What sounds great for lunch – a giant platter of boiled crawfish at the height of the season? A classic French jambon beurre sandwich on a crusty baguette? Maybe a classic Spanish potato-and-egg tortilla – with a glass of crisp, fresh albarino?
All these can be had at the Market, the new food hall at Dallas Farmers Market. So can quesadillas, tamales and tacos. Oysters on the half-shell, lobster rolls, shrimp curry? There, too – along with po boys, banh mis and panini. For your sweet tooth, holy cannolli! Well, even better than cannolli: incredible just-baked Italian cornetti, filled with luscious vanilla cream.
Such bounty has not gone unnoticed by Dallas' grazing class: The place has been lively on weekdays, and positively swarming with food-lovers on weekends. Curiously, the jollity is pretty much confined to daytime, as most of the stalls close at or around dinnertime.
Yes, the lunchtime scene can be a little overwhelming. With 15 places to eat, and at least three more on the way, there's a lot to chew on.
I know: I chewed on it all. Well, not every single dish. But I did sample a thing or three (or seven, or 12) at every eating place except the popcorn stand, which emanated such an off-putting fake-butter aroma that I couldn't force myself to stop there. (What is it even doing here?)
Here's the quick take-away: While not everything is wonderful, there are some real standouts - enough that the Market already feels like a delicious destination. Laili, an appealing little stall with warm staff and an enticing Afghan menu, turns out fabulous mantoo -- floppy, luscious beef-filled pasta dumplings smothered in a bright-tasting tomato sauce with mint and yogurt. Cajun Tailgators serves some of the best boiled crawfish I've had in Big D. The jerk chicken at Caribbean Cabana rocks.
Best of Show goes to Palmieri Cafe, an unassuming espresso booth lovingly run by Italian pastry wiz Corrado Palmieri, who bakes everything right there in the back of the tiny space. If you can only eat one thing in the entire market, make it one of Palmieri's pastries. Follow it with a perfect espresso.
You will go home happy.
Here's the low-down, in alphabetical order, on what's great and what's not at the Market:
Grab a seat at the counter at Cajun Tailgators, sip a crazy frozen daiquiri (I liked one called Zulu Punch swirled with Dreamsicle) and dive into a platter of boiled crawfish - seasoned just right ($7 per pound, while in season only, of course). There's also some fine boudin links, crisply fried boudin balls, and a pretty good crawfish etoufee. If a gent behind the counter tries to sell you on something called a crawfish pistolette, go with it: It's a French roll stuffed with that rich, savory crawfish etoufee and then fried -- curiously good! So is the fried shrimp po boy, a straight-ahead classic. Beignets, large and heavy, were the only disappointment. Most dishes $3.50 to $9; sandwiches $10 to $14.
Homesick Brooklynites will appreciate the Jamaican meat patties at the Plaza family's welcoming stand: The warm pastries filled with seasoned ground beef will take you right back to Flatbush Avenue. Even better is the super-flavorful jerk chicken, served with cheesy mac; rice and peas; and shredded cabbage. If $15 seems a lot for a lunch served in a Styrofoam to-go box, consider sharing it; the portion is generous, and great care seems to be going into the cooking. Curry shrimp ($20), served with the same sides, is terrific, the large, tender prawns attentively cooked with onions and peppers in a gently spiced sauce. The go-to drink at Caribbean Cabana: Ting - Jamaican grapefruit soda.
Does anyone even remember why we liked macarons in the first place? The ones at Chelles, in alarming colors, have all the finesse of Fruity Pebbles and didn't taste very fresh. 6 for $11; 12 for $21.
"Architecturally-inspired gourmet ice cream" is the slogan of this brick-and-mortar iteration of the popular Coolhaus ice cream sandwich truck – which debuted at the Coachella Valley Music Festival in 2009 and has since grown to a fleet of 12, with five trucks in Dallas, five in Southern California and two in New York. How is the ice cream architecturally inspired? The two founders came from the design world, and they fashioned their cookies into a "cool house" for the ice cream. Unfortunately, the ice cream, which is fairly soft, comes splurting out from between the hard cookies when you try to eat it. The flavors listed on the website sound intriguing: candy cap mushroom; foie gras P B & J, gin & tonic. But those I tasted were disappointing: Makers Mark Manhattan reminded me of cough syrup; Chicken and Waffles tasted like a rubber band. Strawberries and Cream was fine, if unremarkable. At $5.50 for a "one story" sandwich or $4 for a scoop, I find it pricey.
Fans of the La Popular Tamale House will find comfort in a plate of El Mero Mero's tamales; owner Vanessa Ruiz is part of the Moreno family that owns La Popular. Here the tamales come three to a plate with rice and beans ($7.50). I asked for one of each of three fillings: pork, spicy pork and chicken - all well made, if not remarkable. Rice and salty beans, seasoned just like chili con carne, and a plastic bag of tortilla chips and salsa are part of the package. Next time I'll try the tacos ($2.50 apiece), which come on hand-made corn or flour tortillas. You can also pick up tamales by the half-dozen ($7.50) or dozen ($13).
Chef and co-owner Afifa Nayeb turns out Afghan dishes with heart and wonderful attention to detail at this charming counter. With the exception of a coarse-textured hummus, I loved nearly everything I tasted at Laili – particularly those saucy, tender mantoo dumplings ($12). Chapli kebabs, exuberantly seasoned pan-fried patties of minced beef and shallots served with house-made Afghan naan and a wonderful spicy red sauce impressed too. That sauce (along with an herb-flecked creamy one) also accompanied a spinach-and-feta-filled bolani. Also known as a gozleme, it's a thin, round flatbread folded around filling and pan-fried. The disposable bamboo plates used at here are so much nicer than Styrofoam. I haven't been by for breakfast, but the "skillets" - eggs, vegetables (and beef or chicken, if you like), served open, in a croissant or (better yet!) in a wrap – sound enticing. Most dishes are $6 to $14. Nayeb and co-owner Nevin Kaya are preparing to open a sit-down Laili in Plano. Closed Monday.
