Category Archives: Storytelling

Butter Up

I don’t each much peanut butter.  Until recently, I would only use the cheap stuff to fill my pups’ Kongs but otherwise didn’t buy it. That was until I heard about Fix & Fogg Peanut Butter from New Zealand and picked up a few jars at Central Market. Peanut Butter from New Zealand. Why?

Well, turns out that a couple of Kiwis know a thing or two about this quintessentially American food and they’ve created a product line that is non-GMO and free of palm and low on other oils, artificial sweeteners and additives often found in peanut butter. The ingredients are simple: peanuts, salt and, depending on the type, natural flavorings and sweeteners. The texture of the peanut butter is silky and full, and the flavors are rich, earthy, and just a little sweet.  I was so intrigued by the product, I wanted to interview the co-owner of Fix & Fogg to find out what makes this peanut butter so different from any others I’ve tasted.  I asked if we could do the interview via Zoom, each of us with mouths full of Fix & Fogg peanut butter but, alas, the time difference made it hard to schedule. I settled for an email interview.

Andrea and Roman Jewell

Roman Jewell and his wife Andrea, a couple of recovering lawyers from Wellington, New Zealand, launched Fix & Fogg, named for the characters in Jules Vernes’ Around the World in 80 Days, in 2013.  In addition to making an award-winning product line that has received top honors in New Zealand, Fix & Fogg is also a Certified B Corporation, meaning it uses its business as a force for good in the world, balancing profit with purpose.

“I consider our business to be more than just nut butters,” Roman told me. “I’m really proud of the values that underpin Fix & Fogg. We were New Zealand’s first B Corp certified food business. We donate large amounts of peanut butter to charities in both New Zealand and the United States because I’m a big believer in supporting the communities that support us,” he added.

I’m a big believer in supporting companies that support our communities.  Good thing I like this peanut butter.

The peanuts in Fix & Fogg’s peanut butter were carefully sourced, and after much searching, the couple found them in Cordoba, Argentina, where peanuts have been cultivated since 1872. Roman said he fell head over heels for the place and the passion of its farmers. 

“The terroir of Cordoba peanuts is naturally sweeter, resulting in an amazing tasting peanut butter,” he added.

These peanuts are called hi-oleic runner peanuts which are bursting with monounsaturated “good fats.” I spoke to Dr. Anne VanBeber, registered dietitian, and chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Texas Christian University about these products and their health benefits. “Scientific research indicates that oleic acid helps to lower LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) in our blood and reduces the risk for heart disease,” she told me.

Now having tasted several flavors of Fix & Fogg, I feel like a Kong, constantly being stuffed with peanut butter. I can’t resist. My favorite is the Dark Chocolate peanut butter (on a honey graham cracker) but found the Smoke & Fire flavor intriguing and created a more sophisticated version of the childhood snack “Ants on a Log” using it. The richness and pure peanut flavor of the plain smooth peanut butter is remarkable, and the crunchy styles are teeming with peanuts.

The international best seller Everything Butter

The company’s best-selling product in the world is the Everything Butter, which is a combination of seeds; hemp, chia, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, and flax; and nut butters, peanut and almond. It’s crunchy, a little sweet, a little savory, and very healthy. “Hemp, chia, pumpkin, and flax seeds are good sources of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats that help to enhance the immune system, fight inflammation, and are a great addition to our diet,” VanBeber notes. 

“Inflammation in the body is the leading cause of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancers.  In addition, most people are unaware that sesame seeds and almonds provide much needed calcium to the body.”

I add a heaping teaspoon of the Everything Butter to my morning oatmeal and sprinkle Craisins on it, which fills me up for the day.

The F&F Window in Houston

Roman and Andrea are always creating and will launch six new nut butter flavors in the U.S., including an Almond, Cashew and Maple Butter which I hope is launched by Thanksgiving, so I can add it to mashed roasted butternut squash to make a delicious side dish for my diabetic father in law, which got the seal of approval from Dr. VanBeber.

“With the carbohydrate, fat and protein profile of the Almond Cashew and Maple Butter, it’s appropriate for those following a diet for diabetics,” she said.

