Photos in this blog appear courtesy of Christian Eggers, unless otherwise stated.
It has been 1 year, 1 month, and 2 weeks since I blogged last. I’m lame.
Actually, I’m just incredibly busy. FRANK’s momentum has skyrocketed (along with its popularity…we’ve got almost 8,000 people on our list now) and it has kept me so busy I’ve barely had time to breathe, let alone blog. This summer, a feature article written about us in Edible Dallas magazine was nominated for an Eddy Award! (This is a nation-wide award recognizing superior journalism from the entire network of Edible magazines.)
Also, the Dallas Observer did a feature article on us as part of their series on counter-culture in Dallas. Their brand-new food editor, Beth Rankin, joined our table for a night and we had such a great time meeting her. Beth is the new generation of food writer. Less critic, and more proponent. Championing local, sustainable foods and chefs working in unconventional ways. Celebrating the food scene rather than tearing it apart. Encouraging folks to get out and explore new food concepts. I think Dallas readers will voraciously digest her work!
But today I’m FINALLY carving out a little time to write about our latest dinner series: Side B. Before we have to start working on our NEXT dinner series!
Last year (when I wasn’t blogging at all), Jennie proposed a unique FRANK theme. “Side A,” where every course was inspired by a song. There’s no shortage of songs that reference food, so a menu came together pretty quickly, and the audience LOVED it. (Of course, the songs accompanied the dinner.) Over the course of the year that followed, “Side B” became the single-most requested encore theme by our return diners.
So in June of 2016, we did Side B. Creating a menu from music requires a bit more time than creating a menu based on a cuisine or an ingredient. First of all, we have to compile a list of songs that reference food or ingredients, either literally or metaphorically, but then we have to curate that list to only include songs we’d want to play during dinner. While there were lots of ideas sparked by Nina Simone’s epic “Strange Fruit,” the context of the song is horrific and disturbing to those who know it, and for those who don’t, the pace of the song would drag down the energy of a communal table even if you WEREN’T listening to its tragic words.
After compiling our list of curated songs, then it was time to create a menu based on them. Jennie and Adrien and I each individually dreamed up our own 6 course menu based on the list, and we came together one afternoon to compare menus and extrapolate our master FRANK menu from them. Turns out, there was a lot of crossover in our menus, so the main menu came together rapidly.
What was a bit stunning to us AFTER we created the menu, was that it was predominantly classic foods from the American South. We didn’t intend for that to happen. Often, our menus bounce around the globe from course to course, and we certainly expected that to be the case since our source of inspiration was song lyrics from artists as disparate as Snoop Dog, Willie Nelson, David Bowie, Rufus Wainwright, Led Zeppelin, and Peaches. We assumed the menu would be wildly whimsical and somewhat schizophrenic. But we took a breath and stepped back and looked at it…and it was like a little roadtrip from Charleston to New Orleans.
How is that possible?
Thinking about it more deeply, I’m not sure it’s all that strange. Southern cuisine…the only truly iconic, identifiable, legendary cuisine to come out of the US (though some will argue with me on that)…has its roots in Africa. In the 18th and 19th centuries, virtually every kitchen in this country was powered by African slaves, and later, the free descendants of African slaves. Their traditions and ingredients and techniques are the backbone of Southern cooking.
Similarly, their musical traditions formed the backbone of our music traditions in this country…influenced, of course, by folk music traditions of other immigrant populations, just as those same populations left their mark on our cuisine. And American music stretched out its influential fingers to the rest of the world, inspiring even the great rock bands to come out of the UK. But it all traces its roots back to the cultural influence of the slaves.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that, although Peaches and Robert Plant and Ella Fitzgerald and Adam Levine inspired the menu, it all came back to the American South.
To start, what better than a deviled egg? I can remember, as a kid, eating no less than 6 deviled eggs at a time at church potlucks…barely chewing them as I crammed them in. I LOVED deviled eggs. Somewhere along the line, I lost touch with them…as did lots of folks in this country…until a resurgence in popularity over the past few years. Now you see them as starters in even the trendiest and most-chic of restaurants. And that’s a good thing.