Mudhen Meat and Greens
Arrive at the Farmers Market at dinnertime, and Shannon Wynne's health-focused restaurant just across the parking lot from the food hall is a natural; lunch on the patio can be delightful as well. Mudhen recently earned two stars in a review; executive chef Suki Otsuki has a flair for fish. Meanwhile, if you're considering a postprandial cup of coffee, go for it: Brought to the table in a French press, it's excellent.
I wish the bahn mi sandwiches and Vietnamese tacos featured at this stand from the popular Vietnamese fusion food truck were as tasty as they are good-looking. I liked the Asian barbecue pork in Nammi's banh mi ($8.50) I sampled, but the sandwich's elements didn't come together - the pickled carrots and daikon tucked in along with cucumbers and cilantro wanted more zing, perhaps; the baguette was just OK. Lemongrass chicken tacos ($8 for two) on commercial corn tortillas, also filled with the wan-tasting pickled veg plus cucumber and cilantro, made a similar impression. Rice bowls and noodle bowls (which I didn't sample) are $9 and $9.50 respectively.
Corrado Palmieri's adorable little Palmieri Cafe is shaping up to be the social center of the Market, and it's no wonder: Everything is marvelous there, starting with panini on fabulous bread baked on the spot and filled with good mortadella, San Daniele prosciutto and provolone. I loved the calzone stuffed with chicken, olives, cheese and herbs, and a flaky pastry filled with spinach and ricotta still hot from the oven. The sweets, meanwhile, are truly outstanding - whether one of those fabulous cornetti or a doughnut-like graffa. Best of all is the almondy, vanilla-cream-filled treat known as pasticciotto, an invention, says Palmieri, of his home town, Galatina, in southern Italy's Salento region, in the heel of the boot.
Palmieri happens to make perfect espresso, which you can sip at a table outside on the patio in a real ceramic demitasse, just like in Italy; the drip coffee is excellent, too. Pastries and calzones $3.50 to $4.50; panini $7.50; coffee drinks $2.50 to $4.95.
Rex's Seafood at the Market
The third location of the Lovers Lane original (there's also one in Lakewood) is a super pleasant place to sit at the counter, sip a glass of white wine and indulge in a seafood lunch or snack. The portion of lobster salad filling a $19 lobster roll seemed a little scant (it comes with a side), and I can't say I loved a shrimp verde flatbread - it was thick, oily and heavy. But I look forward to returning for oysters on the half shell at Rex's, as I had some excellent ones not long ago at the Lakewood Rex's, and maybe a shrimp salad. Most dishes are $9 to $22.
Scardello Artisan Cheese
Though it's primarily a cheese counter, this spin-off of the longtime Oak Lawn Avenue shop is a lovely spot to sit, watch the cheesemongers sell their wares and tuck into a proper jambon beurre (ham and butter) sandwich ($8). Served on a crusty Empire baguette and slathered with good butter, it's very close to those you find all over France. It's just the thing with a glass of sauvignon blanc or pinot noir (and the only thing besides cheese I tasted). Scardello sells other sandwiches ($8 to $11), plus salads ($7 to $8 and cheese or charcuterie plates ($12 to $15).
The menu's pretty extensive at this Market outpost of Idefonso Jimenez's Uptown Spanish restaurant, and the small plates that emerge from Si Tapas' tiny kitchen are generally likable, if not always lovable. Standouts sampled on one visit were angulas al ajillo - baby eels no thicker than yarn in chile-spiked garlic sauce flecked with parsley - and tortilla Española, the dense, omelette-like tapas bar potato-and-egg cake served room temperature, and squiggled here with Cabrales cheese sauce. I'd skip the canned-tasting sautéed artichokes in lemon cream sauce. I enjoyed the Spanish Soria-style chorizo and sheep's milk cheeses on an embutidos and queso (cured meats and cheese) plate, but the jamón Serrano was somewhat dried out. It would be nice to offer better bread with the smallish $18 plate than the doughy slices that came to the table on our request. There are some nice Spanish wines on offer to sip with the tapas. I look forward to trying the gazpacho once we're in tomato season, as Jimenez's version that I tasted some years ago when I reviewed the Uptown place was very good.
Stocks and Bondy
Chef Joanne Bondy's counter – Stocks and Bondy – sells mostly soups, beef stocks and chicken stocks to take home (which is just what I did); you can also get them hot to eat there Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Her smooth, velvety, rich lobster bisque was good enough to serve at a dinner party; proper Texas red chili had just the right heat and deep, beefy flavor. I liked but didn't love the chicken noodle soup, whose chickeny flavor was overshadowed somewhat by herbs. There's also a tomato-forward version of lamb bolognese (pasta sauce), a minestrone that could use a bit more body and a couple I didn't get to taste. I did grab a couple slices of beautifully homey-looking coconut cake and chocolate layer cake ($5.50 each) - moist and luscious both, but neither benefited by their apparent time in a fridge. Soups are $5 to $8 for 16 ounces, $10 to $16 for 32 ounces.
Taqueria La Ventana
The Market spinoff of the Uptown original Taqueria La Ventana has ample seating and a cool vibe, but I wish I loved the tacos more; the corn tortillas must have lost something in the reheating. The fillings I tasted - pork done pastor-style, carnitas, beef barbacoa and suadero - were unremarkable; the baby greens used for an $8 salad served on foil on a metal tray were wilted. Tacos $1.95 each.