Now also produced in the U.S., Fix & Fogg products are available on Amazon, Central Market and, if you’re in Houston, you can find them at a little window shop in Montrose.  For more information on Fix & Fogg and for recipes, click here.

Spicy, Smokey Ants On A Log

  • Organic celery, cut in sticks
  • Fix & Fogg’s Smoke & Fire Peanut Butter Craisins
  • Curry Powder

Toss Craisins in mild curry powder and set aside.  Smear F&F’s Smoke & Fire Peanut Butter in the curve of a celery stalk.  Place curried Craisins on top of the peanut butter.  You’re welcome.

Meals on Wheels: The Original Door Dash

Meals awaiting delivery

In August 2019, People Newspapers published my story about Meals on Wheels.  I have the honor of serving on the VNA/Meals on Wheels Board of Directors and wanted a way to promote our Drive Away Hunger campaign. My idea was to “review” the meals eaten by more than 4,500 Dallas residents who receive Meals on Wheels (MOW) daily.  The reaction I got from folks when I told them I was going to eat MOW for a week was pity, curiosity and, in some cases, borderline disgust.  I was undeterred.

In August of this year, I learned that my article on Meals on Wheels earned third place in the National Association of Newspapers Buster Awards for Best Feature.  I’m delighted to share this article and you can also follow this link to read the version that ran in People Newspapers.  

“Hello, my name is Elaine*. I just want to let you know that my mother really enjoyed it her meal Friday.  It was the Honey-glazed Turkey with Au Gratin Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts and she told me over and over how delicious it was and to be sure and tell the chef how much she appreciated it. Though we didn’t know it at the time, that was mom’s last Meals on Wheels delivery. She succumbed to cancer two days later. I wanted to be sure to pass along her ‘compliments to the chef’ and to say thanks to Meals on Wheels for being my mom’s lifeline for so long.”

Between Pinterest boards filled with edible works of art to “instagramworthy” meals to “food porn,” thanks to technology, food has been objectified to the point in which many of us have practically forgotten its value. I get it – my “phone eats first” and I can spend 10 minutes trying to get the perfect Instapic of shards of Maldon Sea Salt artfully arranged on a juicy red tomato. I have a healthy preoccupation with food and feel lucky to be able to write about it for this paper. This month, I’m not going to feature a new restaurant, I’m going to feature an old one: Meals on Wheels Dallas County which is about 40 years old.

Meals on Wheels is the original Door Dash with employees and volunteers canvassing the Dallas area Monday through Friday to deliver meals to 4,500 clients for whom their daily delivery of food, a friendly face and a kind word is a lifeline. Many MOW clients have health issues so providing nutritious, balanced meals on such a large scale and tight budget is challenging. If you’re reading this in a newspaper that was delivered to your home, chances are you live in an affluent area and are unlikely to be food insecure.  But have you ever wondered about what kind of food is prepared and delivered on such a large scale five days a week?  Maybe not but I hope you do, if just this once.

With the help of Dr. Ashley Lind, the VP of Meals on Wheels and Population Health, I ate four meals to gain insight into the value of Meals on Wheels to homebound seniors. It was an eye-opening experience, not because the food was especially good or especially bad, but because it allowed me to appreciate food in a way I haven’t in years.

Monday: Swiss Steak with Whipped Potatoes and Italian Green Beans

I approached the first meal as a novelty. The ground beef patty was juicy and flavored well with hint of sautéed onion. All meals must be low sodium, so the whipped potatoes and green beans tasted like not much until I added salt. Everything had good texture.

Tuesday: King Ranch Chicken with Steamed Broccoli and Carrots

The King Ranch Chicken was really tasty! It was a little spicy, in fact, and had big chunks of white-meat chicken in a cheesy sauce. The broccoli and carrots were cooked but not mushy and needed salt.  Without realizing it, I ate the entire meal in four minutes. As I walked out of the VNA Haggarty Center, it occurred to me that I inhaled that meal as if I was just checking a box and not feeding my body and soul. I started to cry as I walked to my car.

Wednesday: Turkey Tetrazzini with Brussels Sprouts and Vegetable Medley

My favorite meal so far, the pasta with chunks of tender turkey meat was full of flavor with a hint of spice. I wondered how they can make 4,500 plates of pasta and have it not become mush. Honestly, I didn’t eat the Brussels Sprouts. I’m sorry mom, I never liked them.

