Category Archives: Plano

California Pizza Kitchen: the Next Chapter

Once upon a time, when I was  starving college student, I worked at the mall. Upon clocking out for my 30 minute lunch break, my M.O. was to pick my sad granola bar from my purse or maybe grab a kids meal from Chik-fil-a (in my defense, it did come with a fun toy), because we all know $128 text books don’t pay for themselves. But once a month or so, when I was feeling particularly saucy, I would splurge and spring for a BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad from California Pizza Kitchen. I’m pretty sure in some instances that salad was the highlight of my month.

Admittedly, I haven’t visited California Pizza Kitchen much since my mall days ended. No real reason; I guess I just sort of forgot about it. Fast forward double-digit years: I recently revisited California Pizza Kitchen at their Willow Bend location to check out their new “Next Chapter” menu. I was excited to revisit an old favorite (but also anxious to see if they still served my coveted salad), and to see what their new menu was all about. I won’t make you wait in suspense: CPK did indeed still have my beloved salad along with several other familiar salad selections. The pasta and pizza selection also appeared relatively unchanged, with classic offerings like the Original BBQ Chicken Pizza and Thai Chicken pizza still gracing the menu.

So, that said, what’s in CPK’s “Next Chapter?” California Pizza Kitchen has recently updated its menu to focus on high quality, fresh and seasonal ingredients, and *most importantly* (OK, maybe that’s a matter of opinion, but barely) hand-crafted cocktails, and locally brewed beers.

Speaking of those craft cocktails; I’m going to go ahead and admit I was pleasantly surprised (if somewhat skeptical) when I looked at the new menu, which billed CPK’s cocktails as “unique and spirited”. The new cocktail collection features premium spirits paired with fresh fruit purées and herbs, with an extra surprise of unexpected ingredients. One such cocktail I sampled was the California Roots, (fresh avocado, shaken smooth with Svedka vodka, mint and lime, garnished with a fennel salt rim, $10.29). While I wouldn’t characterize the avocado flavor as identifiable in this imaginative cocktail, it definitely gave my drink a pleasantly rich and smooth consistency. I loved the zippy lime and mint, and the fennel salt rim was an awesome touch.

We also tried the  Blueberry Ginger Smash (fresh blueberries, lime and cranberry with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and Domaine de Canton Ginger, $10.89). This one was packed with berry flavor, and about as summery as a whiskey drink can get. Most notably, the cocktails we sampled packed a rather surprising punch. I have tried my fair share of “fancy dranks” that look pretty and taste good but seem to be characterized by a relative lack of booze, but rest assured, this was not a problem we encountered. (I’ll note that it’s a dangerous thing to get mall-drunk … drunk shopping is real, y’all.)

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Picture courtesy of California Pizza Kitchen

 

CPK has also added a stellar sangria flight to their lineup. It includes Orchard Sangria (white wine, St. Germain Elderflower, Monin Stone Fruit, orange and cranberry juices), Red-Berry Sangria (red wine, Rémy VSOP, Monin Blackberry, raspberry purée, cranberry juice, lemonade), and the seasonal Harvest Sangria (Bacardi Superior Rum, St. Germain Elderflower, Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay with muddled grapes, basil & fresh agave sour), all three for $10. In additional to being a pretty amazing value, all three varieties were very nicely balanced. Additionally, CPK has a variety of wines available in 6oz or 9oz pours as well as by the bottle. And they offer a “Wine Adventure Guarantee”, encouraging patrons to be adventurous and try a new wine … and if it doesn’t thrill you, they will replace it with your regular favorite.

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Their craft beer selection is also slowly expanding with offerings from the likes of Chimay, Rogue, and Goose Island gracing the menu. Additionally, CPK has added a selection of local favorites, currently including Lakewood Hop Trapp, Lakewood Temptress (yum), and Nine Band Pale Ale.

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After sampling so many drinks, it was a good thing CPK invited us to try several of their new menu items, too. They have a new collection of small plates and flatbreads, ranging from Crispy Mac ’n’ Cheese to White Corn Guacamole. We sampled the new Bianco Flatbread (whipped truffle cream, Gorgonzola, Mozzarella and fresh sage, $6.99), and the truffle cream was approximately as outstanding as it sounds, and the fresh sage was dee-lish.

