Wednesday, April 21, 2010

All in for Al Fresco

As spring is in the air and we are starting the "outdoor" season here in Dallas, I thought that it would be fitting to do an article on DFW area Bar and Restaurant decks or patios that inspire me to relax and consume. So, here it is...

All in for Al Fresco by Greg Holman

Italians invented the term al fresco (literally translated “the fresh”) to describe the act of wining and dining outdoors, as it was such a common occurrence in their daily lives. So why is it that food and drink always seem to taste better when consumed outside? I know that indoor air quality can suffer from impurities such as chemicals and cleaners, which affect our sense of smell and taste. I also know that when we dine al fresco it’s usually in bright, beautiful sunshine which charges us with vitamin D, that one study has shown to be effective in treating seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression that can occur during the winter months, but I think that outdoor dining also brings back childhood memories of picnics, drinking from the hose, and gobbling a juicy, ripe peach from the neighbor’s tree. Whatever recollections are re-awakened by open-air eating, al fresco is a style of dining that’s both casual yet lively and can offer up an almost party-like atmosphere.

On the subject of open-air eating, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the 18th century French epicurean wrote in his book The Physiology of Taste, “Seating themselves on the greensward, they eat while the corks fly and there is talk, laughter and merriment, and perfect freedom, for the universe is their drawing room and the sun their lamp. Besides, they have appetite, Nature's special gift, which lends to such a meal a vivacity unknown indoors, however beautiful the surroundings."

Well, spring has sprung with a vengeance here in Big “D”. Buds are on the trees, the winter’s hibernation is over, and it’s now time to leave the safe confines of our warm burrows and head out into the sunlight. It’s time for dinner and drinks on the deck! But if pulling out the bag of charcoal and firing up the grill seems a bit demanding, Dallas certainly has an abundance of establishments to satisfy your “Party on the Patio” urges. And with the city-wide smoking ban, global warming, and the fact that the city of Dallas doesn’t charge a licensing fee for establishments with outdoor dining (unfortunately this excludes sidewalk dining, which requires a public right-of-way license), we should see even more al fresco eateries popping up in the future. Not to mention the fact that in this depressed economy, outdoor dining can almost double a restaurant or bars available seating.

Whether you’re looking for a boisterous time of people watching, you want upscale digs with a view, you’re looking for a quiet tree-covered spot with a nice selection of beers, or perhaps you just want to sit back on a big comfy couch and watch the sun set over a serene lake, we’ve got a place for you.

Here are a few of my favorite spots to catch some rays and a buzz!

Bar Belmont
901 Fort Worth Ave. - Great views of downtown, from across the Trinity, next door to Smoke, and possibly on the new route for the Uptown trolley extension. Try a Belmontini!

Ginger Man
2718 Boll St. – A phenomenal selection of beers, live music on Saturdays, two tree-covered, multi-level decks. The Beer Companion Plate is great.

Glass Cactus
1501 Gaylord Trail, Grapevine, TX - Incredible views of Lake Grapevine at sunset from several levels of HUGE decks. Plus, where else can you lay on a bed with five other people and have drinks brought to you? (If you do know of somewhere else, invite me!)

Idle Rich Pub
2614 McKinney Avenue - Noisy but great spot to see nice cars, watch the trolley go by, and people watch. The cheese plates, mini-burgers, and fish and chips rock.

Iron Cactus
1520 Main Street - Three levels overlooking Pegasus Plaza, downtown. It’s like they just sliced the side of the building off. Great margaritas and some of the best stuffed jalapenos around.

La Calle Doce
415 W. 12th Street - Oak Cliff hot spot for Mexican seafood and Margaritas. The deck is the front porch of an old house. The Snapper al Mojo de Ajo is awesome. This is one of David Bowie's favorite Dallas restaurants.

Lee Harvey’s
1807 Gould Street – This Dallas staple for the hip crowd is pretty much only a patio. Live music on the weekends, two bars, great burgers and tacos, and a very comfy atmosphere.

19020 Preston Road - Consistently voted one of the best patios in Dallas. It almost feels like you're in the Caribbean instead of on Preston. They feature live music, a Koi pond with a waterfall, and amazing deserts.

4615 Greenville Avenue - Also regularly voted one of the best patios in Dallas. Famous for their chicken fried steak and their Sunday make-your-own bloody mary bar. Multi-level tree-covered deck.

Park on Henderson
1921 Henderson Avenue – It really feels like you're sitting in a park that’s filled with native plants, bamboo, and a three-trunk Live Oak. The drinks are impeccably mixed and they have Bocce Ball courts!

202 W. Davis Street – They have a small but charming deck and offer a wide selection of beers and well made food. The chili is out-of-this-world and made fresh every day. Just on the edge of the Bishop Street Arts District.

Sneaky Pete’s
2 Eagle Point Road, Lewisville, TX - This Lake Dallas staple is popular with the younger crowd, as there is lots of shirtless/bikini-clad eye candy to be seen. Dock your boat and disembark for some live music and drinks.

The dog days of summer are looming large on the horizon; a time when men (and women) of comfort seek air-conditioned refuge from the scorching Dallas summer heat. So, while spring is still in the air and we are blessed with temperate days, filled with sunshine and light breezes, head out and grab an umbrella-covered table and sip on a nice cool drink at one of the many great patios that Dallas bars and restaurants have to offer. Buon appatito, Ciao!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Martinis – One is alright. Two are too many, and three is not enough.

