance that required them to move every hour. Being itinerant is one of the joys of the food truck, a mobile kitchen that can bring its unique flavors to where the people are and migrate with them. If they high-tail it like the revenuers after a moonshine still every 60 minutes, it seems less like a convenience and more like a grey market transaction. And how do you follow a restaurant that moves all the time?

The solution has been two-fold: Repeal that pesky ordinance (the City Council did that in June), and let folks track you via GPS and Twitter. Now, a truck can hole up for as long as the business is booming, and when it goes on the move, it’s easy for tech-savvy foodies to follow. I first saw the new semi-permanent advantage put into practice this summer at the Bath House Cultural Center along White Rock Lake during the Festival of Independent Theatres: Patrons didn’t have to scarf down Doritos or speed a few blocks to a Whataburger to eat between performances, they could just go outside and sample the automat-on-wheels.

It’s become hugely trendy in the past few months — In-N-Out Burger with mobility. It reached, arguably, its peak last weekend with a festival in the Sigel’s lot on Greenville Avenue, as half-a-dozen trucks set up shop for three hours to show Dallas what it has been missing.
But it ended up as something of a clusterfuck.

Organizers underestimated the demand for rolls that actually roll, even on a sweltering evening in August. There was simply too much demand and not enough supply.

One truck, Ruthie’s Rolling Café, announced it would not take new orders for its gourmet grilled cheese sammies until it caught up with its backlog. “Half-hour, 45 minutes,” the girl there sympathetically apologized. Ninety minutes later, my order still hadn’t been taken.

I could hardly blame the chefs, who worked like 8-year-olds in a Chinese shoe factory to get the dishes served but still couldn’t seem to get their heads above water. And honestly, looking at the menu whetted my appetite to finally track them down. The Bomb cut off new orders of its fried pies well before the event was set to end. (Not so Nammi Truck, which has a long line and a two-hour wait for their bahn mi bites.)

The only dishes my party and I were actually able to sample were from 3 Men and a Taco. Figuring this might be my only chance at actual food, I tried a trio: beef charkalaka, pork and pico and an alligator taco. The gator, which I generously spritzed with the spiciest of their spicy salsas, was tender, and the sauce didn’t cause my eyes to roll back in my head (a failing — I like spicy — but tasty nonetheless). There was something unnerving about the texture of the pork, which had the consistency of wet cottonballs, though the flavors were solid. I’ll return to try the rest of the menu, just not when the line’s so long.

In the end, we ditched the parking lot and scooted over to Mariano’s Hacienda for frozen swirls and some flautas. It cost more, but at least we left with our bellies full in less than an hour. Food trucks are meant to sate you, not sap you.

Ah well. Kinks will be worked out. By the time the permanent food truck lot opens next year on Lower Greenville, there’ll be a rhythm. Until then, it’s back to playing Twitter detective and seeking out the trucks when the lines are shorter. It might be less communal, but at least you get fed.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas