Category Archives: Hot Chefs, Cool Food

Dreaming of The Charles

Song Pairing: A Million Dreams from The Greatest Showman

The Charles

The steady hum of much needed interpersonal connection filled the space, the occasional percussive beats of laughter punctuated the atmosphere, then quieted, leaving a brief pause for me to hear the background music. It was reopening night at The Charles after its closure on March 16. Preshift earlier that day was electric, J stayed in the kitchen, head down and focused while Chas, emotionally charged and energetic as ever, recounted the difficulties of the past few weeks. He told this family of employees, whom he and his partners had been paying since Day 1 of the shutdown, that he missed them, even though he’d regularly video chatted with them during the shutdown. He took a moment to swallow the emotion that swelled in his throat. Chas looked at every staff member in the room as if he were trying to imprint this moment and their expressions into his memory forever and told them how happy he is to share this space once again with them. They all nodded in agreement, shifting back and forth on their feet like racehorses in their starting gates, ready for service to begin. Chas then took a sip of Drappier, put his glass down, and flew up his arms to signal the rise of the golden-tasseled red velvet curtain. “It’s showtime!”      And then I woke up, my dream about The Charles ended before I could even order.

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve had vivid dreams, many of which couldn’t be explained by the even the best psychoanalysts.  This dream wasn’t hard to decipher, though. I’ve been distancing in my dreams to places I would rather be, and a frequent theme is restaurants. I visited Bar Charles in December the day it opened and managed to squeeze into their reservation book for an early dinner in January.  I’ve since dreamt about The Charles and the Lemon Ricotta Gnudi and Veal Ragu Capelloni which compelled me to call Chas and find out how he’s doing and when The Charles might reopen. After we spoke, I had what I now refer to as “The Greatest Showman Dream” about the reopening.

The Charles celebrated its two-year anniversary May 1, not as they had wished, surely, but still optimistic that they would soon be able to open the dining room. Since late March, The Charles has served lunch and dinner for curbside pick-up and delivery via Alto and has opened their more than “Italian’ish” wine list for sale at attractive discounts. Recognizing that the well-healed crowd The Charles attracts appreciates great wine, Chas stocked up on impressive wines to add to the collection right before the pandemic decimated the hospitality industry. If he had known in January what he learned in March, he admits he would not have amplified his cellar to such an extent. Like other restaurants, The Charles is selling from its cellar to keep cash flow going, while still quite certain that when it reopens, $399 bottles of Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia (yum) will be ordered by eager and appreciative guests. For now, The Charles is selling bottles of wine under $250 at 50% discount and those over $250 at 40% discount.  If you price shop, you’ll recognize this as a very good buying opportunity.

J Chastain, Chef and Chas Martin, Owner of The Charles

J Chastain is an introvert, the complete opposite of Chas they both confessed.  J’s pedigree cooking in some of the most respected, if not chaotic, kitchens in Dallas proves his creativity, execution, and endurance.  He misses his team and the energy of the kitchen, he told me, but he’s rather enjoyed this relative downtime. He’s at the restaurant near daily, doing or overseeing maintenance and repairs of the equipment and space which was new construction, custom built but driven like a Ferrari on the Autostrada since its opening in 2018.  J feels fortunate to work for Chas Martin and the See brothers, Ross and Corbin. Prior to The Charles opening, they sent J to Italy to research, study, eat and drink to live la dolce vida, capture it like a firefly and release it within 1632 Market Center Drive. “They have vision,” he says of the owners and will accomplish great things in the future.  For now, though he isn’t a chef who works the dining room, touching tables, preferring to stay in his groove behind the scenes, he recognizes the challenges the restaurant, like all, will face when it reopens.

The Charles

When The Charles reopens, Chas and J wonder what the new normal will look like.  The restaurant is a compact 2700 square-feet.  The tables are close together by design, the long bar is set with tall chairs lined up for hip-to-hip seating while a row of two top tables sit only two feet away. It’s tight by design, sexy and energetic, intimate in a very public, voyeuristic kind of way. How will this work when you increase space between tables and reduce the number of bodies in there?  How do you articulate luxury with paper menus and silverware condoms? It won’t be easy but the stylish, positive, intuitive showman, Chas Martin, will figure it out.

Dallas is still a strong, viable restaurant market and destination city.  The Charles’ ownership group is bullish on the city and their ability to provide unique dining experiences for their clientele.  They are patient and measured, smart investors who are playing the long game and, in fact, invested back in The Charles for 21 months before making a distribution to investors.  They are currently at work developing new concepts which they are quite secretive about, but I will venture to guess that they could move into something textural and moderately exotic, such as Mediterranean-ish, to feature the bright cuisine of the region, beyond pita and hummus, and introduce local diners to the exciting wines of Israel, Lebanon and Greece.

Ross See, Chas Martin and Corbin See, owners of The Charles

Until The Charles reopens the dining room, I will order and pick up the polenta fries, spicy creste di Gallo and a bottle of one of their Sicilian white wines (at 50% off, remember).  I will distance in my dreams; I’ll visit The Charles and my other favorite restaurants in town.  In my dreams I’ll walk a clean, empty Venice, the canals clear and odorless; I’ll spend hours in the Victoria & Albert in London with no pushy queues forcing me to abandon the exhibits I want study for hours; my dreams will take me to sunrise over Angkor Wat with only those closest to me alongside.  I will dream a million dreams, the same as Chas Martin.

Feed Your Mama Right on Mother’s Day

Being a mother and step mother is the hardest yet

most rewarding thing in life.

Traveling with these three is never dull
Traveling with these three is never dull.

Sunday is Mother’s Day, another great reason to celebrate in the month of May.  Whether you are a mom, have a mom, are married to a mom or just appreciate the strength of maternal bonds and the role that motherhood plays into shaping our society, let’s lift up mothers with great food, quality time together and by demonstrating appreciation for mothers everywhere. (Can you tell I’m trying to send a message to people I’m related to?)

These restaurants are offering curbside pick up and delivery so you can treat mom at home.

Homewood has a fabulous menu for pick up. Please order by end of day Thursday and plan to pick up at Homewood between 11 am and 1 pm Sunday. To order, call 214.434.1244 or info@homewooddallas.com minimum order for two is required. Menu: Choose one Strada: Nduja, swiss chard and ricotta or Mushrooms, asparagus, and feta; then, pick a spread: House cured Lox with the works or cured country ham with cultured butter and Calabrian chile cheese spread. Side dishes included are Greens with toasted seeds & herbs with mustard vinaigrette, bread and butter carrots, smashed cucumber salad and deviled eggs. Finish up with Maggie’s pound cake with macerated strawberries and mascarpone cream. $65 per person.

Al Biernet’s Roast Chicken Photo by Gustav Schmiege

Al Biernat’s offers curbside pick-up as well. Please place orders by 4 pm Friday, May 8. To order and schedule your pick up time, call 214.209.2201 or order via al biernets website. Orders will be available for pickup between 12:30pm-7pm on Sunday, May 10th. Al’s doesn’t everything well and Sunday’s menu includes some of the restaurant’s most popular menu items including Al’s salad, prime rib, grilled salmon, herb roasted chicken shown here and sides such as chopped salad, creamed corn, or lobster risotto. For kiddos, the menu also includes chicken fingers, noodles with butter or marinara, plain hamburgers. Dessert options include coconut pie, Texas pecan pie, NY style cheesecake.

Lobster Salad from Georgie

Georgie by Curtis Stone offers a fancy brunch with so many fabulous items from which to choose.  To order, call 469.466.8263 or go online here. Place your order and choose your delivery or pick up time from the available options.  Delivery is free within a two-mile radius of the Knox Henderson restaurant. The three-course meal for adults offers a starter, main and dessert choice for $50 per person. Children’s meals are $25 per person and include an entrée and dessert. Starter options include the choice of a Pastry Basket (best croissants!), White Asparagus Mimosa, Grilled Artichoke Salad, Tomato Gazpacho Crab & Avocado Salad. Entrée choices include Le Bilboquet’s famous Cajun Chicken and Lobster Salad shown here, Mango Grilled Halibut and beef options including Petit Filet au Poivre. Dessert choices are Chocolate Mousse, Strawberry shortcake and Keylime Pie.