Ours was decidedly NOT traditional. Rather than basing the filling of the deviled egg on the yolk itself, we stuffed ours with raw beef, taking inspiration from Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s lyric “Baby, I like it raw!” (Though he decidedly was NOT talking about beef.) We used tenderloin from the Beeman Ranch…an incredible Texas family ranch that’s producing the ONLY legally-certified Akaushi beef in the US. Akaushi (properly pronounced “ah-kah-OO-shee”) translates from the Japanese as, simply, “red cow” and is one of 4 heritage breeds of cattle that can legally be called “Wagyu.” You see that word a lot on menus these days, particularly in reference to burgers. Sadly, when you see “Wagyu burgers” being advertised, it’s very rarely 100% certified Wagyu beef. If it was, that burger would be $30. TRUE Wagyu beef is breathtakingly expensive because of the stringent genetic and animal husbandry requirements the Japanese government places upon that label. The cattle must be pure-bred, one of the 4 approved breeds, DNA-tested, and trace its heritage back to established family lines. Their diet is strictly designated…some are fed all the beer they want to drink, and the spent-grain leftover from beer and whiskey making, and get several hours of massage every day. Most American ranchers would rather just raise the classic Angus cattle and not worry with the beer and the massages…but the Beeman family adheres to the strict standards of the Japanese government, and are the ONLY ranch in the US that can legally market Akaushi beef. The quality is extraordinary. And it’s really a crime to apply any heat to their tenderloin at all.
I admit…for the majority of my life I was terrified of the idea of raw meat. Growing up, ground beef and brisket were pretty much the only beef I ever ate, and brisket is too tough to eat raw, and ground beef from the grocery store will surely kill you if not cooked to well-done. I remember the anxiety I felt the first time I was pressured into eating steak tartare. It was in Europe on a writer’s press trip. The other writers on the trip were far more cultured than I, and when the tartare came to the table, they were all drooling with excitement. I tried to excuse myself to the bathroom, but they saved me a portion when I returned. By that time, they had all finished and were moaning about how good it was, and waiting see what I thought…so discreetly slipping it into my napkin wasn’t an option. Trembling, I forked the pile of little raw cubes into my mouth…and fell in love. It was nothing like I expected. Succulent, savory, tender. Like my first oyster (which happened on MasterChef and I was equally terrified of), I’ve been in love ever since. But I’ve always vehemently resisted putting tartare on the menu at FRANK because I assumed the majority of the public felt the same way about raw beef that I did. And about half our diners did confess that it was the first tartare they’d ever eaten. But MANY people try things for the first time at FRANK that they’ve always been scared of. And the tartare deviled egg was a huge hit.
If you’ve eaten at FRANK or read my blogs, you know that our signature “63.5 degree egg” almost always makes an appearance on our menus. For this dinner, we just took the creamy, custardy yolk from the slow-poached egg and bathed the tiny beef cubes in it, along with some caper, horseradish, raw shallot, and baby pickles. It was a bite for the history books. We actually thought we had invented the steak-tartare deviled egg, though it turns out some other restaurants have done it before. But it sure was a great moment when we came up with it! We picked a song from our beloved Dallas artist The Reverend Horton Heat to accompany Ol’ Dirty Bastard: “Eat a steak, eat a steak, eat a big ol’ steer…” And we also loved the funny song “Ham and Eggs” from Tribe Called Quest, but there was no ham yet in our vision of the tartare deviled egg. So we got a country ham from our friends at Laraland Farms, and no ordinary ham, at that. The folks at Laraland raise a rare heritage breed of pig called Red Wattle, which has a long and colorful history in the US, and is the single most delicious pig we have on this planet. We cubed up the ham, dehydrated it in the oven, and processed it until it was the texture of salt. We used this to season the egg, so we were able to play, “I don’t eat no ham and eggs cuz they’re high in cholesterooooooool” as the guests chuckled, licking their lips. It was finished with chive and lemon zest. It was an epic deviled egg, to say the least.
