My wife had to head to Dallas for work and I occasionally have the freedom of mobility to work wherever I can get online and so I accompanied her on the journey. I went there for the first time in October of last year, had a great time, and so I greatly looked forward to visiting again. Even at it’s coldest, it’s warmer than Maine at any given moment and the folks there tend to be friendly, accommodating and wonderfully hospitable in a way that, while lovely, comes close to making diehard New Englander’s uncomfortable.
yHere I offer few quick notes and insights in case you’re considering visiting the Dallas – Fort Worth region in the near future:My idea of a good vacation, or at least a nice visit to a spot I don’t otherwise often get to, is walking for miles—25k – 35k steps in exercise tech jargon—and eating at the best burger, barbecue or wings places in town. I enjoy high end cuisine and all that, but I like well made peasant food a hell of a lot more. The walking is for seeing sights and meeting people, sure, but also for walking off a fraction of the damage I inevitably do to my body by way of caloric intake. The area didn’t disappoint by way of food offerings. And while the whole area is woefully un-walkable—if you really want to explore you need to take a car or cab to get from place to place—it’s possible to see a lot by foot if you plan your days right.
Here I offer few quick notes and insights in case you’re considering visiting the Dallas – Fort Worth region in the near future and like the same types of things that I do:
- Size: We all know that Texas is huge, but if you’re a Mainer and you think of clustered cities, you might think Lewiston/Auburn. You can drive through both in 10 to 15 minutes. If your’e in Downtown Dallas and trying to drive to the outer edge of Fort Worth, you’re talking 45 minutes to an hour. It’s like driving from Portland to Portsmouth, NH, but you’ve got to take a handful of different highways rather than staying on one for a straight shot.
- Odom’s Bar-B-Que: My wife had the chopped beef and I had the ribs. Dallas catches a lot of hell for not being great at BBQ, but Odom’s is a well-regarded exception. Apparently the proprietor has a reputation for being prickly if you properly adhere the ordering process. Fortunately the process is pretty simple and I appreciate a place that has a protocol, especially when it is intended to make things run smoothly. The food, which also included ranch baked beans and potato salad, was fantastic and the vibe was pretty awesome. Based on a number of bland experiences, I tend to be skeptical of BBQ spots that feel new, slick and corporate. Odom’s has been there for a decades and it feels really lived in. There is a sign on the wall that advertises that guns and drugs aren’t allowed, and many more that reveal that meddling riffraff will be shot. It’s got a real neighborhood feel. The television was playing the South Carolina returns on TV and a drunk guy was standing in the middle of the spot delivering a boisterous soliloquy about the fate of social security. The proprietor, too, was slightly intimidating up front but ended up calling my wife “sweetheart” when she picked up our order and so all in all we felt victorious.
- More Food: There is a spot called Wing Bucket in Downtown Dallas and it looks like the sort of weird corporate chain I’d otherwise be adverse to but has pretty tasty (and substantially sized) chicken wings. Babe’s Chicken Dinner House has a handful of locations and we went to the one in Garland, which also has great fried chicken served in bountiful piles. You get a heap of chicken and unlimited sides (gravy, green beans, mashed potatoes, and creamed corn) for $12. The only weird thing is that there is an odd intermission during which the servers, awkward and clearly embarrassed, do a line dance to a country song played over the PA. Most patrons seem to ignore the ordeal. At The Angry Dog in Deep Ellum, we had incredible nachos and beautifully messy signature burgers and were surrounded by a good-spirited late night crowd of drunks while serenaded by Tupac and Warren G. Very highly recommended.
- High + Tight Barber Shop [and Speakeasy]: “I was bummed to leave Maine without a fresh haircut. I think I’ve told this story before, but I moved to Maine from a Boston suburb with my family when I was 5 and my father would drive us back to Everett for haircuts when I was a kid. There was little to no barber culture in Maine in the 80s and, turned off by that, he preferred we go to Remo to get it done. One time—no joke—we went to a place in Western Maine to get a haircut and he stopped the barber halfway through and left. I saw this happen. So on the way back from going to see Remo, we’d go to Santoro’s in Saugus for an “Italian” (“Green peppers on a hotdog bun is not an Italian,” was my Dad’s assessment of the Maine interpretation of the sandwich). An old Italian would cut my hair and then we’d eat an Italian and my Dad would play Patsy Cline on the tape deck and bitch about the traffic. Anyway, back to Dallas. All this is to say I regretted not getting a haircut before we headed South. No worries, though, as barbary is a big deal there and there’s this great shop in the Deep Ellum neighborhood that I visited the last time I was in town. These dudes are real wizards. Great conversations and masterful and artistic cuts. Complimentary beers while you wait. And there’s a speakeasy out back. It’s hard to believe that they opened just under a year ago. And there’s a speakeasy out back where you can grab a cocktail and see bands play. In corporate pod person jargon, it’s a win-win-win.
