Just back from Dallas, a US city that’s reinvented itself as a new hotbed of restaurant and bar flair and innovation, writes Peter Martin.
Forget everything you thought you knew about the Texas town. It’s transformed with a thriving eating and drinking out culture fueled by a new breed of creative independents and young entrepreneurial groups, keen to grow but also experiment with challenging concepts. Ambition abounds.
That’s why I’m heading back at the end of October with a few top UK operators keen to experience what’s really happening in the US market and see what success looks like on that side of the pond. Importantly, we’ll be meeting top US counterparts too – the people creating that buzz.
It will be the first American gathering of the new Atlantic Club, a project backed by CGA, international design specialist Harrison, Herman-Stewart Construction and Harri, Why don’t you come and join us – and be ready to be inspired?
The vibrancy of the market reflects the fact that Dallas is at the heart of the fastest growing conurbation in the States, with 7.4 million people, now putting it behind only New York, Chicago and Los Angeles in total size. This expansion is part of a long-term population shift south and west, as young professionals move in search of jobs and affordable housing – which means the clientele are getting younger too.
That’s also why I believe UK and European operators should be seriously considering southern cities like Dallas as their launch-pad into the North American market. It’s competitive, but there’s no reason’s Britain’s best can’t thrive in that environment too – it’s a market open to new ideas and tastes.
Much of the new development is happening north of the city in growing suburbs like Plano and Frisco, but there’s also plenty happening back closer to the centre too, where you’ll find edgier, younger places like Truck Yard, the Katy Trail Icehouse, HG Sply Co, Bourbon & Banter, Tacos Mariachi and Velvet Taco.
The latter is a concept created by Front Burner, one of Dallas’s hottest restaurant groups, but now mainly spun off to new investors planning a roll-out. From the outside, the original Velvet Taco on Henderson & Knox looks like an old tin shack, but it has become a cult destination for the young (it’s open until 4 am), due in no short measure to the quality and variety of its tacos.
If you want to sample quality tacos and Mexican done well, Dallas is your place. And there’s no better exponent than Noma-trained chef José Meza Arróyave, who is serving up high-quality, but accessible, contemporary food at his Jalisco Norte restaurant in the more well-heeled Turtle Creek Village area. Chef-driven brands are also ‘a thing’ in Dallas.
Away from downtown, the likes of Front Burner, with its Sixty Vines, Whiskey cake and Ida Claire concepts, and Phoenix-based Fox Restaurant Concepts, perhaps the most talked about new restaurant group in the US, are setting the pace – and the pace is hot.
Fox has brought its North Italia, Flower Child and True Food Kitchen to town, the latter now having been spun-off to fuel its growth. Meanwhile, Front Burner has gone big with its latest project, Legacy Hall (pictured right), a grand-scale food hall, complete with brewery and live entertainment space, opened at Plano’s Legacy West development.
Sports and entertainment complexes are at the hub of much of what’s new in food and drink. The Star in Frisco is just one example, a restaurant and bar district build around the Dallas Cowboys football team’s headquarters, with emerging brands like Mi Cocina, Tupelo Honey and Zaytinya flourishing alongside already established names like Raising Cane’s.
Dallas has to be seen and experienced.
The Atlantic Club event in Dallas is on October 24–26, 2018. The Atlantic Club is also meeting in London on September 20 & 21, with a series of events.