Stock & Barrel offers curbside pick-up and delivery daily, on Sunday, though, pick-up hours are from 9 am to 1 pm. Orders must be placed by Friday at 9 pm. To place an order and set pick-up time between 9 am and 1 pm, call 214.888.0150.  The dinner for two menu offers a choice of Goat cheese dumplings with asparagus, green garlic, braised little gems, fava beans and tarragon or Cherry wood smoked range chicken with red onion marmalade or Wagyu meatloaf with green peppercorn butter. Dinner for four menu options include those choices plus sides including assorted grains with lemon, zucchini, fennel, pistachios, black currants, and herbs; cheesy polenta; mesclun greens with toasted pecans, clementines, feta, and a marmalade vinaigrette. Dessert is their famous sticky toffee pudding. Take the guess work out and let them pair your wines and cocktails for you.  Dinner for two is $75, dinner for four is $125.

Salum’s Mother’s Day take away special is perfectly on-brand for Salum with little Mediterranean twists to every dish. Order online by Friday at 5 pm for Sunday pick up between 10 am and noon. The four-course menu is offered for $65 per person plus tax and gratuity. Appetizers are Leek, spinach, goat cheese phyllo dough rolls (I’d love to see how Abri does that!, phyllo is so hard to work with!) served with spiced berry jam. Salad course is a Little Gem lettuce salad with English peas, grilled corn and heirloom tomatoes with a mint basil marinated burrata and you have a choice of three entrees: 1) Beef rib roast with mushroom saute and red onion horseradish compote; 2) Blood orange or rosemary crusted Cornish hen; or 3) Pan seared halibut with lemony crab topping and tarragon vinaigrette. The menu includes sides of baked potato, Brussels Sprouts, bacon and sage with aged cheddar and grilled spring vegetables with spiced walnut relish and dessert of a strawberry, apple and ginger cobbler with Henry’s Homemade Sweet Cream ice cream. Woah, that all sounds so good. Salum also sells wine and cocktail kits so ask for the perfect pairings for your feast.

Parigi has perfected curbside pick-up.  Please place orders by Thursday May 7 at 5 pm by calling 214.521.0295 and ask for Janice or Allison or email your order at orders@parigidallas.com.  When you place your order, tell you server whether it is for pick-up or delivery, for Saturday or Sunday and if you want Ready to EAT or Ready to HEAT. In addition to this fantastic Mother’s Day menu, Parigi will also offer its usual curbside menu.

Mother’s Day brunch menu includes individual mushroom-leek-gruyere quiches, chicken and poblano stuffed crepes, polenta blueberry pancakes, chocolate chip bread pudding French toast and bites for the kids including chicken tenders and spaghetti and meatballs. Parigi is offering desserts from local legends including Mynetta’s strawberry cake, JR’s individual blueberry pie and Henry’s ice cream in a variety of flavors. Brunch isn’t brunch without Mimosas or Bloody Mary’s so add one of Parigi’s drink kits to go.

Sachet has been dark since this whole crazy thing started but it’s reopening for curbside pick up and delivery for Mother’s Day. Hooray! The Mother’s Day meals are heat and eat (or cool and drool) and should be ordered now so you can arrange pick up on Friday between 2 pm and 7 pm and Saturday between noon and 7 pm. Order by calling 214.613.6425 or emailing reservations@sachetdallas.com. The meal is served Family Style and serves four at $45 per person. The offerings include: Choice of three Mezes, a choice of salad, choice of two entrees, two sides and an assortment of desserts. To read the full menu in all its glory, click here.

Jon Alexis clearly loves mothers, look at this feast.

TJ’s Seafood Market’s Preston Royal location is offering a sweet brunch for pick-up that feeds four-six people for $110.  To order, call 214.691.2369  by Friday, May 8. The menu features a Ham & Cheese egg casserole, TJ’s famous shrimp cocktail, cinnamon rolls with cream cheese icing, Caesar salad, bacon and breakfast potatoes.  You can add a Mimosa package for $25.

Festa della Mamma at Il Bracco

Il Bracco, The Plaza at Preston Center’s Italian restaurant from CEO Robert Quick, an SMU grad and former omelet guy at Dallas Country Club, serves up fantastic Italian fare and executes to-go perfectly. The Festa della Mamma menu must be ordered by Friday, May 8 and is available to curbside pick-up or delivery via Alto. Full menu is HERE and is also available please email you order to parkcities@ilbraccorestaurant.com. The special menu feeds four people for $100, a great deal, if you ask me.  The menu starts with a Chilled Carrot Soup, Kale Salad, whole Herb Roasted Chicken, Asparagus & Peas side and Panna Cotta for dessert.  Il Bracco’s pastas are excellent and the Spicy Gemelli for four people can be added for $40. You can also purchase a Mimosa kit and wine such as Nickel & Nickel’s “Truchard” for a few extra coins.

