Never mind the decor, stampede toward Pyles’ new Texas eatery

Stampede 66 by Stephan Pyles has taken over a modest corner in Uptown with a delightfully enticing menu offering “modern Texan cuisine.”

The chicken-fried buffalo steak tops a savory pan-gravy alongside greens and mashed potatoes. (Photo by Michael Danser)

The chicken-fried buffalo steak tops a savory pan-gravy alongside greens and mashed potatoes. (Photo by Michael Danser)

So what is that culinary genre? Apparently, it consists of bocaditos (small bites), tamales, pickles, breads and butter, tacos, bowl and Texas classics, Galveston Bay oysters, meat and game, farm birds and, of course, sweets.

The passion-chile margarita has Jose Cuervo tequila, Patron Citronge, passion fruit, jalapeño and lime. (Photo by Taylor Adams)

The passion-chile margarita has Jose Cuervo tequila, Patron Citronge, passion fruit, jalapeño and lime. (Photo by Taylor Adams)

With a list of specialty margaritas, one would seem to be worth your try. The passion-chile margarita was acceptable, but maybe not for the $10 price tag with it. The thick consistency of the passion fruit was complemented by a slight kick in the back of the throat from the jalapeño taste that was in the beverage.

The Paloma pink margarita  has a Fever Tree soda, grapefruit and the expected, lime, tequila and agave. A bitterness accompanies this tequila-heavy drink.

The wine list has a selection of nice (for) Texas wines, along with a list of imports, which has offerings from Chile and Spain, along with those from Sonoma, Calif. and Virginia.

The top half of the menu has your smaller plates, but their sizes don’t necessarily warrant sharing. The mushroom and huitlacoche tamales come with two to an order. Offering a moist, traditional tamale consistency, these have a buttery inside of mushroom. (What’s the huitlacoche? Another fungus; this one’s from corn.)

The mushroom-huitlacoche tamales are served on the corn husk and topped with a creamy, subtle huitlacoche sauce.

The mushroom-huitlacoche tamales are served on the corn husk and topped with a creamy, subtle huitlacoche sauce.

While a mushroom taco sounds equally appealing, the fried oyster taco is a small tortilla filled with fried flavor and six cups of different toppings to change up each bite. The pineapple-pico de gallo is an extra sweet kick.

On another visit, the serving of shrimp and grits is sure to be worth a try, along with another type of taco.

On the bottom half are plenty of options that are worth your money. The barbecued brisket is dry and flavorful, served with a vinegar-based sauce and a simple potato salad.

The chicken-fried buffalo steak is coated with a savory, spicy batter that can be eaten on its own. Although, the salty pan-gravy that comes with it makes it even better. This plate also comes with some almost-too-thin, creamy mashed potatoes and “Gun Barrel Greens.” This bitter assortment of kale, carrot tops and other greens was created by a fellow who goes by Gun Barrel, our waiter told us. (He also said this man was from New Orleans; two sentences later, he said he was from Gun Barrel City. It’s yet to be determined. If this dish by his name were better, I might have been more curious to find out.)

This shrimp dish at Stampede is some of the best étouffée in Dallas.

This shrimp dish at Stampede is some of the best étouffée in Dallas.

The shrimp étouffée is one of the more flavorful dishes I tried, but it’s not for those who are weary of some spice. Served in a modest bowl alongside dirty rice, the étouffée has a well-made rue that every base should aspire to be. The almost dirty-like texture of it makes the heat and spice help turn that shrimp into a perfect bite.

The list of desserts offers plenty. There’s a chocolate-pecan pie that they call the black-bottom “Bama” pecan pie, which is presented as a small (but share-able) tart. The dark chocolate takes the place of the jelly portion that would normally be underneath these slightly candied pecans.

The "black-bottom 'Bama' pecan pie" (background) is great, but can't stand up to the coconut desert that maintains layers of dense, moist cake.

The “black-bottom ‘Bama’ pecan pie” (background) is great, but can’t stand up to the coconut desert that maintains layers of dense, moist cake.

Some type of cake will be on the menu when you go. The coconut has layers of dense, moist cake, separated by a sweet cream, that has just a hint of coconut. For the crisp coconut, just eat off the back of the slice that could easily feed four people, which is padded with toasted coconut flakes.

The interior of Stampede 66 is overtly “Texas.” Wire horse heads protrude from the top of a tall wall and a large, metal snake is lit from below by lights of changing colors. In parts of the restaurant, it’s a bit bright and the overall feel can seem simply cheesy until you take your first bite of food – then all that’s around you just doesn’t even matter.