CPK has added a variety of new entree options to their menu, emphasizing “globally inspired” seasonal ingredients. We sampled the Hearth-Roasted Halibut (wild caught from Alaska and roasted on a cedar plank with butternut squash farro, grilled asparagus and baby kale, $19.49) that was incredibly flaky and tender, and the butternut squash farrow was one of those dishes that just warms the soul. Even my husband, who tends to be somewhat of a “fish snob”, gave this dish two thumbs up. We also tried the Roasted Garlic Chicken with Seasonal Vegetables (a crispy-skin chicken breast in lemon-garlic sauce, with a medley of the seasonal vegetables) that was amazingly decadent and moist, bursting with buttery lemon garlic flavor. CPK is also featuring a new Fire-Grilled Ribeye (house-made pinot noir sea salt, topped with creamy bleu cheese butter and served with roasted fingerling potatoes and lemon-garlic wild arugula salad, $25.99).

Overall, I was quite impressed with California Pizza Kitchen’s “New Chapter”, and I think this may be a “New Chapter” for CPK and I, as well (mall job not included).

California Pizza Kitchen – Willow Bend
CPK.com
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6121 W. Park Blvd., Sp.D-126, Plano (South Side of Mall, Next to Crate and Barrel)
469-366-0060

 To view menus or find other locations, visit cpk.com 
Our team was invited in for a meal on the house.

Dugg Burger Plano: Now Open!

Lately, every time I turn around, another popular Dallas eatery or watering hole seems to be setting up shop in Plano. Being a person who doesn’t love detests Dallas traffic, this trend is more than OK with this Collin County resident.  Along those lines, I was super excited to learn Dugg Burger had plans to open a second location in Plano (my ‘hood!), especially after hearing Susie talk up the Dallas location.

Dugg Burger Plano features the same ingenious burger crafting concept developed at their Dallas location. Your custom burger experience starts out with Dugg’s bun prepping system, resulting in a hamburger bun that’s as clever as it is delicious. The top half of each bun is “hulled out” using a fancy-pants, custom designed bun hulling tool, and then toasted on a magical, stainless steel, magnetic dome. This keeps your bun from falling apart (and also results in warm, toasty goodness).

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Now that your bun has been sufficiently hollowed out, it’s time to choose your cheese (cheddar, Swiss, American, or pepperjack), and then stuff that sucker to the brim with your choice of 13 ingredients. Dugg offers 12 amazing toppings on a permanent basis–lettuce, grape tomatoes, dill pickles, Dugg sauce, BBQ sauce, ketchup, mustard, sautéed mushrooms, fire-roasted jalapeños, caramelized onions, crispy onion strings, and hickory-smoked bacon–then they offer an additional topping choice called the “Lucky 13,” and this one rotates regularly. The Lucky 13 ranges from mild to wild; during my visit, it was a habanero sauce prepared with a secret ingredient. (I’ll give you a hint: it was “magically delicious”. Yup, I’m dead serious.) You can check out the current Lucky 13 on Dugg’s website. The best part about the topping situation? Cheese, plus ALL of the toppings, are included in your Dugg Burger’s $7.75 price tag. Uhh-mazing.

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While you are deliberating over the topping situation, Dugg Burger already has your juicy and delicious burger patty sizzling away on the grill, so you won’t have to wait long before sampling your masterpiece. You’ll definitely want to add a side of fries to your order; Dugg’s are perfectly golden and crispy, and served hot, fresh, and delicious.

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But really, why stop there? Dugg Burger serves thick, decadent milkshakes prepared with the best ice cream on the planet, Henry’s Ice Cream. (EDITOR’S NOTE: it’s quite good if you weren’t born with a spoon or Blue Bell in your mouth like us normal Texans. ☺️) And, in case you’re wondering what happens with all of the “hulled out” bready goodness from the buns, well…you might want to save room for dessert. Yup, once you’ve polished off your burger, you can enjoy the rest of your bun in the form of warm, sticky, bread pudding.

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Dugg Burger had a total of seven local craft beer offerings available during my visit,  including labels from 903, Revolver, and Deep Ellum Brewing Company. They are also serving up wines by Times Ten Cellars. With summer bearing down on us, I must add Dugg’s Plano location has a great little patio perfect for enjoying your perfect burger.

