Tag Archives: Storytelling

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.