It’s also not bad when Pyles himself drops by your table to make sure your dining experience has been more than copacetic.

Worth the price and multiple visits, Stampede better be here to stay.

Stampede 66
Location: 1717 McKinney Ave. in Dallas, 214-550-6966
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 6 to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 6 to 11 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 6 to 11 p.m. Saturday
Price: $$$
Service: Very attentive, extra friendly (If you haven’t ordered the “signature” Modern Star Canyon Margarita, there’s a chance a friendly fellow with a rolling cart will roll over to your table, attempting to persuade someone at your table to purchase the $16 beverage.)
Ambiance: Modern Texan, a little louder and quite bright
Attire: Dressy-casual
Payment information: All major credit cards accepted
Alcohol: Full bar

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The Cedars Social: Bar fare worth a (very) short trip south

Just a few minutes in the car from my office is a bar worth visiting. The only reason I hadn’t made the short trip was a lame one – that trip was just south of downtown.

Across from where I had sipped coffee at South Side on Lamar and seen The Fray perform at the Palladium Ballroom is an intimate space full of books, booze and unsuspecting plates for dinner.

The double bone-in pork chop, purple and sweet potato hash is just an example of the tempting plates at Cedars Social.  (Facebook)

The double bone-in pork chop, purple and sweet potato hash is just an example of the tempting plates at Cedars Social. (Facebook)

The Cedars Social boasts on Facebook about its full rows of alcohol bottles behind the bar. The pride continues onto the pages of the cocktail menu that lists the drinks around $12 each (and many are higher).

The bartender here makes a worthy potion. The old fashioned and Tom Collins were acceptable standards. Any of the seasonal cocktails or “misfits” are more creative and worth experimenting.

The bar area is quickly packed on a Saturday night, but if you’re able to snag a table in the small dining room, you can explore some more flavors beyond muddled fruit in alcohol.

Expect to have a lot of paper on your table while you make your selections through the sharable small and big plates. One item is a blue file folder that has the pages of cocktail options. If you’re here on a weekend, one small sheet will be the weekend menu. Check that one if you’re in the mood for a selection of oysters. These offer some more explorable plates (with a bit higher price tag). The standard, two-sided sheets have the full menu.

There’s plenty to pique your interest on the small plate list. The truffle macaroni and cheese will take the spot as a favorite. I always use hesitation when knowing a chef is using truffle – whether it be fresh, salt and especially oil – but this pasta is only delicately laced with the flavor that takes the bowl to a whole new level of savory.

The shrimp and grits is also a plate you’ll want to share with your table. Texas Gulf shrimp are lined up on top of white cheddar and Parmesan grits. While the shrimp were standard, even someone who doesn’t get excited about grits will scrape up the last of this cheesy side item. The Kobe meatballs are small, tender balls of meat, ones that have a surprisingly crisp exterior to a warm, tender center. Most important, they’re perfectly seasoned and topped witha  simple, traditional sauce.

The lamb chops could be a meal on their own. They’re simply seasoned and cooked perfectly, just below medium rare. What takes these a step beyond an area steak joint is the Luxardo cherry jus that sits beneath them, waiting for you to swipe the tender meat through it for a sweet pairing. On a recent visit, we tried for the grilled oysters, which caught our attention with garlic butter and Parmesan cheese, but the kitchen was out of them. A small plate that should be ordered on your own (only because sharing doesn’t seem like a realistic option) is the oxtail ravioli, a special that hopefully will make a regular appearance. Each bite is a buttery and savory meat encased in a (just under al dente) fresh pasta.

The small plates kept our interest. Large plates that look worth a try are the truffled, roasted chicken with lentils, Mediterranean olives and cherry tomatoes and a Berkshire pork rack with cassoulet and crispy brussels sprouts.

We did test our stomach sizes a little further by going for the hand-cut garlic-Parmesan fries, where more truffle oil is poured out. Salty, a little oily and plenty crunchy, these are the consistency all garlic fries should be.

The special desserts, listed in chalk on the wall with other specials, listed a German chocolate cake that had run out before we had the chance to pursue a slice. By that time, we were too full to test out the Italian cream that was also listed.

Witha  menu so extensive and items passing expectations, this one is worth another visit. Very soon.

The Cedars Social
Location: 1326 S. Lamar St. in Dallas, 214-928-7700
Hours: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
Price: $$
Service: laid back, just attentive enough
Ambiance: cozy, noisy and intimate
Alcohol: full bar

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A granola that makes a sizable impact

Plenty of people would get excited for pie. Probably more would be excited for cupcakes. But what about cereal? Better yet, what about granola?