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Dugg Burger- Plano
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4701 W . Park Blvd #110, Plano

 

The Royale Magnificent Burgers

[The scene opens on an open restaurant with a line of booths on one side, tables with white chairs, and an open kitchen complete with ice cream and double-sided bars.  Four clocks sit on the wall bearing the times at different locations with a blank spot reading “Bermuda Triangle”.]

The Royale Magnificent Burgers is one of Plano’s newest burger joints from John Tesar, the Apheleia Restaurant Group, and Plan B Group with a decidedly literal Wes Anderson theme.  The basics: amazing burgers, badass adult milkshakes, and a full bar offering cocktails.

First and foremost … get your ass to The Royale and order yourself an adult milkshake.  We went for the Salted Caramel Shake with Nasau Royale Liqueur and it was ah-mazing.  There was just the right amount of alcohol to give it a kick without being a day-ruiner.  (You know … too much sugar and a bad proportion of booze to milk so you get the sugar rush and a bit of a buzz just to lose the buzz and hit the sugar slump?  Awful.)  The icing on the cake … err … the whipped cream on the milkshake was a slice of marshmallow, light whipped cream, something delightful covered in chocolate, and caramel, and, of course, a pinch of course salt.

Royale - adult milkshake

The food at The Royale was delightful.  We couldn’t miss The Onion Ring Elevation after seeing it on a neighbor’s table served on the neck of a cast iron giraffe.  (We named him Steve.)  The tempura batter was light and perfectly spiced and the accompanying smoked paprika-chipotle aioli was the perfect pairing.  Also not to be missed: their poutines.  We went for the Lobster Poutine that has large chunks of quality Maine lobster meat atop crisp fries, cheese curds, and gravy.  They were pretty damn delicious once they remembered to add the gravy!

I have to say that I’m not “up” enough on all the Wes Anderson jargon to know why a lot of the names on the menu are funny, but I can appreciate the quality of these patties.  The  Burger Sauvage (a 6oz 80/20 patty with avocado, sprouts, swiss cheese, sautéed mushrooms with a side of mushroom aioli), while standard ingredients, kicked other portobello swiss burgers’ asses with the bold addition of sprouts and avocado. We took the manager’s advice about the burger and ordered The Salmon Exhibition–a salmon patty green onion, lemon zest, olive oil,  lettuce, tomato, and kimchi aioli with a side of their house made pickles.  I’ll give him this, while I’d never had a salmon burger, this one was top notch.  (He told us that he’d love almost 30lb since they opened and he eats at least two a week with lettuce instead of a bun.)  Luckily they serve a Daily Slider Ensemble so you don’t have to go through the Sophie’s choice of picking your burger.

And yes … you can get a Royale with Cheese.

Their drink menu was going undergoing a bit of a revamp so I don’t go into too many of their cocktails, but they opted to rename some classics (a Moscow Mule was “The Czar”) and put a bit of an edge on others.  Don’t miss their selection of local beers and wines by the glass, bottle, and ON DRAFT!  I think the real winner in their bar is the physical bar itself.  The double-sided bar offered three or four seats on the internal bar side so you can eat at the bar and still face your friends.  (I’m not sure how they can get away with this with liquor laws, but I’ll celebrate while it’s a thing.)

I have to say that their bathrooms are perhaps some of the neatest I’ve come across … just don’t let the fact that they’re unisex take you by surprise.  (There goes checking your teeth for meal remnant or adjusting your rack in the mirror. 😒)  Make sure to visit the facilities to see the faux unicorn heads and Hawaiian-feeling wallpaper!

 

THE ROYALE MAGNIFICENT BURGER
royaleburgers.com
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3310 Dallas Parkway, Suite 121, Plano, TX
972-781-0212

Sea Breeze Fish Market & Grill- New Menu

By now, it’s no secret that some of the best seafood in the Metroplex (as told by D Mag, the Observer, The Dallas Morning News, blah blah blah) is at Sea Breeze Fish Market & Grill, tucked away in Plano’s  LakeSide Market just south of Preston & Spring Creek. Sea Breeze is already a neighborhood favorite; that said … Dallasites: If you haven’t been here yet, I would highly suggest working a Plano date night (or girl’s night, or an “I feel like eating good seafood” night, or a random Tuesday dinner) into the rotation … like now. With the introduction new menu items including a brand new craft cocktail program (SusieDrinksDallas readers: rejoice), there’s never been a better time to give Sea Breeze a try.