- Deep Ellum: Speaking of this neighborhood, it’s about a half hour walk from Downtown and it’s plastered with bars, music, casual restaurants and other “grownup” things to do. It sounds like the spot has gone through a number of changes over a pretty short period of time. My business partner lived in Dallas a number of years ago and said this area had been in disarray and going through pretty tough times then. I talked with a woman at a conference last time I was in town and she’d said that with the recent thrust of gentrification, some club and bar owners she’d known had been pushed out in an effort to make way for an influx of new venues. My barber said that the neighborhood had historically been black and so locally it has some of the longest standing history with regard to music and entertainment. He said it housed jazz and blues venues that you couldn’t find elsewhere in town and so it became an entertainment destination. What I know for sure is the the last time I was here I saw a mind-bending burlesque performance put on by Deadly Sins Burlesque and Sideshow at Wit’s End (here’s a NSFW slide show of another of their performances), and a great metal show at a venue of which I can’t recall the name. I also saw a collective of DJs smoke a handful of joints and spin 90s hiphop on the roof of a bar. It has a diverse and eclectic series of offerings, and a diverse bunch of folks flood the streets on the weekend. Should you visit, it’s well worth exploring while keeping an open mind and appetite for whatever you end up stumbling upon.
- Bishop Arts District: This spot is worth a walk around. They have some decent shops and boutiques, though many of its offerings feel like they’re trying to be hipper they actually are at this point. A lot of the art and related goods presented at the boutiques feel half-baked. I’m always down a record store, a cold brew and a macaroon, but I’ll take a taco out of a tiny shack over that any day. I’m sad that I went on a full stomach because there were a few taco spots with lines half a block long, and the same went for Emporium Pies. While it looks like it’s on the way to happening regardless, if every indigenous business and eatery gets replaced with, say, a cupcake shop (or some other precious offering), this place is going to be incredibly boring. (As a Portlander I can speak to this with some degree of lived experience.)
- Dallas World Aquarium: The aquarium was a very pleasant surprise. While it features a great deal of sea life and an underwater viewing tunnel (which remains a terrifying prospect ever since I saw Jaws III as a super little kid), it offers an immersive habitat for a number of mammals as well. I hope you get to, as I did, watch fellow attendees get incredibly uncomfortable when they see the moneys screw. If you are against monkey screwing, though, rest assured: there are plenty of other things to see including giant crabs, sloths, anteaters, majestic sea horses, and other monkeys occupied with things other than screwing.
- 11/22/63: Poor Dallas can’t escape it’s relationship with the Kennedy Assassination. It’s so engrained in the city’s mythology that the last time I was visited the first thing a cab driver asked was, “So do you want to see where Kennedy was killed?” Nearly every antique store carries at least one copy of the Warren Commission Report for sale and a newspaper declaring the tragedy on its cover. Merely by coincidence I happen to be reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63, and since part of its plot leans on the assassination, a large part of the book takes place both in Dallas and the greater Dallas region. While coincidental, it was great to be able to check out some of the landmarks mentioned in the novel while in town. Watching folks eagerly and enthusiastic selfies in front of where the president’s brains were shot out of his head can strike as gauche and disheartening, but, like I said, it’s an association the region will never be able to shake.
- Antiques: Previously unaware this was the case, I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the DFW region is crawling with antique stores and flea markets. I’ve mentioned my affinity for antique stores in the past, which is at once sort of embarrassing but also not surprising considering I was raised in Cornish, where I believe there is — without exaggeration — an antique store for every 80 people. Yesterday, in fact, I made a cheap joke about my business partner’s “manhood” and without missing a beat he asked how my antiquing was going. Well played, friend. A few of the many amazing antique shops we visited over the past few days included both of Lula’s locations, Lonestar Antiques, Bedford Antiques, Lost Antiques, and many others. Combined, I think we walked a half million square feet of showrooms. Quick Observations: Furniture is in much, much better shape than what you typically find in Maine and a radical fraction of the price. I have no idea how much shipping across country would cost, though. Vintage magazines, which I am a huge fan of, are moderately priced. A little higher than in Maine but not by much. And where in Maine you mostly find just old issues of Time and sometimes Look, as well as the occasional cache of old Playboys, there appeared to be a bit more variety (Penthouse!) I left with a handful of books, and was tempted to buy an issue of Texas Girl, a very short-lived 70s nudie magazine that featured an interview with Willie Nelson but ended up pulling out last minute.
- Los Tejanos and Lost Cause: At one of the many shops (I can’t remember which at this point), I bought Jack Jackson’s 1981 graphic novel about the plight of the Tejanos who, after fighting for Texas independence, found themselves exiled by Mexico and shortchanged by the Anglos in Texas. Only pages in I fell in love with the book, and immediately thought to contact Jackson immediately to get his thoughts on Donald Trump’s ascent [particularly his being embraced by white supremacists]. I was saddened to realize I am a decade late, as Jackson died in 2006. Of particular note (especially with regard to offering historical context to the GOP frontrunner) is one of the quotes the book opens with, which comes from pamphleteer Reuben Potter, who remarked in 1878 that “in no people are race antipathies liable to be more bigoted and mean than in those of Anglo-Saxan blood; and of the under strata of that breed the low American is perhaps the worst example.”
Enjoy your exploration and please feel free to let me know all the ways I’m wrong and everything I left out.