Impact Foods has granola that can get you excited for cereal again. (Photos by TAYLOR ADAMS)

Impact Foods has granola that can get you excited for cereal again. (Photos by TAYLOR ADAMS)

There’s more than one reason I can get behind any flavor of Impact Foods’ granola. For one, the Dallas-based business is headed up by two SMU grads. Second, they’re the Tom’s Shoes of cereal: buy one $5.83 bag, and they’ll supply a meal to a starving child.

As someone who has seen hungry children on the streets of Haiti, this idea hits home for me. To read more about how Uptown residents Ben Hurt and Blaine Iler are making a difference, check out this story on them from neighborsgo.

Now, $5.83 is worth supplying food for a child, but it’s more than warranted when you get something you can’t stop eating in return.

For a while, I’ve heard that these small bags of granola were amazing — either in a bowl with milk or scooped straight out of the bag with your bare hand. When I say, “amazing,” this is a word that came from others’ testimonies. That’s an extreme statement. So when a coworker plopped a couple of bags in the food-to-share area of our office, I thought I wasn’t missing much by skipping the cereal for an afternoon snack.

Finally, about a month later, I couldn’t resist the urge to open up my own bag when Lindsey Miller, who handles public relations for Impact Foods, handed me to flavors to try.

The blueberry-honey granola is packed with clusters and a fitting breakfast food.

The blueberry-honey granola is packed with clusters and a fitting breakfast food.

I started with the blueberry-honey granola, which offers suited tastes for a morning meal. The bits of blueberry make you think of summer, and the honey isn’t just a slight sweetness, you can really taste it. This one is mostly clusters, while the other bag had lots of oats.

This other bag also had a flavor listed on the bag that I was less than excited about: pumpkin spice. The two words may get you excited — you want pumpkin everything once a chill finally comes to the Dallas air. And, I’m not totally excluded; I’ll have one pumpkin spice latte once Starbucks starts promoting them. I’m also a fan of the occasional cinnamon-pumpkin pancake. But this flavor of autumn has penetrated almost anything it can, with poor executions all over the place.

So, pumpkin spice and granola? I wasn’t setting the bar high. I also intended to share it, until I tried some.

The pumpkin spice granola has oats and pumpkin seeds--all of which you'll want to consume.

The pumpkin spice granola has oats and pumpkin seeds–all of which you’ll want to consume.

I almost had no control. The flavor is delectable, but subtle. There isn’t an overwhelming, almost- heat of a spice, but a sweet warmth that has plenty of sugar and cinnamon. While the honey-blueberry granola is an ideal breakfast, this would be a good choice for dessert.

Impact Foods has the pumpkin spice for the season. Its other, year-long flavors include maple oat and vanilla almond, which I already have confidence in.

If the taste isn't enough, the fact that Impact Foods gives back for every bag purchased will interest you.

If the taste isn’t enough, the fact that Impact Foods gives back for every bag purchased will interest you.

Impact Foods
Impact Foods granola is vailable at stores such as EatZi’s and Whole Foods; you can also visit the Impact Foods website to order online and see what other local stores carry the product.

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Pho is for Lovers: A cure for what ails you

Just the smell of pho can make you feel like your cold is going away. What’s nice about the smell coming from a bowl at Pho is for Lovers, though, is that you didn’t have to go up to Richardson or Plano to get it.

The beef pho at Pho is for Lovers comes with filet, brisket and meatballs. (Photos by TAYLOR ADAMS)

The staff at pho is efficient in taking and preparing the orders, whether or not you’re staying in or taking a bag of the soup home to assemble yourself. If you’re a Dallas resident, then your drive home isn’t what it might be from a good joint up north, so your broth stays a piping-hot temperature.

The noodles at the bottom of the bowl are significantly better than when the restaurant opened up in the summer of 2011. Staying loose, they mix well with the beef filet and brisket which the steaming broth is finally poured over. (The beef pho comes with meatballs: I do recommend skipping these round, rubbery concoctions.)

The brown, paper sack is packed with broth, the pho necessities of noodles, scallions, onions and beef, optional items of sprouts, basil and sauce, and chopsticks.

After a crumple of basil and a squeeze of lime is added, a balanced broth offers a savory taste full of scallions and cilantro. A hint of ginger brings a slight sweetness that’s needed but not overwhelming.