Speaking of that cocktail program…

The new cocktail lineup was carefully selected by manager, Ryan Oruch and features premium spirits and fresh ingredients, with an emphasis on crafting beautiful drinks worthy of Instagram.  Or Snapchat … whatever. Current offerings include:

  • Lakeside Mule – Stoli vodka, Velvet Falernum, fresh lime juice topped with ginger beer
  • Honey Badger – Maker’s Mark, Barenjäger Honey Liquor, fresh lemon juice and a dash of habañero bitters
  • West Plano Punch – Olmeca Reposado, Cointreau, fresh lime juice, pomegranate juice, shaken with fresh mint
  • Texas Margarita – Silver Z tequila, fresh lime juice, agave nectar, shaken with a jalapeño slice
  • Vanilla Old Fashioned – Bulleit rye, vanilla infused simple syrup with a dash of Angostura bitters
  • Sunset Lemonade – Bombay Sapphire, Lillet Blanc, shaken with fresh raspberries and topped with lemonade

I tried the Texas Margarita, and I loved the tartness of the fresh-squeezed lime juice in this citrus-forward cocktail. It had a subtle spice to make it interesting without melting my face. I also sampled the Honey Badger, and the sweetness of the honey was the perfect complement for the slow burn from the habañero pepper.

All cocktail offerings are available for $9, but, during their DAILY happy hour (read: including weekends) 4-7pm, they can be enjoyed for $6. Boom.

In addition to their new cocktail lineup, Sea Breeze has an interesting and well-appointed wine list reflecting a variety of guest favorites available by the glass and bottle. Each month, featured wines are available by the bottle for a special price. (Call for more info.)

While the cocktails I sampled were delicious, Seabreeze is, in fact, a fish market (and restaurant); so, let’s talk seafood. I spent some time chatting with owner Rick Oruch, and I am here to tell you … the man is passionate about seafood. “I always invite people to give our fish the ‘sniff test’,” Rick explained. “Good seafood shouldn’t smell”.

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Rick flies in fresh, seasonal varieties direct from the source; be it Alaskan snow crab or Gulf snapper, you will only find it at Seabreeze if it’s fresh and in season. Rick explained he only buys whole fish, which they fileted on-site for maximum freshness. All seafood is hand-sorted and inspected, meaning only hand-picked selections ever make their way to the seafood counter, or onto your plate. After sampling a variety of items, Rick has me convinced; you can taste the difference.

We started out with the Sautéed Snow Crab Claws, nestled in a decadent lemon, garlic butter and accompanied by a buttery, grilled baguette ($16). The tender crab melts in your mouths and has a sweet, delicate flavor … an exercise in self-control was required to keep from sopping up every last drop of garlic butter with the toast. We also tried the new Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs, accompanied by arugula and a sriracha mayo ($7); the smokiness of the salmon and the spice of the sriracha played perfectly together. Rick brought us a cup of Seabreeze’s New England Clam Chowder ($4), proclaiming, “It’s something we are really proud of.” And I can see why;  fresh clam flavor is the star of the show in this rich and hearty chowder, with a notable lack of distracting ingredients (read: bacon) frequently incorporated in other chowder recipes to mask inferior clams.

For our entrees (because we needed more food … ) we sampled the Cioppino ($25) and the Lobster Mac n’ Cheese $22). Cioppino is a San Francisco-style seafood stew. I am going to be completely honest; at seafood restaurants, I usually shy away from any dish with “seafood” in the title. I always assume this is where leftover odds and ends find their final resting place. Not in their kitchen. The Cioppino quickly bucked that notion as every bite of clam, mussel, shrimp, calamari, and fish tasted fresh and vibrant. The tomato broth base was spicy and begged to be sopped up with the delicious house bread. As for the Lobster Mac n’ Cheese … simply stated, Seabreeze does it right. Gruyere and white cheddar are the cheeses of choice in this dish, and nearly every bite I took was loaded with an impressively sized chunk of sweet, decadent lobster.

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Speaking of lobster, one of the most popular menu items at Seabreeze is the New England Style Lobster Roll, served on a split-top bun filled with tender lobster salad ($16). The lobster roll is a perfect warmer weather lunch (and those days are rapidly approaching), and I can absolutely vouch for the deliciousness of this dish from past experiences.

