For years, attempts to revitalize downtown Dallas had failed. Not for lack of trying, rather lack of perspective. The replicazzi mentality copied and pasted successful efforts from the inner city to the suburbs; the results were hit and miss for the suburbs but it completely undermined the success of downtown.
It seems Dallas woke up from its decades-long stupor to realize if it wants to be taken seriously as a major city, it will have to develop its inner city with transportation infrastructure, culture and activities. Poof!, light rail has exploded in all directions out to the massive collection of wonder bread suburbs. Poof!, cultural venues have been erected all over the narrow corridor loosely separating downtown from uptown. Poof!, now there is a beautiful park over a stretch of downtown freeway, a welcoming transition to downtown.
When good friends told me they had become the principal investors in Ellen’s, a southern kitchen restaurant in downtown’s West End, I had a visceral reaction, not a good one. West End has seen many ups and downs but my previous trip to the area was forgettable; no people, no activity, a bleak wasteland of lovely, historic brick buildings that were wallflowers to the party going on in shiny, happy Uptown. But after a recent trip to support their new business venture, I’m happy to report the West End is in an upswing. It shouldn’t surprise with Dallas’ center of gravity shift toward downtown, it is clearly a destination now.
Ellen’s offers Southern classics per Chef’s mom, Ellen. Also, they offer breakfast as dinner, which is something I truly enjoy but rarely find in the inner city. They are not participating in the elitist one-up-ism frenzy that has out-priced and killed many a venue in Dallas. They have a niche and they want to stay true to form while being responsive to the wishes of their customers.
Ellen’s is small, perhaps eight 4-tops inside, a few table outside and space for 6 at the bar. As such its cozy and comfortable, however with a L bank of large windows looking over the hustle of West End, it simultaneously feels lively; a place for leisurely conversation without losing connection with the crowd. Dressed mostly in black and white, it feels more like a sophisticated diner; a diner without the truckers, the smell of grease and the post-meal indigestion.
No matter how good your food is, if your service sucks, you aren’t going to last. Service here is seasoned. Our “culinary care” expert, Judge Tracey, had what I consider an innate ability to set expectations, treat people as they want to be treated and juggle the many conflicting requirements one faces when dealing with the general public. Since Ellen’s does not pre-make anything, the wait time for table delivery might be a little longer than a conventional diner. Judge Tracey was very good at managing the wait time. I called her Judge Tracey since she is also studying to be a paralegal. Personally, I think she will consume that career rapidly and then she’ll be looking for more. I’ll be checking up on her.
- Fried Red Tomatoes: Red vs. green tomatoes, not sure why the red but these were delicious. The secret here is the cornmeal crust, which I find infuriating to make. The wrong ingredient proportions or fry time and you’re looking at a hockey puck. Chef knows the secret balance since the crust was grease-less, flavorful and crunchy. A reduced balsamic drizzle enhanced greatly.
- Stuffed Jalapenos: Same flawless cornmeal crust, different target. These are shrimp stuffed but you get to customize how you want the shrimp prepared – blackened, fried or sauteed. We went for blackened but that might have been too much hot. Quite good otherwise. Layers of texture; crunchy crust, toothy pepper and shrimp, soft melted cheese. You’ll need a side of ranch to cool down the pepper.
- Omelet : Customized. I ordered mine with Chorizo, Tomato and Avocado. Massive and delicious. They forgot the avocado but quickly corrected by bringing an entire avocado, sliced thin.
- Manhattan : I wanted a Makers Mark Manhattan – dry, up, no fruit. Chef came to table apologizing for Bartender since the last of Makers Mark had just been consumed. As a fellow Manhattan consumer he recommended a substitute and it was excellent.
Very reasonable; mains average about $10.
I’m thrilled for my friends and I believe they are acting with the smart money mentality, getting in before the sheeple figure out the trend. Good on them.
Ellen’s | 1718 N. Market | Dallas, TX 75202