by Annette Bignami 

Texas food goes international.

Years ago you got good chili, superb steaks and casual Southwestern food washed down with Dr. Pepper or Lone Star Beer when you visited Dallas. These days you can also dine in the Big D. Choices range from upscale continental restaurants like five diamond Mansion on Turtle Creek or the French Room at the Adolphus Hotel to old-time favorites such as Tolbert's Texas Chili Parlor. Fort Worth seems a bit more conservative, but the French food in Le Chardonnay (the new Dallas branch is hot, hot, hot!) offers good value, and everyone in Fort Worth knows about Joe T. Garcia's.


Photo by Annette Bignami

Do realize that, as always, lunch offers a chance to sample restaurant offerings at about half dinner prices. So I pig out at noon, work lunch off and finish the day with a quick fix of pastry or some fresh shrimp or oysters..

Dallas Dining

In Dallas arguments rage when the BMW set compare The Mansion on Turtle Creek to The Adolphus Hotel's French Room. Both are upscale, five diamond/five star and opulent. The French room offers Louis XIV decor and vaulted ceilings. It's "dress up" and runs to traditional French (you were expecting Italian?) dishes with veal and lamb as alternatives to the usual Dallas beef. Start with the lobster bisque and consider a wonderful pepper steak if you're a committed carnivore. Phone 742-8200.

Wolfgang Puck, the restaurant guru best known for his Spago in Los Angeles, consulted on the menus at the Mansion at Turtle Creek out on Turtle Creek Boulevard. So the food's different and interesting and, as is the case with other upscale Dallas restaurants, game and gamebirds seem especially well done. The menu offers superior mutations of Southwest dishes like the tortilla or yellow pepper soups. There's a dandy smoked pheasant salad, lobster tacos, and the chance to see J.R.'s real life clones in a restored mansion built by Dallas heiress Caroline Schoelkopf who also built the Bel-Air in Los Angeles. Besides, the ladies who lunch here may be the most decorative and best-dressed in Dallas. Phone 526-2121.

Traditionalists stay with the Old Warsaw in Oak Lawn. It's been up and down since it was the in place for Dallas dining, but there are currently solid traditional French dishes like salmon with saffron sauce. Their baked goods delight. Fans of plain cooking can opt for a lobster from the tank. Don't let the waiter talk you into a little one on the theory that it's more tender! Phone 528-0032.

A number of "Big D" residents in search of the "latest and greatest" followed Chef Stephan Pyles over from the Routh Street Cafe to Star Canyon on Oak Lawn catty-corner from the Melrose Hotel. The "New Texas Cuisine" here offers delicous, if sometimes strange, combinations of traditional and unusual ingredients and, for a pleasant change, enough food. Phone 520-STAR for reservations early.

Seafood and Such

An increasing number of Dallas restaurants take full advantage of Gulf Coast seafood. Moderate-priced Newport's Seafood specializes in mesquite-grilling-- don't overlook the steak either --and tri-level dining around a 30 foot deep well inside the Brewery Building in the West End Historical District. Phone 954-0220.

The nearby S&D Oyster Company serves copious amounts of fresh oysters on the half shell, gumbo, fish and shrimp on red and white checked tablecloth tables at 2701 McKinney Ave. You either sit on park benches and wait to get in the historic old building or stroll the area. Phone 880-0111.

Blood Rare, Thanks

However, Dallas ranks with Kansas City as a "beefeater's" town. Steaks seem a safe choice everywhere. Hoffbrau Steaks pan fries steaks Texas-style. There's a line out the door and down to the corner on Knox Street. Phone 559-2680. I cook my own steak -- chefs can do yours-- over the hickory charcoal grills at The Butcher shop in the West End on Market Street. Phone 720-1032.

Canary Prices: "Cheap, Cheap Cheap."

At the low end of the price scale Tolbert's Texas Chili Parlor on McKinney Ave. near Knox Street reflects Will Roger's comment that "you can tell a lot about a town by its chili." Avoid the "donkey tails" unless you lust for hot dogs wrapped in tortillas and deep fried with hot mustard. Stick with the "Texas red," a solid chili that shows why Frank Tolbert helped start the Annual World Championship Chili Cookoff in Terlingua. Expect to pay under $10 with a beer. Phone 350-9034.

If you like wonderful pastries, and a very affordable breakfast, consider La Madeleine, now a demi-chain, with a number of spots besides the Mockingbird Lane and Lemmon Ave. sites. They now serve lovely sandwiches until nine at night, and you can't beat French bread and rolls from their wood-burning oven.

For quality Mexican, as opposed to Tex-Mex, food try Mario's Chiquita north of downtown on Travis. The owner now has three restaurants, and offers a nice carne asada for the carnivorous and some monster combinations at a modest price. Phone 954-0220.

Fort Worth Food

In Fort Worth, Le Chardonnay, south of town on Forest Park, offers traditional French dishes like chocolate or, our choice, banana soufflé in a different setting which features a toy train on an overhead track and a lovely patio. We enjoyed their veal and pheasant at very modest prices considering the quality. Phone 926-5622.

For a break from French and Tex-Mex food, try Prego Pasta House on Sundance Square downtown for an assortment of Italian pastas and better piazzas. Moderate to inexpensive. Phone 870-1908.

Juanita's, on West Second downtown, does a killer quail braised in tequilla, a chile butter chicken and several carne asadas and other dandy Mexican dishes. They stay open until at least midnight. Prices are quite moderate. Phone 335-1777.

The area around Joe T. Gracie's near the Stockyards on North Main Street could be called "crummy" even though renovation looms. You used to get to the dining room through the kitchen with a detour to pull a bottle of beer out of the ice box. It's slicked up some now, but the Tex-Mex food has been stone cold wonderful for 60 years, come July.

Before you drive off when you see the place, check the parking lot. You'll see many a Mercedes and Jag among the pickup trucks. As elsewhere in Texas, if you do business it helps to know that old, dusty pickups sometimes tote folks who could buy and sell a covey of the BMW drivers sometimes termed "All hat, no cattle." At worst, you'll impress any local you meet with a mention of "Joe T's." Phone: 626-4356.