Chef K., owner of MyGi's Bakery Cafe, shapes cakes into giant Ramen packets, plates tapas, and serves gourmet lunches and dinners. Glittering candy buffets coat tables with sweetness and sparkle, and her specialty cakes personalize birthdays. Chef K. sometimes infuses her food with Caribbean influences, but her skill set spans the globe: students can choose to craft sushi, for instance, or cook their food in a Scandanavian hot spring. Chicago native and Ladha Catering owner Chef Tammy joins Chef K. in spreading the joys of international cooking and entertaining in pallet-expanding classes. Whether teaching a novice to perfectly grill a steak or serving brunch to some hungry weekend patrons, the chefs' passion for food and sense of artistry guide their endeavors.
Owner Donna Smith-Grice describes her father Jimmy Smith as drinking his coffee the way he lived his life: "strong and sweet." Inspired by the wafting aromas of his daily coffee pots drifting up from her childhood memories, she opened her own coffee shop and borrowed his first initial to complete the name of the newly born Lazy J Coffee.
In keeping with its homey origins, the café's interior seems more like an eclectic living room than a restaurant, with well-worn leather couches facing a faux fireplace and a small wooden buffet topped with old-fashioned candleholders. Amidst this domestic comfort, baristas steam mugfulls of the shop's signature grind and specialty espresso drinks or fill cups with fruit smoothies that, like recovered cyborgs, are entirely organic.
The staff at Short Stop Food To Go make meals effortless. Behind the deli counter, the helpful folks build sandwiches and fill to-go cartons with prepared foods. Chefs also cook up an array of foods to take away. Stop in for lunch to grab a hot italian sandwich lined with salami, pepperoni, and housemade tapenade, or cruise the deli cases after work for a casserole to pop into the oven at the home of a hungry, unsuspecting stranger.
To replicate the espresso made at Ascension, you'll need about $20,000 and an exactingly scientific sensibility toward coffee. The Design District shop’s espresso machine, the Synesso Hydra Hybrid, is the first of its kind in the city and is guaranteed to pull single-origin espressos perfectly every time. With the ability to manipulate brewing pressure for a variety of profiles, the machine contains individual heaters and pumps inside a wood-adorned vessel customized to match the coffeehouse's design scheme. Of course, only the best coffee would do with such an impressive machine, so there's no doubt that Ascension's owner, Russell Hayward, brings in top-notch beans. They're culled from all over the world, including Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica, and Rwanda, and roasted locally by Coffee Eiland. Yet, as Entrée Dallas discovered, the relationship between Hayward and his go-to roaster goes beyond business as usual. Both Ascension and Coffee Eiland consider it essential to not only take care of farmers but also the surrounding community—likely a reason why Hayward sits on the board of one of the largest private coffee plantations in Rwanda. Even for the non-coffee drinkers of the world and people who hate feeling alert, Ascension has more than enough to offer. A full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu features elegant meals and small plates, including housemade granola with greek yogurt and local honey, slow-roasted flank steak served atop crostini with tomato and onion jams, and soppressata and fig paninis. When the clock strikes 5 p.m., an in-house sommelier takes over the rustic space, which becomes a full-fledged wine bar complete with artisanal meat and cheese plates.
Most people probably don't know the difference between a crocodile and an alligator. Chef Ivan Pugh, however, could likely tell which was which by taste alone. At The Alligator Cafe, gator is a mainstay of Pugh's menu, found in spoonfuls of gumbo and between slices of french bread. It's not the only item that's imported directly from the bayou. Chef Pugh sources most of his seafood from Louisiana, although he looks to Mississippi for his catfish supply. As for the fixings, they tend to come from local purveyors, including Empire Bakery and Rudolph's Meat Market.
These ingredients combine for Cajun and Creole entrees that have become accustomed to regular press attention—recently, a Dallas Morning News review that praised the "bold, fresh and piquant flavor" in a bowl of gumbo and found the crawfish étouffée "smooth and spicy, its complex heat developing with each spoonful." Diners can spice up their meals by requesting that they be "voodoo'd," which means covered in a mixture of hot peppers or stuffed into a small doll to-go. Abita beer offsets the fiery sauces, as do the cool notes of frequent live acoustic blues performances.
When culinary veteran Jose Ramirez decided to break out on his own, he and his wife both agreed that they needed more family time. So JJ's Cafe is open for breakfast and lunch only, seven days a week. Their honed focus leads to breakfasts in which diners find the popular banana-pecan pancakes. Guests can also get some south-of-the-border flavor without pretending the food they normally eat is Canadian by ordering chorizo with their eggs. Or, they can try migas, scrambled eggs topped with jalapenos and picante sauce. Lunch options include sandwiches and salads, as well as comfort food such as chicken fried steak smothered in country cream gravy. The kitchen's also well known for its grilled biscuits, which sub in for toast on breakfast plates.