For the salad course, we KNEW we had to serve a peach salad. Not only are there tons of songs that reference peaches, it’s peach season in Texas right now, and forgive me if you live in Georgia, but the best peaches in the country are raised right here! Mona at Lola’s Local Market in Melissa gave us the first crop of peaches from her Uncle Ron, and they were a huge hit! (By the way, don’t ever put peaches in the refrigerator, or buy them at any place that has them refrigerated. When a peach drops below about 50 degrees and it’s not dead-ripe, it develops a fuzzy, chunky texture on the inside known as “wooly peach.” The flavor can still be great, but it’s not pleasurable to eat. Leave your peaches on the countertop until they are soft, then eat them immediately! It’s really, REALLY hard for a restaurant to serve properly-ripe peaches, because the day they ripen they have to be served…within 24 hours, they’ll be too soft to serve. This is why you rarely see peaches on menus!)
There’s NO shortage of “peach” songs, and we probably could have played 10 or more for this course, but we picked Snoop Dog’s “Peaches and Cream,” (along with Beck’s song of the same title), Prince’s “Peach,” and a cute song from In the Valley Below called “Peaches.” And, of course, we had to play a song from one of our VERY favorite artists, who goes by the name Peaches. If you don’t know Peaches, you probably should. This Canadian music teacher-turned-artist is absolutely insane, in the best way possible. Her songs tend to be pretty raunchy, and she loves blurring the lines of gender, beauty, and sexuality, but her music is just so darn fun! One of our favorite songs of hers is “F–k the Pain Away,” and the lyrics are wayyy to explicit to post here, but check out this film school student’s graduation project where he edited Miss Piggy clips to perfectly fit the lyrics. It’s one of the greatest things ever. I love, love, LOVE Peaches. (Thanks, Justin, for being the first person to introduce me to her music. I became so much cooler because of that!)
The peaches and cream salad scored a lot of votes…many of which were, surprisingly, from men who confessed that they normally despise salads. And salads are so often a throw-away course on a tasting menu. Five ingredients tossed together with a bold dressing. Not ours! In addition to the obligatory fresh peaches and creme fraiche, we had spicy arugula, some prosciutto, thinly shaved cucumber, fresh basil, local plum tomatoes from Mona, Swiss chard stems, toasted pumpkin, chia, and hemp seeds for incredible crunch and a lingering, nutty-sesame flavor, and dressed with a tarragon lime vinaigrette. And, finally, celery. Often a throwaway ingredient in salads, celery absolutely shines when paired with peaches. The contrasting texture and flavor is TO DIE FOR. Next time it’s peach season in your area, make yourself a salad of celery and peaches. It’ll blow your mind.
And while we’re talking seasonality…NEVER buy peaches outside your local peach season. (In Texas that’s mid June through mid July.) You’ll normally find them in your grocery store year-round, but when you start seeing TONS of them, that’s usually when they’re in season locally. Outside peach season, those peaches are being shipped in from halfway across the globe, they have to be picked well before they ripen, and they have to be kept refrigerated during transport, which ruins their texture. Peaches are downright nasty out of season. So enjoy them indulgently when they’re fresh and local, and don’t touch them the rest of the year. (That will make your first bite of the first peach of the season that much more orgasmic!)
Next up was a course inspired by Bob Dylan’s song “Country Pie.” (Again, not sure he was REALLY singing about actual pie.) There are tons of songs about pie. Last year we used “American Pie” for the dessert course, and served a knock-out cast iron skillet apple pie, served warm with homemade cinnamon ice cream and salted caramel sauce, so this year we figured we’d use a pie song for a savory course. This one was simple in terms of the number of ingredients, but spectacular in flavor. It won “best course of the night” virtually every night of the 3-week run. A goat, wild mushroom, and allium pie with homemade goat cheese and citrus herb sauce. Americans don’t eat enough goat meat. It’s delicious. (In the right hands. I spent 2 weeks every summer at church camp in deep West Texas, on a goat farm, and we had barbecued goat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Ugh!)