Worth mentioning: Rick also shared with me Seabreeze is now offering an off-menu Surf and Turf Burger, featuring fresh ground chuck from Hirsch’s Meats crowned with lobster salad and arugula. Oh. Hell. Yes. Call ahead before visiting to see whether the burger is available; Rick will only make the burger when he has fresh beef on-hand from Hirsch’s. (Just another testament to his insistence on quality.)

Here’s one more thing you may not know about Seabreeze: They offer bi-weekly “demo-style” cooking classes, where guests will learn to prepare 3 or 4 recipes and then taste those creations with wine pairings. Classes are $50 per person, class size is very limited and reservations are required. Reservations can be made by calling 972-473-2722.

Sea Breeze Fish Market & Grill
seabreezefish.com | Facebook | Twitter
LakeSide Market, 4017 Preston Road, Suite 530, Plano
972-473-CRAB (2722)

HOURS: Monday – Saturday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Brickhouse Tavern + Tap

Brickhouse in Plano has a new menu. (More “bro” food, more potent drinks, ya know.)  I was excited to visit because I had no idea until this invite that Texas had so many Brickhouse locations! It’s the perfect restaurant to meet up with a buddy, watch a game, or have a group happy hour. Fireplaces and spacious seating areas with tables and booths are abundant in this large, yet super friendly environment.

The table of bloggers and writers started the night with some of Brickhouse’s signature drinks; I was most eager to try out their well-known Bloody Good Mary (Skyy Vodka, Zing-Zang, Guinness, and Pickle Juice topped off the specialty with salami, smoked cheddar, olives, a deviled egg, and a spiced pork rind rim). From the first sip, this bloody lived up to everything I remembered it to be–spicy and full bodied with a little snack to nibble on as you savor the drink.

Brickhouse Bloody
Bloody Good Mary

Another one of my favorite cocktails this evening was one of the drinks my awesome servers suggested, the Blackberry Collins (Tito’s vodka, St. Germain, club soda, and muddled blackberries). They top this sweet drink with a sprig of mint which offsets the sweetness, as well as a skewered blackberry … because the muddled ones unfortunately hold zero aesthetic value despite the wonderful flavor they add to the cocktail.

Although the drinks at Brickhouse are plentiful and delicious, this place doesn’t slack on their food.  Read: you’re not stuck with ordinary bar food. Brickhouse served up delicious appetizers and it was extremely hard to pick a favorite. (I will say that you can’t let the duck wings pass you by here!) These crispy wings are tossed in their house-made “Man Cave” sauce and cilantro and are served with a side of Sriracha ranch which gives it a sweet and spicy flavor. If you’re looking to add a few more appetizers to your order, don’t miss out on their deviled eggs made with smoky bacon and a hint of jalapeños, or their parmesan and panko breaded zucchini curls – also served with a side of the Sriracha ranch.

Brickhouse is home to many flavorful choices when it comes to burgers, but their chargrilled Bison Burger takes the top prize for me. They top this slightly sweet patty with jalapeño cilantro mayo, sweet, thick cuts of candied bacon, mild cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion and serve it to you on a perfectly toasted brioche bun. If you’re a fan of bison, this dish is a must-try. I would skip the traditional fries and go for one of their many specialty French fry options. My favorite was the garlic parmesan; the spuds came out golden brown and topped with fresh garlic and parmesan cheese.

Being a recent Chicago transplant, I’m always on the lookout for great pizza. I was surprised by their brick-oven pizza; it was amazingly fresh and delicious. I ordered the Kobe Brick Pizza, which featured marinara, American Wagyu beef, brick cheese, caramelized onions, oven roasted tomatoes, crispy bacon and arugula. The pizza was served fresh from the oven and was a great spin on the classic Italian brick oven specialty. I loved the addition of kobe beef and crispy bacon!

Kobe Pizza

Be sure to check out Brickhouse and take a look at their expansive brunch, lunch, and dinner menus. There’s something on the menu for everyone and you will never leave disappointed. From their friendly and quick staff, to their fresh drink and food ingredients, you’ll experience a new favorite place on your very first visit.

Brick House Tavern + Tap Grill
brickhousetavernandtap.com
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Preston Park Village, 4900 W Park Blvd
(972) 596-0916

Picture courtesy of Brickhouse.
Anna was treated to a meal at Brickhouse free of charge.

Julia Pearl Southern Cuisine

Northern suburbanites, rejoice! Chef Tre Wilcox (of Top Chef fame) and Darcy Dudley of Trendine Restaurant group have brought southern cooking to Plano.