Well, I've been watching some of the 1960's hip, swingin', bachelor, romantic comedies lately and it's made me long for the classic days of cocktail hour that I remeber my parents and grandparents enjoying when I was a kid. So I thought that a Lit article about the king of cocktails, the Martini, was in order. So, here it is...

Martinis – One is alright. Two are too many, and three is not enough.

Whatever happened to the sophistication associated with cocktails and the cocktail hour? I long for the days of strong, simple drinks, smoking jackets, elegant gowns, cigarette girls, and torch singers accompanied by a full orchestra. Where are all the red, velvet curtain-lined dinner clubs and smoky, sultry lounges? Not in Dallas I can assure you. I yearn to put on my tux (yes, I own my own tux) and take my wife out for an evening of drinking and dancing, but not to some digital hip-hop beat, and not to Lady Gaga or Kelley Clarkson, but to a big jazzy, swingin’ band like Hunter Sullivan, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, or even Mr. Pink, in a place like Maxwell DeMille’s Cicada Club in Los Angeles.

Cicada Club

Hopefully someone will soon realize that people are longing for a taste of class, a regression to the way things used to be in the “good old days” of wining, dining and lounging, and open up a ritzy joint that fits this bill.

But, if we can’t get a classic dinner club experience here in Big “D,” we can at least get a good Martini, the drink of choice for the upper crust. And I’m not talking about the simpering, sweet, distant cousins; the Appletinis, the Chocolatinis, the Wheat-Grasstinis, or any other bastardization of the classic cocktail. I’m talkin’ about Gin or Vodka, shaken with ice, enhanced by perhaps a whiff of Vermouth and a couple of olives (we’ll allow cocktail onions and lemon twists too), served up in a frosty, elegant V-shaped glass, which I will expound upon shortly.

The drink that Hollywood made famous developed a wide following in large part due to the celebrities who held a warm place in their heart for this heart-warming cocktail. People like W. C. Fields, who drank two doubles at breakfast and consumed two quarts of Gin daily; Richard Nixon, who liked a seven to one ratio of Gin to Vermouth; Dorothy Parker who said “I like to drink Martinis, two at the most. Three I’m under the table, four I’m under the host.”; George Burns who said “Happiness is a dry Martini and a good woman… or a bad woman.”; William Powell, who as Nick Charles (of the Thin Man film series) consumed copious quantities of the classic cocktail; and of course James Bond who liked his “Vesper” Martini (named after Vesper Lynde, the beautiful blonde double agent in Casino Royale) “shaken, not stirred.”

Now, a word about the Martini glass itself, where form follows function as its stem allows you to hold the glass without warming its contents, while the conical shape keeps ingredients from separating, and the wide brim creates surface tension, helping to bring out the aroma of the chosen gin or vodka. While these benefits of the shapely glass may seem apparent, others have suggested that the wide brim on the glass made it easier to quickly dispose of illegal alcohol in the event of a speakeasy raid, during America’s prohibition period.

While the drink’s true origins are shrouded in mystery, many believe that a rendition of what we now recognize as the Martini was created in San Francisco in 1862 and was known as the “Martinez.” It’s rumored that a bartender at the Occidental hotel, named Jerry Thomas was challenged by a gold prospector, to make a special drink in honor of the miner’s recent trip to the gold strike in Martinez, CA. It consisted of 4 parts red, sweet Vermouth to 1 part Gin and was garnished with a cherry. This is certainly not the only claim to the invention of the infamous cocktail, but I find it to be one of the earliest and most credible.

With as many drinking establishments as Dallas has, there are a number of them that serve up a decent Martini. And whether you prefer your Martinis with Vodka or Gin, clean or dirty, here are a few good places to pick up a dry Martini and wet your whistle…

4511 McKinney Ave. Dallas, TX 75205 (214) 559-3111

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House
5251 Spring Valley Rd. Dallas, TX 75254 (972) 490-9000

8300 A Preston Rd. Dallas, TX 75225 (214) 691-8991

Inwood Lounge
5458 W. Lovers Ln. Dallas, TX 75209 (214) 764-9106

The Library Bar at the Warwick Melrose Hotel
3015 Oak Lawn Ave. Dallas, TX. 75219 (214) 224-4134

2911 Routh St. Dallas, TX 75201 (214) 871-9991


2120 McKinney Ave. Dallas, TX 75201 (214) 744-0820

Sevy’s Grill
8201 Preston Rd. Dallas, TX 75225 (214) 265-7389

While Martinis can be a bit pricey, they’re certainly a great bang for the buck, as two or three good ones will have you feeling like Bond, James Bond. So dust of your tuxedo, put on an air of class, and head to your favorite lounge, to sip on an ice cold, classic American cocktail.

As I wrap this article up and slip into a long-stemmed frosty “elixir of quietude,” I say to you, the originator of the Martini, whoever you truly are, we offer our most sincere thanks, gratitude, and scorn; for your creation, which has certainly come a long way since its inception, has both saved and ruined the lives of a multitude of people and has furnished many of us with foggy memories of Vodka and Gin-soaked evenings, amorous nights of drunken passion, and long mornings of suffering and yearnings for yet another Martini. We salute you! “Bartender, … I’ll have another.”