Our pie filling was ground goat belly from an extraordinary local farm, Triple J. The Jasso family have a unique business model for a small family farm. For most small farms, the animals that are raised there have to be taken off the farm to be sent to a finishing farm, or to the processing facility. (ie, slaughterhouse) This means a VERY scary ride on an 18-wheeler or a train to get to the facility, which is sometimes several states away. The Jassos go to extraordinary expense to maintain a USDA-inspected processing facility right there on their small family farm…meaning their animals spend their entire lives in the pasture and never get herded onto a scary truck. You can pick your animal directly from the pasture if you’re buying a whole one! They offer goat, lamb, beef, and chicken. It’s an extraordinary local resource for the Dallas area.
In addition to the goat, we included tons of members of the allium family…the group of vegetables that includes onions, garlic, shallots, leeks, chives, etc. (This allowed us to play Marvin Gaye’s fun “The Onion Song.”) And to match the bold flavors of the alliums and goat, we added wild mushrooms! It was such a wet early summer here in Dallas that we had chanterelles exploding all over the place! I picked no less than 10 pounds within a couple of miles of my house. And not no measly, bug-eaten, floppy chanties. Big, firm, beautiful, pristine, apricot-smelling chanterelles, the kind you normally find in the Pacific Northwest! I honestly think chanterelles have become my favorite wild mushroom. The flavor is incomparable. A perfect foil for bold-flavored goat!
The pie filling was wrapped in an herbed crust made with lard. NOTHING…and I mean nothing…beats lard as a cooking fat. But we don’t use it in this country any more, which is kind of weird considering the prevalence of butter pastries. Lard has less cholesterol, less saturated fat, and more healthy monounsaturated fat than butter. (ie…lard is BETTER for you than butter.) My lard pastry recipe takes less than 5 minutes to make, unlike a lengthy butter pastry, which involves careful cutting of butter into the flour and lengthy chilling times. But it’s still impossibly flaky and richer than a butter crust, but with LESS overall fat. And while we’re talking about lard, DO NOT go to your normal grocery store to get it. The only lard sold in conventional grocery stores has been hydrogenated to ensure it remains solid at room temperature. That turns it into a trans fat, and changes its baking properties at the same time. Go to your local Latin American market, where you’ll find freshly-rendered lard next to the pork rinds/chicharones. It may be semi- or entirely liquid. That’s fine. That’s the good stuff. It will solidify in your fridge, but you can leave it on the counter for several days at room temp. Bacon fat works the same way as lard and can be substituted, but remember that it has a distinctive smokey flavor, as well as salt, so omit some salt in a recipe where you’re subbing bacon fat for lard or unsalted butter.
We served the pie with homemade goat cheese using raw milk I got from a wonderful local goat farm. I won’t say which one, because they may or may not be licensed by the state to sell raw milk to the public. You can get legal raw goat’s milk from either Latte Da Dairy in Flower Mound (but their customer list is VERY long, so you may only be able to buy if they’re in full milking season), or from the Hidden Valley Creamery in Argyle. Chevre (French-style goat cheese) is scorned by many people because of it’s bold flavor, but if you make it yourself, fresh, it’s downright divine. (SO many people at the table said they hated goat cheese, but loved ours.) Making chevre, or fresh goat cheese, is astonishingly easy, provided you have mesophilic cheese culture, rennet, a thermometer, and some cheesecloth. Click HERE for the recipe.
And to finish off the pie, Adrien made a “frim fram” sauce. He’s known for doing these fresh herb sauces, versions of which are found in many cuisines around the world, from the chimichurries of Argentina to the Salsa Verdes of Italy and Spain. You take tons of fresh green herbs…cilantro, parsley, basil, mint, anything you have, and puree them (stems and all!) with fresh alliums (garlic and shallot at the least), good olive oil, and some type of acid (citrus, vinegar, wine, or a combo) and you get this intensely-bright flavored puree. The jazz classic standard “Frim Fram Sauce” seemed as good a fit as any, and we picked the Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald version, though everyone and their dog has recorded it.
This course was one of my favorite things we’ve EVER made at FRANK. The flavor was just incredible. Rich and bold from the goat, chanterelles, and alliums. An impossibly flaky, rich, savory crust with herbs baked into it, topped with crispy puffed wild rice. Then the rich, tangy cheese, and the bright herb sauce to cut through the richness of everything. Simple food, not that many ingredients, and very rustic in presentation. But soul-filling. And super local. Click HERE for the full goat pie recipe.