Thursday: Homestyle Meatloaf with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and

Herbed Green Beans

I think the Meatloaf is about the same as the Swiss Steak but with more tomato and seasoning. The meatloaf was tender but not mushy, the green beans were cooked just right with a little snap left in them and more flavorful than previous vegetable offerings. The mashed potatoes only had a hint of garlic and when I finished the trapezoid-shaped mound, I realized I hadn’t eaten mashed potatoes since last Thanksgiving, and I’d eaten them twice this week.  “How ironic, I thought.”

I’m so fortunate, most of us are, to afford high-quality food and spent time and money dining out with our friends. We can order what we want; throw out what we don’t. We have so many choices, too many sometimes, on what and where to eat. We can celebrate food with photos and hashtags and beautiful creations made from watermelon and a paring knife  – and we should! I hope, too, that we will be aware of those who are food insecure, lonely and rely on that daily delivery of Meals on Wheels as one of their few remaining connections to socialization, sensorial pleasure and nourishment for their bodies.

I say I’m not a critic, I’m a storyteller but I’ll summarize the meals this way: They’re better than airplane food, WAY better than the Frank Crowley Courts Building Cafeteria you’re stuck with for jury duty and better than starving, which is the alternative to Meals on Wheels delivery.

A Rosé is a Rosé is a Rosé

Smith Story Rose and a Texas Sunset

Blush, summer water, pink wine. It can be syrupy sweet, acidic and bright, fruity and vaguely effervescent, and bold but thin. It has become the omnipresent social accessory of summer for its refreshingly crisp taste that literally makes your mouth water and its ability to match summer outfits perfectly. Though often regarded as a “chick drink” because of its slightly effeminate tones ranging from pale pink to a translucent cherry red, there is no data to support that stereotype.  It really depends on individual tastes, and with ten different styles of rosé, there is enough range to satisfy nearly every palate. Good rosés can be had for less than $10 a bottle and there are many great rosés priced below $30 a bottle.

This Saturday, June 13, is National Rosé Day, always the second Saturday in June, the perfect time for a cold, crisp mostly low alcohol wine to enjoy on a toasty day. In honor of rosé day and several Dallas area restaurants have created specials to honor the occasion, but first, a history lesson.

Rosé wine is thought to have been created around 8,000 years ago in Armenia where clay jars with wine residue were found.  Back then, wines would have been lighter since the more advanced pressing and fermentation techniques that make red and white wines weren’t developed yet.  Some rosé is produced when black-skinned grapes are crushed and the skin maintains contact with the juice for around 24 hours, versus the skins immediately being filtered out for white wine or left in contact with the juice for long periods of time as with red wines.

In the past three years at least, rosé sales have been increasing around 40% each year, with the main source of rosé wines coming to America from France, Spain and Italy, though American rosés compare very favorably to Old World wines.  My favorite American rosé is from local gal Alison Smith Story, a Keller native and Baylor grad who started Smith Story wines with her husband, Eric.  They make only one, a Rosé of Pinot Noir Rheingau Germany which is bright and delicately fruity. I also love La Vielle Ferme (also known as “chicken wine”) which is in the style of Provence, a combination of granache, syrah and cinsault grapes making it a little tart, a little sweet and a little fruity, a great blend and an exceptional value at around $9 per bottle.

Foxtrot Market in University Park and Uptown have great rosé choices

How do you know which rosés you will like? Try them.  Rebecca Murphy, Wine Writer, Professional Wine Judge and Founder of The Dallas Morning News and TexSom Wine Competition (and is also considered to be the first female Sommelier in Texas), offers this advice, “I love rosés from Provence, but they are so popular that winemakers from other regions are going to great lengths to get that Provence pale pink. So, my first thought is to avoid selecting a rosé just because of its color.  Instead, pick a one from a grape you really like (like you).  Or from a region or country that makes wines you like. It wasn’t that many years ago that a rosé drinker was considered an unsophisticated rube.  Today, we are living in rosé heaven with a whole world to choose from.  Have fun exploring.” You can explore with minimal financial risk at Central Market, World Market or Foxtrot Market which have abundant selections.