Conveniently located at Central Expressway and West Park Boulevard in the former Allen Wickers Pub location, Julia Pearl Southern Cuisine open their doors for dinner earlier this month. Darcy Dudley described Julia Pearl (named after the family matriarchs, grannies Julia and Pearl) as his life-long dream, finally realized. Darcy wanted to bring classic southern traditions of food, family, and friends to the Plano area. His vision was a menu featuring scratch-cooked southern specialties with modern twists and surprises. To help accomplish this, in addition to Culinary Director Tre Wilcox, Chef Jermaine Brown (formerly of Abacus; Brennan’s of Houston) was brought on board as Executive Chef. I like to think Grannies Julia and Pearl would be proud as a pair of peacocks.

Julia Pearl’s menu is small but thoughtfully constructed, featuring a variety of expected southern fare, with the occasional vaguely Cajun twist. Shareable starters include Julia and Pearl’s Chicken Wings (served three ways: BBQ sauce, Hot Sauce, & Lemon Pepper) ($11)Deviled Eggs ($6)crowned with crispy chicken skin (yes, you read that right), and a crowd-pleasing Black-Eye Pea Hummus ($7), served on crostini. My personal favorite was the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake ($10), served atop a delicate lemon mustard sauce, dotted with parsley oil. The crab was tender and moist, and the sauce provided a perfectly tangy compliment. Julia Pearl boasts a house-made Gumbo ($9), prepared with shrimp, crab, and andouille sausage, served with fried okra. The gumbo, which I found to be brothier than average, received high marks from my fellow diners. I am not a Native Texan, and not a gumbo aficionado  but I have noticed you Texans take your gumbo very seriously…and therefore, color me impressed. 

Julia Pearl’s featured entrees include Cornmeal Crusted Catfish, served with whipped potatoes, green beans, and a caper lemon butter sauce ($15), Marinated Jumbo Texas Shrimp with Spicy Cheese Grits, served with broccoli saluted and a smoked red pepper sauce ($20), and a Grilled Bone-In Pork Chop  served with bacon cheddar grits, collard greens, and a ham hock maple glaze ($18). My preferred dish of the evening was Julia Pearl’s Southern Fried Chicken, served with a homemade biscuit (whole cut-up bird $21/ half bird $11). The breading was thin and crispy, with a notable lack of grease, and the chicken was moist and meaty.

Julia Pearl’s cozy bar area features a cocktail menu with eight southern-inspired cocktails. To name a few: the mild-mannered Pearl’s Old Fashioned- Jacob’s Ghost (Jim Beam) White Bourbon, Bitters, Orange; the sweet and fruity  Jazzy Belle- Strawberry, Pineapple, & Tito’s; and my personal favorite, the particularly potent Julia’s Berry Mint Julep- Blackberry, Old Smoky Moonshine, and Fresh Mint (all cocktails $10). Julia Pearl features seven local drafts on tap, in addition to a carefully appointed wine list.

Reservations are encouraged; stretchy pants strongly suggested.


Julia Pearl Southern Cuisine
www.juliapearlsoutherncuisine.com
Facebook | Twitter: @jpsouthernfood | Instagram: @jpsouthernfood
(972) 422-1519
2301 N. Central Expressway, Ste 195, Plano, TX 75070
Reservations

***A huge thank you to Julia Pearl for having me in to enjoy a delightful media sneak peak, and a subsequent food coma.***

Hickory by Kent Rathbun

Kent Rathbun. (Not Ken Rathburn or Kent Rayburn.)  However you may butcher his name … you know that he knows what he’s doing.  We can thank him for the amazing concepts like Abacus, Jasper’s, and (formerly) Blue Plate … and now his newest venture, Hickory Plano, can be added to the list.

Their amazing PR girl arranged a bus to take us alllllll the way up to Plano to check out the new concept … which, if you know me, was a huge treat because I hate to drive.  Like …I hate it real bad.

The drive took us up the Tollway just past The Shops at Legacy (the home of Kent’s Jasper’s).  Upon arriving, Kent greeted us and showed us around the newly renovated space.  Expect a lot of raw wood, metal, and deep reds and browns.