After such a rich dish, the palate needed a break, so we made a really nice, tart, bright sorbet of clementine and tangerine juice (a la “Tangerine” by Led Zeppelin, and “Clementine” by our friend Sarah Jaffe. Look that song up, it’s one of the loveliest I’ve heard in a long time, and if you don’t know Sarah Jaffe, you need to!) When we tasted the base, it was lovely and tangy and sweet…but missing something. Normally, the answer to that question in the professional kitchen is “It’s missing acid,” but this was ALL acid. We added some cayenne pepper for a bit of heat, and that did it! We served the sorbet with a pourover of tequila. (Not necessarily classically Southern, but much enjoyed in the South in modern times!) It was topped with some lime zest and a dash of chili salt. Like the yummiest margarita ever!
For the main attraction, we served up a punchy jambalaya, from the classic New Orleans song by the same name. It’s been covered by everyone from The Carpenters to Elvis, but Hank Williams made it famous. (Written, however, by an obscure artist named Moon Mullican, whose version is still the best!) Traditionally, jambalaya is a dish of rice with sausage and chicken, with its roots VERY firmly in African culinary tradition, and influenced by the cuisines of Spain and France…the cultural melange that created both Cajun and Creole cuisines. We decided to also add some crawfish to the jambalaya, since it’s in season right now, and it let us play Elvis’s fun little song “Crawfish.”
Despite the crawfish, the local organic chicken, and the smoked Andouille sausage, the most expensive ingredient in the dish wasn’t the meat…it was the rice!! Back during the Plantation era, a type of aromatic rice was being grown in the Carolinas that became so popular in the kitchens of Europe that it became known as “Carolina Gold” in the same way that oil is referred to as “Black Gold.” Back then, the trade routes from Asia weren’t as well established as the trans-Pacific crossing, so the exotic aromatic rices (Basmati and Jasmine) from the East were far too expensive, so the aromatic rice from the Colonies was in high demand. This rice was aged for 2-3 years in barrels with laurel leaves (a relative of the bay leaf) which perfumed it delicately. But as the US agriculture system began to industrialize after first World War, Carolina Gold fell out of favor with both farmers AND chefs. Cheaper Jasmine and Basmati rice was coming plentifully out of the East, and because Carolina Gold was an old heirloom variety, newer improved varieties could produce MORE rice per acre of farmland, AND it could go to market without being aged for several years first. So…the rice went extinct. A few seeds were saved in the seed banks of the South Carolina ag extension service. Visionary chef and restaurateur Glenn Roberts rediscovered the rice while researching America’s culinary history, and convinced a handful of farms in South Carolina to begin raising the rice again. His unique company Anson Mills is now one of the only sources for the rice, and it comes at a pretty penny! $80 for 10 pounds. Plus expedited shipping, as the rice needs to be kept refrigerated or frozen to preserve its aroma and quality. One of the cool things about Carolina Gold is its flexible starch profile. Some rices, particularly short grain, are excellent for producing creamy rice dishes like risotto. Some, like the long grain, are good for producing sticky, clumping rice. And some of the extra-long grain varieties can produce fluffy, individually separate grains that don’t stick together…perfect for serving rice on its own as a side dish. Carolina Gold can do it all, depending on your preparation method.
Jambalaya is traditionally made with long-grain rice that sort of clumps together after cooking. But since Carolina Gold is so flexible, Jennie chose to make the jambalaya in a style similar to risotto, coaxing out the starch to yield a creamy, smooth texture. We had more than 1 diner with roots in Louisiana say, “Don’t ever tell my mom this, but that was the best jambalaya ever!” Virtually all were pleasantly surprised by the departure in texture. Jambalayas can be somewhat dry. Not ours! Big bold flavors from fire-charred red peppers and roasted tomatoes, and plenty of heat from traditional Creole spices.