The brisket is nothing too special: fatty, short slices of the beef get entangled in the noodles and offer a buttery bite. The real satisfaction in protein comes from the lengthy slices of filet. Cooked barely enough to be edible from the broth, this tender meat is worth digging through the soup with your chopsticks.
There’s plenty of other menu items to pursue if you’re not a pho lover or if you’re not looking to soothe your worsening cold. Try the grilled pork banh mi for a salty, crisp meat paired with fresh veggies in a light baguette.

The beef pho to go with filet and brisket.

Pho is for Lovers
Location: 5521 Greenville Ave., Ste. 105, Dallas972-708-1028
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Price: $
Service: Friendly. Walk-up order, to-go orders available
Ambiance: Clean, modern feel
Attire: Casual
Payment Information: Major credit cards accepted
Alcohol: None served
Seating: Indoor, with a few tables and chairs outside on the sidewalk

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Great One comes close to fulfilling its cookie promise

Great One Cookie Company has its name for a reason: If you’re having an amazing, gooey cookie that’s simply great, just one is enough. And just as the website says, “Life is too short to eat an average cookie.”

For the most part, the store lives up to the name and motto.

Carefully packaged treats from Great One Cookie Company. (Photos by TAYLOR ADAMS)

Located next to the small wine shop on Monticello Avenue, this miniature bakery offers customers a slightly small, but worthy array of fresh baked cookies. The woman behind it all, Pam Denesuk, can be found in the kitchen behind a mixer.

That may be where she stays as another employee walks up to take your order. This isn’t the best place to take a friend for a sweet treat to catch up some afternoon. The lack of music coupled with a feeling of awkwardness makes you want to get out of there with your box or bag of cookies as quickly as possible. Luckily, you will be pretty satisfied once you bite into a cookie.

While they’ve been posting on Facebook that Great One Cookie would have cookies with candy bars, such as Kit Kats, in their cookies, none were on the four cake stands where they were displayed last week. Don’t worry, you can order those candy-bar cookies if you’re really craving them. They did, however, have more than enough to calm down your sweet tooth.
The standard chocolate chip cookie has the perfect combination of dark and milk chocolate, as every chocolate chip cookie should (but many fail and choose to go one or the other). What you can tell about this cookie, and every other one here, is that it has a homemade quality to it. Everything is simple and clear tasting. It was a bit battery, as were most of the other cookies–but that may be her personal taste. Who doesn’t like a little cookie batter?

This would be the absolute perfect cookie if it were warm (which none of them were after they were placed into a white paper bag).

The oatmeal-raisin cookie (from left, clockwise) chocolate chip cookie, chocolate-pecan cookie and the white chocolate-cranberry cookie.

There’s a white chocolate cranberry cookiewith a perfectly-almost-too-much-sugar sweetness that is also a bit undercooked. The white chocolate doesn’t stay in chips when this cookie is cooked. Even when the cookie is room temperature, the chocolate isn’t a variation of crispy texture, but a gooey sweetness intermixed in the batter.  The macadamia nuts, however, give it a crunch that takes this to another level, and it’s worth ordering over the chocolate chip. It is a bit salty, though.

The oatmeal-raisin cookie was the one that was cooked through. With its mound shape, it looked more like a decadent dog treat rather than a cookie. It was also inconsistent–as though it were mixed with a wooden spoon instead of a Kitchen Aid mixer–pockets of sugar or flour surprise you.

The next cookie is one that caught me off-guard as my favorite, but it makes sense that salty and sweet could come together in one dessert of a cookie. The chocolate-pecan cookie is a chocolate chip cookie that isn’t over salted, but perfectly complemented with a salty pecan. It’s cooked thoroughly, and dark chocolate is melted through.

This little cookie shop is in an odd spot, but one that dishes out enough sweetness to have you look for it.

A dessert-filled bag from Great One Cookie Company.

Great One Cookie Company

Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Price: $
Ambiance: This is really a place where you pick up your order and go, not sit and absorb the ambiance.
Payment information: Major credit cards accepted
Alcohol: None served

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Strive for taste sometimes becomes desperate at Desperados

The thought of having a cheese enchilada and a margarita on the rocks within walking distance sounds like a fine setting.The idea would be better, however, if it were on a beach and the destination were some place other than Desperados Mexican Restaurant.

The namesake tacos are fine and a safe order when dining in the intimate joint. Crispy, greasy flour tortillas hold melted jack cheese in the middle of the fold, topped with cuts of steak (or chicken, if you so choose), a few dices of tomatoes and a thin slice of fresh avocado.