While Hickory is a BBQ joint, the drinks leave nothing to be desired (except maybe another one).  They offer a full bar that can crank out anything from a Barrel-Aged Old Fashioned featuring Makers 46 to classics–Moscow Mules, anyone?  If you want to get a little crazy, check out their Cactus Juice (Avion Reposado, Triple Sec, prickly pear nectar, and lime).  And make sure to check out their Texas cocktails featuring Deep Eddy drinks.

If you’re into the beer situation, they have some great local options, but certainly not an extensive list–select crafts on tap and a handful of bottled options.  Their wine list includes a couple Texas wines and a curated list of decently priced options.

When the food started hitting the table, we all knew we were in for a long night.  I LOVED the salad options, which sometimes can be a bit lacking at a BBQ restaurant.  I almost couldn’t get enough of the Shrimp & Crab Coleslaw that featured a spicy cilantro vinaigrette that I could just about take a straw to.  I would also have to say that the Fried Green Tomatoes with charred jalapeño ranch were unreal. (We may or may not have been fork-fighting for the last piece.)  A starter that cannot be missed is their Smoked Sausage Fondue featuring whichever of their house-made sausages they choose for the day with creamy, cheesy goodness.

When I saw the entrees, I was so thankful knowing that we had a bus to take us back as I knew I’d have at least half and hour to recover before getting behind the wheel.  (I mean that not due to the drinks … but due to the sheer amount of meat I was about to consume.)  Their options for mains range from traditional burgers and sandwiches (and some not-so-traditional ones) and meats.  Some seeeeerious meats.  Their “little red smokehouse” prepares heavenly cuts that are sold by the 1/2 pound like their Smoked Pepper Crusted Wagyu Brisket, Hickory Smoked Turkey Breast, and Shaved Roti Pork Shoulder.  All of the meats were quite flavorful and I’d return for any single one of them, but some were a bit on the salty side.  That just means that you need to balance the meats with their Charred Corn Bread which was UNreal.  Get into that and don’t miss the Round Rock Honey butter that comes with it.

All of the sides that we tried were good, but the Crispy Brussels Sprouts were in the only bowl that saw the light of day.  These things, y’all, are f**king amazing.  (And not just because I love Brussels sprouts.)  Don’t miss the Blackstrap Molasses Baked Beans, too.  I mean … these beans have bacon on top.

The meal was coming to an end (so we thought) when dessert came out.  Instead of one of their Shareable Desserts for the table, they brought us all of them.  We tried Maw Maw’s Buttermilk Pie, which was a light-ish option but wasn’t up my alley, the Texas Size Chocolate Cupcake, which had a bit of spicy bite to it, and the Skillet Cobbler, which I’d eat all day every day!  The crunch on top was a perfect textural balance to the gooey fresh berries it hid.

Overall, the meal was overwhelming … and I don’t mean because of the amount of food, but because of how amazing everything was.  I don’t know why I expected anything other than brilliance from Kent Rathbun!

Make the drive–just plan to give yourself some recovery time before driving anywhere after.  Because … meat.
HICKORY BY KENT RATHBUN
www.hickoryplano.com | Facebook | Twitter
8100 Dallas Pkwy #115, Plano
(972) 712-7077
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Let’s Get (Pepper) Smashed

I’m a big fan of the “fancy” cocktail. Don’t get me wrong … there is a time and a place for a good ol’ plain Jane vodka soda. (Usually that time is whenever I am on a diet, and that place is wallowing in a pool of sadness…just kidding! …kind of.)  But, if I really want to savor what I’m drinking, I enjoy seeing what happens when bartenders are allowed to flex their mixology muscles and craft drinks that stretch beyond the realm of classic cocktail offerings. If you’ve never been to Pepper Smash at The Shops at Legacy in Plano, believe me when I say that “creative” is their thing. I am still trying to figure out whether their cocktails are more aptly described as “art,” or “science,”- but whatever the case may be- they are mixing up some mighty delicious libations.

Pepper Smash graciously invited me in to check out a few of their new menu offerings, and of course to reacquaint myself with a few of their delicious signature cocktails.

We kicked off the evening with one of Pepper Smash’s most popular cocktails: the Fire Smoked Dr. Pepper ($11). As the name suggests, this cocktail is quite literally smoked before your very eyes, infusing Maker’s Mark with a smoldering oak essence created with a nifty apparatus apparently designed for this very purpose (though it vaguely looks like something Walter White would have stashed in his RV). Imperial sugar Dr. Pepper is add to the mix, giving the cocktail a delightfully familiar sweet-smokiness.