Whichever rosé makes your day, as always, drink responsibly. For a few unique approaches to National Rosé Day, check out these cocktails and frozen drinks made from rosé.

Happy National Rosé Day, here’s to your health!

National Rosé Day Specials in Dallas

Blueberry Souffle and Rosé at Rise no. 1

Rise no. 1 has a beautiful selection of French rosés of different styles which are perfect to pair with savory and sweet dishes, including their seasonal Blueberry Soufflé.

Young & Beautiful at Knife

Knife at The Highlands Dallas has created a refreshing rosé-based cocktail called the Young & Beautiful, named after the famous Lana Del Rey song from 2013. The drink combines Rose Gold Provençal Rosé Dashfire Hibiscus Bitters, Fever Tree Soda and a Hibiscus Flower which can and should be enjoyed on Knife’s patio.

JAXON Texas Kitchen & Beer Garden has created a summer-inspired twist on the traditional frosé cocktail with a Fresh Watermelon Frozé , the perfect pairing for JAXON’s massive patio.

Malibu Poke always has rosé and frosé on the menu but Saturday you can enjoy $1 rosé all day while you’re partaking poke.

Poke and rosé sort of rhyme

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.

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.

LISTEN TO THE MOCKINGBIRD GOURMET

Song Pairing: Listen to the Mockingbird

George Lewis Band – Jazz at Preservation Hall

First Impressions . . . 

The first time I met Stephanie Magilow, she was sampling product at Central Market and wearing a food-server’s hairnet. The second time I met her there, she was wearing a hair net. The third time I met her, I didn’t recognize her without her hair net, but I recognized the small jars lined up like buttons on a blouse on an upstairs table at Royal Blue Grocery. She’d brought samples from her new food company, Mockingbird Gourmet.

Stephanie Magilow, creator of Mockingbird Gourmet

The co-creator of Jammit Jam is spreading her wings into a new line of comestibles made with fruit and other ingredients sourced from farms within a 50-mile radius of Dallas and in some cases, even closer – like the herb garden in her Highland Park backyard. The inspiration for the name of this endeavor came from the street on which her grandma lived: Mockingbird Lane, just around the corner from her home. Though she will continue to produce and sell Jammit Jams, she will expand the Mockingbird Gourmet product line to include gems such as limited edition preserves, jams, caramel sauces and, eventually, pastry.

Local sourcing plus fixed seasonality means each batch of jams will be limited editions, with only 60-80 six-ounces jars per run available for sale. Stephanie’s relationships with local famers and Market Provisions at the Dallas Farmer’s Market grants her access to straight-from-the-plant produce which she immediately adds to her recipes. Since North Texas is resplendent with fresh blueberries, figs, strawberries, peaches, tomatoes, peppers, pecans and more, Magilow has great bounty with which to showcase her affinity for combining flavors and developing recipes. If you’ve tasted her jams, you know she can pair surprising flavors to bring out the best of each.

Caramel Sauces are $$$$.

Mockingbird Gourmet debuted in May at the St. Michael’s Farmer’s Market where she sold her Fig Jam, Strawberry Jalapeño Limeade Jam, Moroccan Tomato Jam and her caramel sauces, which are sublime. The Bourbon Vanilla Bean Sea Salt Caramel is made with raw cane sugar and Madagascar vanilla beans which have been soaked in Dallas’ own Herman Marshall Texas Bourbon Whiskey for a year. She also males a vegan and paleo version of the sauce sweetened with maple syrup (obviously not from Texas) and includes coconut oil and almond butter.

Mockingbird Gourmet can be found at the St. Michael’s Farmer’s Market all summer, Market Provisions at the downtown Farmer’s Market and Scardello’s on Oak Lawn. 

Pairing notes: Since I met with Stephanie, the song “Listen to the Mockingbird” has been tapping around my brain. I’m partial to the version from the George Lewis Band recorded at Preservation Hall in New Orleans. My roots run deep in Louisiana; why I love food and music so much, I suppose. I grew up listening to jazz and eating my grandmother’s fig jams and kumquat preserves, made right from the trees in her garden. Stephanie’s jams are made much the same way, with an almost maternal love for the fresh fruit ingredients and farmers who grow them.

