As the Dallas farm-to-table movement takes on new energy, chef Graham Dodds is preparing to return to the center of it.
Dodds shared a draft of the menu for his coming-soon restaurant in Oak Cliff, the Mayor's House, which is filled with meaningful dishes from throughout his life, as well as locally farmed ingredients and produce grown on the restaurant grounds.
And around the time the Mayor's House opens in September, Dodds will also debut an updated menu at Celebration, after months of quietly working as a consultant at the city's original vegetable-centric restaurant. Dodds, a leader on the dining scene here since he introduced the local-and-seasonal ethos at Bolsa back in 2008, has been without a restaurant since November, when he left his post overseeing dining at the Statler Hotel.
"There is a common thread," Dodds said of the Mayor's House menu, which ranges from a Scotch egg and rillettes, to Gulf snapper ceviche, pozole verde, wiener schnitzel and fish and chips. "It might seem all over the place as far as the countries represented, but it is personal. They are all things that make sense to me and are close to my heart. And it is small, because the kitchen is small."
The 160-seat restaurant will be located in what was the 1930s home of Dallas mayor George Sergeant. Renovations are underway, including reinforcing a balcony that will overlook the city, and turning the library into family-style dining room with a table for 10 to 12.
Dodds' "farmer friends" have been helping him design gardens surrounding the house, including a raised bed that will be entwined with seating on the patio. (And it is an impressive group of friends, including Jeff Bednar at Profound Microfarms, John Kilburn at Comeback Creek, Rocky Tassione of Tassione Farms and grower Rebecca Allinson.)
"We'll have herbs growing everywhere because we use so many of them and it's great to cut your own," Dodds said. "And we'll have okra, because it looks beautiful and produces a crazy amount. Peppers are always fun, and we'll have stuff like sunchokes and artichokes, because they look so beautiful."
See the new menu here.
The history of the house inspired Dodds to mine his own history for the menu. The Scotch egg is based on ones he ate growing up in England and Scotland, where his parents are from. It will be cooked in the traditional way, with crisp pork sausage wrapping an egg with a barely set yolk with a tangy gribiche and bitter greens salad on the side. A fried shrimp toast appetizer - a crisp of shrimp paste with cream cheese and everything bagel spice - is taken from the shrimp cocktail dish at his former restaurant, Hibiscus. He also plans to ramp up a charcuterie program similar to the one he had there, starting with pate and rillettes.
The ceviche recipe is from a crewmate on a sailboat he worked in the Caribbean for six months, and is brightened with a touch of ginger beer. The cheese board will highlight his favorite Texas dairies, including Revelation Artisan Cheese, Latte Da and Veldhuizen. And perhaps most exciting, he's considering a vegetarian version of weiner schnitzel, made with celery root.
"I want to keep it light," he said. "My fear is dense heavy food."
Meantime, Dodds has been consulting with Celebration, the 48-year-old restaurant on West Lovers Lane, following the death of its founder Ed Lowe in an accident at Big Bend last year. "It's a special place," Dodds said. "After Ed died, we didn't want to change the food right away. But we will make some changes, sticking with the genre of place and the brand, so it's not veering off too much."
A few new dishes will roll out in June, including lemon-braised chicken and berry panna cotta.
But the full update will come in the fall, along with the debut of the Mayor's House. Together the projects, and Dodds himself, providing a kind of through line for farm to table cooking in the city.