Smoked wood chips are impressive, to be sure, but you aren’t really winning at craft cocktails until you throw a cotton candy machine into the mix. That’s right, Pepper Smash keeps a cotton candy machine behind the bar for the sole purpose of crafting one drink: the Cotton Candy Martini ($10 — Absolut, lemon juice, vanilla syrup, champagne, and you guessed it: cotton candy). I had a hard time conceptualizing how this cocktail would “work”, so I had to order it to see for myself. A familiar fluffy cloud of pink cotton candy is served in a martini glass, and the liquid ingredients are then poured over the cotton candy, which dissolves amidst a fleeting instant of melancholy. But, you can still taste it. Not shockingly, this cocktail is on the saccharine side and reminded me vaguely of a boozy Orange Crush. Definitely an interesting selection.

Because cotton candy machines and booze smoking apparatuses apparently aren’t enough, Pepper Smash offers two cocktails that are frozen with liquid nitrogen: the Pineapple Express ($11 — Bacardi Pineapple, ginger, pineapple juice, champagne) and the Triple M’s Explosion ($12 — pineapple and strawberry infused vodka). The presentation of this duo is dramatic to say the least, as wisps of “smoke” dance atop your cocktail glass  when it is placed in front of you.

Liquid Nitrogen

“But, what is a Pepper Smash,” you may wonder? I’m glad you asked, because I simply can’t visit without ordering one. The cocktail kitchen’s namesake, the Pepper Smash ($10), incorporates a bold blend of Tito’s vodka, red bell pepper, jalapeno, onions marinated in 100 proof vodka agave, and lime juice. Spicy and robust with just a hint of sweetness, this unique savory cocktail is probably my favorite one on the menu. (I recommended it to the guy seated next to me at the bar, and he ended up drinking three.)  I say the Pepper Smash is “probably” my favorite, because I have a hard time dismissing Eden’s Garden ($12 — Plymouth gin, elderflower, cucumber, basil, mint, jalapeno, lime juice- as a close second).

Pepper Smash Signature Cocktail
Pepper Smash Signature Cocktail

With so many creative, tasty cocktails to focus on, it would be easy to overlook the food at Pepper Smash. Don’t. Everything I have ever sampled from their kitchen has been seriously delicious. Sometimes, I find myself day dreaming about their Smokey Mac & Cheese ($9 — cavatappi pasta, sharp cheddar, gruyere, smoke). Everything I sampled on this visit was equally as tempting.

We started out with the Pimento Cheese ($8), which was topped with bacon jam, and accompanied by buttery grilled sourdough and blistered shishito peppers. Holy new favorite appetizer. If there is something in this world that cannot be improved upon by bacon jam, I want to hear about it.

Pimento Cheese
Pimento Cheese

Pepper Smash always hits it out of the park with their flatbreads, and this visit was no exception. We sampled the Al Pastor ($12 — cider braised pulled pork, sweet onion puree, pineapple, jalapeño, and lime). The toppings were generously portioned, with a little taste of every ingredient in every bite. If you are a fiend for spicy dishes, this flatbread is definitely for you; loaded with fresh jalapeños, this dish definitely woke up my palate.

El Pastor Flat Bread
El Pastor Flatbread

When it comes time for dessert and the manager asks, “Wanna try something weird?” there’s clearly only one correct response. We were presented with a liquid nitrogen frozen ice cream concoction- incorporating Licor 43, vanilla ice cream base, basil, and fresh strawberries. I love unexpected flavors in desserts, and the basil was an awesome addition. This was an off-menu delight, but I feel confident it can be snagged upon request.

TLDR: the next time you feel inclined to treat yo’self to an incredibly unique, seriously indulgent cocktail experience (yes, it really is an experience), + some killer eats, head on over to Pepper Smash at the Shops at Legacy. (And probably plan on Ubering it because the urge to try all of the cocktails on the menu is pretty overwhelming.)

 


PEPPER SMASH
www.peppersmash.com
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7200 Bishop Rd, Plano, TX 75024
(972) 943-0499

Happy Hour: 3-6pm Daily
$3 beer | $3 wells | $6 domestic wines

HOURS OF OPERATION:
MON – THU 3 PM – 11 PM
FRI – SAT 11 AM – 1 AM
SUN 11 AM – 11 PM