This article first appeared in the Park Cities People May 2019 print edition.

 

 

LET’S GATHER TOGETHER AT GATHER KITCHEN

Song Pairing: Pretty Woman, the Roy Orbison version

In mid-bite of a fried green tomato slathered with creamy chipotle mayo, it hit me: Soraya Spencer is Julia Robert’s twin. Soraya’s gigantic smile, sparkly brown eyes, vivid with passion, and her animated speech conveys the eager, kind and hopeful Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman; the sweet but gritty girl seeking a better life and taking care of others seeking the same along the way. That is Soraya Spencer and her Gather Kitchen business model.

Soraya Spencer
Photo courtesy of Gather Kitchen

Soraya’s story has been told before but I only read them before meeting her in the bright, communal feeling Gather Kitchen in Preston Center. She’s originally from Algeria and lilts a lovely accent which sounds French-ish, she’s well-traveled, well-educated and lives the American Dream with her husband, son and Gather Kitchen family in Dallas. I visited her space on Luther Lane that’s been open since August, though word of its presence just reached me in April.

EAT

New menu items for Gather Kitchen launched in early May and include the Crepe Taco, a nod to her French culinary education, and the Gather Burger, a grass-fed beef burger spiced with Ras El Hanout among other things, that’s stuffed with sweet potato fries. Also new are the aforementioned Fried Green Tomatoes, coated in gluten-free panko crumbs, tapioca flour and spices. They are served with a chipotle mayo that was perfected after more than 30 attempts. Soraya had never tasted chipotle before coming to Dallas, but she whipped them together with boiled cashews, almond milk and other ingredients to come up with this condiment masterpiece that I will order as a side for sweet potato fries on my next visit.

Poke Bowl
Photo courtesy of Gather Kitchen

My favorite item on the menu is the poké bowl. I normally avoid doing the hokey poké because its ubiquity makes me really wonder how fresh the tuna is at all these places, but I acquiesced here, fortunately. Gather Kitchen’s take demonstrates Soraya’s brilliant ability to combine flavors and textures. Her travels and training combined with an innate talent for taste were summarized for me in this dish. The combination of the spicy wasabi, kiwi, oily rich tuna punctuated with crunchy nori and togarashi and ginger, cooled by cucumbers and smoothed by avocados was refreshing, exciting and comforting all at once.

DRINK

In keeping with her approach to serving clean, healthy food, there is no soda or alcohol on the menu. Rather, “Wellness” concoctions such as the Immune Boost with lemon, ginger, honey and cayenne and Cacao Baby with raw cacao, raw maple syrup, almond milk, vanilla and Himalayan salt are served hot or cold. An assortment of waters, kombucha and lemonade are also available, as is coffee. Alcohol is served at the Boozy Brunch every Saturday morning.

BE

The vibe at Gather Kitchen Preston Center is very down-to-earth. Warm but sparse décor, exposed brick and woody tables make it feel a little a little Magnolia Market-y, feminine but not girly, strong but not harsh. Like Soraya, I suppose. She’s gathered a team of underdogs to run her restaurants, folks who are enjoying second chances and third acts. Men and women with scars inside and out, with tough breaks and heart breaks in various stages of healing. She requires survival for herself, also a victim of abuse, and her team. She coaches, trains, mentors and leads. She believes and loves and is loved back. As we were wrapping up our meeting, a former employee came in to pick up some food for take away. I can’t tell how old she was, sometimes life makes you look and feel older than you are. She stopped to speak with Soraya, and they gave each other words of encouragement and advice. Then the older woman kissed Soraya on the top of her head, a motherly, tender gesture that almost made me cry with its sweetness.

Gather Kitchen is a place to nourish your body and soul. Clean, healthy food with flavor combined with a positive mission should be a winning combination. Her space on Luther Lane has turned over a few times, which is why I am asking you to try this restaurant. Give it a chance, check it out and support this local gem of a restaurant and the pretty woman who owns it.

UPDATE: Gather Kitchen closed the Preston Center location. The Downtown location remains open and thriving.