Desperados tacos (Photo by TAYLOR ADAMS)

Dressed shreds of lettuce sit on the side of the Desperados tacos. While that space on the plate would be better suited to some rice, the lettuce does bring a chilly freshness to the greasy, but savory tacos. The shell is salty, the steak is well seasoned and the cheese is perfectly melted. (Come in after 5 p.m. on a Thursday and get these for $5.95 instead of $9.99 and they almost taste a little better.)

The attempt at queso (Photo by TAYLOR ADAMS)

But the perfection in melted cheese isn’t always accomplished. The queso comes in a small cup, topped with a sprinkle of paprika, looking similar to Mi Cocina’s, but not living up to that taste. There’s effort put into it, with a small presence of peppers, but it lacks onions and any real kick or flavor. Needless to say, I can safely assume it’s a queso of which Leslie Brenner would definitely not approve.

The servers are quick and attentive, though there’s a good chance you could have three or four attending to your table during your meal. Our first waitress suggested that my order of sangria be upgraded to the larger, 12-ounce option. After seeing the other miniature glasses beverages came in, the $1.05 upgrade seemed worth it. The sangria is a little too artificially sweet, similar to the way plastic bottles of grape juice are loaded with just too much sugar.
Even while it’s somewhat buried by being at the bottom of the tri-fold menu, the list of Tex-Mex options should taste better. If visitors dare to go with these, they can choose from a meal of two, three or four options, all of which come with sides of fresh and flavorful rice and a small puddle of refried beans that need some salt.

Cheese taco and cheese enchilada are two options for a Tex-Mex plate. (Photo by MICHAEL DANSER)

The cheese enchilada and soft cheese taco sound like safe options, but the enchilada simply lacks significant flavor and the soft cheese taco has a fresh corn tortilla drowning it what appears and tastes to be the same disappointing “queso” that arrived in the white, plastic cup before the meal.

Desperados Mexican Restaurant
Location: 4818 Greenville Ave. in Dallas, 75206 (See website for other location)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m Friday through Saturday
Price: $-$$
Ambiance:  Intimate, casual, quick service
Attire: Casual
Payment Information: Major credit cards accepte
Alcohol: Full bar

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Cafe Madrid: Nibbling toward a broader perspective

Simple olives at Cafe Madrid (Photos by TAYLOR ADAMS)

As Americans, most of us are accustomed to having a full meal. Unless we’re walking over the pavement at the State Fair of Texas, general grazing of different foods at one time just isn’t really our thing.

Luckily, we have restaurants, such as Cafe Madrid, that broaden that perspective of ours.
This quaint dinner spot makes for an ideal place for happy hour.
The deals of reasonably priced, smaller plates are worthy and the house sangria is delicious. It seems every restaurant in San Antonio has almost the perfect house-made sangria, but unfortunately, that’s not the case in North Texas. Cafe Madrid does a good job so that the beverage isn’t overly fruity. It’s still not made with the best wine, but perfectly infused with fruit–none of which takes up half of your glass like it does in other establishments’ rendition of the drink.

Aceitunas fritas

The mixed olives in oil are a simple beginner, one that could be welcomed before any meal. But to take this traditional first taste to a different level, try the aceitunas fritas. Yes, they’re fried. A simple batter surrounds the small tanginess of the olives. The simplicity is overcome by the aoili that lays beneath it.

Albondigas andaluzas

As for the meatier options, the albondigas andaluzas offer a different kind of meatball than you might be used to. These Andalucian meatballs, as they call them, have a hint of saffron. The almond-piquillo sauce that’s beneath it is worth scooping over the meat. The chorizo San Martin comes in a white wine and garlic sauce.

While the sauce is far too greasy to be paired with something as fatty as sausage, the meat itself lends a tender, fresh tasting link of sausage, one that could still use a bit more spice.

But there are still other things fritas you can get. In fact, there’s a nice portion of the menu dedicated to frituras. One of these is, of course, a plate of calamari, one that’s not special and can be skipped for something better, such as the fried cheese and spinach croquettes (croquetas de manchego y espinacas on the menu).

 

The calamari (foreground) fell short of the simple pair of cheese and spinach fried as a croquette (background)

There’s no wonder it could be a favorite item on the menu. The simple fact that it’s fried cheese has that covered. But the spinach adds an earthiness to it, one that’s subtle enough to give the cheese a prominent role, but helps the batter create something that’s more of a fried delicacy than a fried something-or-other you can find in Fair Park.

Cafe Madrid
Location: 4501 Travis St. in Dallas, 75205, 214-528-1731
Hours: 5 to 11:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 to 12:30 a.m. Friday through Saturday
Price: $$
Ambiance:  Intimate
Attire: Casual
Payment Information: Major credit cards accepte
Alcohol: Beer and wine

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