Asian Mint has created easy to prepare at home meal kits featuring some of their most popular dishes.  For Mother’s Day the Preston Forest (only) location is selling kits that include Edamommy (sorry, Edamame) Asian Noodle Salas, Shrimp and Chicken Basil with Jasmine Rice and Chocolate Flourless Cake. A 48-hour pre-order is required and you can order online at

LeGourmet Baking has the best shortbread in town.

LeGourmet Baking Becky Nelson’s Lover’s Lane bakery is still cranking out the best shortbread in town.  Her Mother’s Day gift tins are adorable and a perfect gift to drop off to let a certain someone know you are thinking about her. (PS – she does very cute school-themed cookies, too. Maybe a certain graduate needs some shortbread love, too.

Dinner for four costs $75.

Central Market has you covered for Mother’s Day.

Central Market has been a bright spot in an otherwise difficult time.  From the organization of their stores to the fantastic supply of the best produce, meat, seafood, flour, yeast, and TP, they have been a source of comfort for so many during this pandemic.   They are also going to make your Mother’s Day shopping easier with their Meals to Go. To order and schedule pick up, click HERE. Offerings include breakfast in bed set ups, lunch, dinner and everything between.  The little brunch set up pictured here looks great.

Whatever you decide, treat your mamma right. It’s a hard job that doesn’t pay well. 🙂

DIVE INTO THE LIGHT: FRANCHESCA NOR

Song Pairing: In the Light by Led Zepplin

When she was 30 years old, Franchesca Nor had her first baby, an aqua, navy and seafoam progeny she named Dive Coastal Cuisine. In 2016 she delivered something even more special, her son Archer James. Today, they have each matured and evolved; provided food for the body, soul and heart; and given back.

Cauliflower pizza

Dive continues to be a Park Cities restaurant phenom, serving fresh, sustainable, non-GMO, organic salads, seafood and sandwiches to families, locals and notable chefs alike. Chef/Owner Franchesca has beaten the odds as a restauranteur a few years before her 40th birthday. Though she is well educated and trained, she graduated top of her class at Johnson & Wales culinary school and has worked in virtually every position in a restaurant, she doesn’t directly attribute her blessings to those things. Rather, she says she is where she is today because she’s always believed in her passion and vision, she’s taken a non-traditional path, and allowed herself to make mistakes and learn from them. She’s loyal and believes in taking care of those who take care of you.

Franchesca and her business partner, Victor

Dive has more than 25 employees, many of whom have been there since Day 1, an almost unheard-of feat in the high-turnover restaurant business. The high quality, well-prepared food guests have enjoyed year after year is largely due to consistency in the kitchen. Franchesca’s exacting standards in food quality and preparation are understood by every member of her team and she credits them for Dive’s loyal customer base. In fact, when I asked her what her what she loves most about this business, she paused and got a little choked up. “I’m feeding 25 families,” she said referring to her employees and their families. “That’s the most fulfilling thing about this.”

“You are a leader if your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream, learn and become more.” This was the daily affirmation that happened to pop up on my phone the day I interviewed Franchesca at Dive, where I devoured her new Grilled Peach and Prosciutto Pizza on cauliflower crust, and she inhaled her Tuna Melt. When she told me about the work she does with Youth With Faces, a Dallas-based organization that provides practical life and work skills to youth in the juvenile justice system, the quote immediately came to mind. By any definition, Franchesca is a leader. She and others help the teens discover a passion, purpose and a view of their potential far bigger than what their environments have offered so far. She introduces new foods, like the time she served a group of uneasy teens quinoa and calamari (they loved it) and has written and cataloged recipes for the program. She recently was invited to join the Dallas chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, an international philanthropic group for women in the culinary arts.

Franchesca and me at her Les Dames d’Escoffier Induction

Throughout our lunch, Franchesca was full of optimism, passion and light, appropriate since her surname means ‘light” in Arabic. She exudes gratitude and stokes a dream that will go beyond Dive’s current footprint. Her priority today, of course, is Archer; a little boy who, she humblebrags, prefers to chew leaves from his mama’s backyard chocolate peppermint plant rather than bubblegum.

This article originally appeared in the July 2019 edition of People Newspapers.