SKINNY FATS: WORTH THE PRAISE

Song Pairing: Praise You by Fatboy Slim

Opposites attract, don’t they? At least they do at SkinnyFATS, a new fast-casual restaurant in the West Village that rolled in from Las Vegas last month. SkinnyFATS is the invention of Reed Slobusky, a Big Lebowski Dude-looking dude with a talent for developing a stand-out concept and an eye for design. Reed’s irreverence is on full display throughout the menu, with item names like “Stuff On Curry,” “Thai Knee Dancer,” and “More Cow Bowl” and in the décor, with the word MALONE written on an imposing structural post near the beverage bay. (If you don’t know what that reference means, ask your teen). 

Have you ever seen someone order a triple cheeseburger, large fries and a Diet Coke? Makes sense, right? Splurge on some things and go easy on others. SkinnyFATS gives you essentially the same choice – go healthy or go happy but with flavorful, innovative options on each side of the menu.

Sweet Cheese Us

The menu is divided into sections featuring Sharables, Soups, Bowls, Tacos, Sandwiches/Burgers and Sides. Breakfast is served all day and has sweet and savory items that sound complicated, such as Chickawaffadopolis (chicken and waffles), and Chiamisu, a coffee-flavored chia pudding with banana and cocoa nibs. Not so complicated.

On the Healthy Side, each menu item is 600 calories or less and everything I’ve tried, which is a lot, is packed with flavor, hardy and sizeable. You don’t just get a clover and a nut on your plate to make it come across healthy and low-cal here. SkinnyFATS loads you up. The Healthy dishes including the Caulifire, Tu-Nuts and Brussel Crowe shareables are robust in flavor and size and each well below the 600-calorie threshold. The Happy Fried Pickles and Pimp Shrimp are guilty pleasures, but they don’t feel fattening and heavy. The calorie counts are not on the Happy side so I assume Reed’s position is “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

Bowls, burgers and sandwiches are compelling on both sides of the aisle. All bowls offer optional protein or vegetable supplements including filet mignon, portobello mushroom, ahi tuna, tofu and chicken. Different bowls have different greens or grains and, in the case of the Happy Buff Chix bowl, you get truffle fries which are crisp with not too much truffle. Really good. Burgers and sandwiches are huge, and each order includes one side, making the price range of $9.95 to $13.95, depending on the item, a good value for the high quality.

The side dishes are interesting. The aforementioned truffle fries on the Happy side are in good company with the Healthy sides, for instance the Cauliflower Rice with capers, golden raisins and almonds that really help the cauliflower not taste like cauliflower. The House Salad is vegan, as are many of the menu items and is sprinkled with hemp seasoning (don’t worry mama, it won’t get you high and it’s totally legal in this state).

The restaurant is spacious and well appointed, and the bar is really cool and inviting, with an expansive window making the space indoor-outdoor. And, yes, it will be hot in the summer. SkinnyFATS is familiar with heat, it originated in Nevada, remember? The wine list is a pleasant surprise considering the cheekiness of the menu. With the help of some of the Las Vegas team members, the wine list features wonderful and still not well-known wines, both red and white, from Sardinia and Sicily as well as cabs and cab blends from California and French and California Chardonnays. All are available by the glass or bottle. The beers are all thoughtfully sourced by Reed’s brother who is a beer nerd.

The cocktail menu includes classics like the Noble St. Old Fashioned (my favorite, I’m a whiskey girl, BTW), and the witty “99 Problems, But a Spritz Ain’t One” riff on an Aperol Sprtiz.

The lucky number seventh store, the first outside of Nevada, is located on the corner of McKinney Avenue and Noble Avenue and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and a full bar. The menu offers gluten free, vegetarian and vegan items. The patio is pet friendly and waiting for you, with giant TVs in your sight-line so you can watch the Stanley Cup playoffs. I have to praise SKinnyFATS. It’s really good and I can’t wait to try breakfast.

This story originally ran in Park Cities People and Preston Hollow People. Read it here.

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In my first post as food writer for People Newspapers, I should tell you that while many folks pair wine with food, I’ve always paired music with food. I have a vast appetite for both food and music, and they come together for me naturally and, sometimes, improbably. Many of the articles I write here will include a pairing, and I hope you’ll understand and enjoy the thought behind each.