To accent the jambalaya, give diversity to the dish with added veggies, and stick within Southern tradition, we garnished it with succotash…a Southern classic “hash” of corn and fresh beans or peas. Mona provided us with tons of farm-fresh veggies from near McKinney to make this glorious succotash which included speckled butter beans and cream peas, sweet corn, as well as okra…that maligned African vegetable that can be so slimy you can’t even fork it. That slime was put to good use thickening gumbos in Cajun tradition. (Creole gumbos were traditionally thickened with filé, the ground up leaves of the sassafras tree.) For more on the difference between Cajun and Creole cuisine, which are NOT the same, read my blog on our New Orleans dinner. To minimize the sliminess of okra, slice it and soak it in vinegar for 30 minutes. Then rinse well in a colander, as the slime will come out like crazy. After rinsing, cook in small batches in a VERY hot pan, and the slime (officially called “mucilage”) will all come out and the moisture will evaporate, leaving the vegetable perfectly cooked and slime-free. High heat and small batches are the key, in addition to that vinegar soak, which lightly seasons the okra and makes it delicious! Of course, we played that Deee-lite classic “Groove is in the Heart” with the lyric “My supper dish, my succotash wish!” I may or may not have performed that line to our audience. There may or may not have been requests for me to perform the full song.
Dessert at FRANK is usually a fairly grand affair, but we decided to pull the songs “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” by Rufus Wainwright (one of my favorite singer-songwriters) and Kelis’s “Milkshake” and do something out of the ordinary…a tobacco-infused chocolate-milk milkshake! Folks rarely cook with tobacco, even though its flavor can be used in very unique and delicious ways. I’ve had tobacco ice cream at Uchiko in Austin, and a tobacco and peach julep at Ida Claire in Addison (which you MUST check out if you live in Dallas!), so we decided to head the tobacco route.
HOWEVER…tobacco contains a toxin that is absolutely deadly in the right dosage. That toxin is a stimulant called nicotine, which is the 2nd most popular recreational drug in the country behind ethyl alcohol (ie…booze.) When you smoke or chew tobacco, you only absorb some of this nicotine. But when you actually EAT tobacco, your digestive tract pulls considerably more nicotine than you’d otherwise get from smoking or chewing, making it dangerous to eat tobacco unless you’re being careful about the dosage. I’ve published a blog backed up by studies from the National Institutes of Health that may well be one of the only solid references on the internet about cooking with tobacco. Click here to read it.
We turned the tobacco chocolate ice cream into a milkshake with bourbon (so we could play Willie’s “Whiskey River,”) and made it a DIRTY milkshake by adding some crunchy ingredients that resembled ashes (in keeping with the cigarette theme, plus that allowed us to play Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes”): toasted brownie crumble, toasted hazelnuts, some freeze dried berries, and a few pop rocks (for good measure and surprise). And to finish, we piped in apple wood smoke in the top section of the mason jar we served it in, so that as diners opened the lid, the smoke came out:
The diners got SUCH a kick out of the presentation, and while the dessert wasn’t quite as substantial or complex as a typical FRANK dessert, it was a huge hit regardless. (The nicotine content in the milkshake made your tongue tingle!) And after such a huge, rich meal, a country milkshake was the perfect thing to cap it off.
We have a handful of diners that fill last-minute cancellations for us, and have dined at dozens of our dinners. We always ask them, “How did this fare with previous menus?” See, restaurants normally have largely-static menus. Some items may change 3 or 4 times a year with the seasons…but for the most party, they cook the same thing night after night, week after week, month after month. (With maybe a few specials or a tasting menu based on their regular menu thrown in for variety.) They get to perfect their dishes based on the feedback from hundreds of diners across hundreds of days. At FRANK, our menu changes completely every single time we open, and we haven’t repeated a dish in 4 years. Which is why we’re always a little nervous, since we’re always a brand new restaurant each time we open. So we’re eager to hear from these “regulars,” most of whom have eaten every single menu over the past few years. We often hear, “Oh, this one I think was my favorite.” But we heard that SO many times with this menu, with such vehemence, that we may have crowned a new all-time-favorite FRANK. Certainly, the music theme had much to do with it. But like Jennie says, Music and Food are One. They’re each composed carefully of different flavors, different harmonies, different textures, different voices. Creating a dish is like writing a song. No wonder they go so well together…