Get Ready to Rumble with Balcones

Balcones, Texas’s original whisky*, and Dude, Sweet Chocolate, Dallas’s signature chocolates, are teaming up. Starting in September, you can now find whisky-infused chocolates at DSC. Our team was invited to be some of the first to check out the partnership … and this was what Tiffany found …

I knew it would be a good time when I was greeted at the door of Dude, Sweet Chocolate with a cocktail. Considering that the late summer Texas humidity was particularly heavy and thick that evening, the refreshing Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky concoction was more than welcome.

Toné Castillo, Balcones brand ambassador extraordinaire, was present to tell us more about the Original Texas Whisky from Waco, Texas. Balcones takes great pride in being the first whisky to be legally produced and legally sold in Texas since Prohibition. The distillery has become quite the destination, and tours are constantly at capacity during tasting room hours. I’ve personally never visited the distillery, but after sampling the welcome cocktail and eyeing the whisky pairings that I had yet to try, I felt compelled to plan a trip.
*Note from Susie: I’ve visited. It’s amazing. It’s wonderful. Go. Taste all the things.*

As far as events go, anything that involves pairing Katherine Clapner’s chocolates with the Balcones portfolio you KNOW it’s going to be good. This is especially true when Katherine refers to one of Balcones’ spirits as “the magical unicorn”—not surprisingly, the eponymous Rumble, which is intriguingly made out of fermented Texas wildflower honey, Mission figs, and turbinado sugar. I had never heard of such a creation! And true to the name of the event, the Rumble didn’t just get one pairing this evening; it got TWO: DSC’s Flower Child truffle featuring Earl Grey tea flavors, and the FDA Salami, a playful chocolate comprised of California marizpan, dried figs, dates, cocoa nibs, and chocolate rolled to resemble a savory salami.

Katherine paired the Texas Rye 100 Proof whisky with her Vietnamese coffee house-style Hanoi fudge. I am a sucker for Vietnamese coffee, so this was an easy favorite. The TX Single Malt paired exceptionally well with Dude, Sweet’s Rooibus Chai chocolates with its toasted malt and honey notes and hints of cinnamon and cloves.

However, the showstopper was the last tasting pair: Balcones Brimstone, which tastes of campfire, brûléed sugar, and pepper, paired with BACON. FAT. CARAMEL. SKULLS.


Take a moment to let that sink in.


Brimstone’s intensity was tempered beautifully by the bacon fat and caramel, which coated the tongue like velvet.

The crowd got to walk around from station to station and taste the pairings at their leisure while Katherine and Toné walked around to answer any questions we had. The vibe was super casual and fun, with music, conversation, and laughter punctuating the subsequent hours.

I left with a warm belly, a happy spirit, and of course, a Dude, Sweet bag of goodies that I just couldn’t leave without purchasing. Sweet, indeed.


DUDE SWEET CHOCOLATE
dudesweetchocolate.com
multiple locations

BALCONES DISTILLING
balconesdistilling.com
225 South 11th Street (Waco)
(254)755-6003

Axe and the Oak

You guys… I may have found my new favorite old fashioned! Okay okay, it’s at least in my top three. But let’s back up.

Last week I went to 3Eleven Kitchen and Cocktails for the launch of Axe and the Oak Distillery to try out some cocktails featuring their Colorado Mountain Bourbon and Incline Rye Whiskey. If you haven’t heard of Axe and the Oak Distillery, that could be because they operate out of Colorado Springs, CO and just started distributing to Texas—and they made Dallas their first stop!

I had the chance to chat with some of the Axe and the Oak team that came into town for the launch. Everyone was so excited about the expansion into Texas and they couldn’t stop gushing about their experience with the distillery. They said the best thing about their brand was that “they’re surrounded by the best people in the world.” The vibes were almost contagious as everyone enjoyed snacks, cigars and most importantly, the whiskey.

Now, about that old fashioned. For the launch, they had ingredient driven provisions being served. The one I sampled was a delicious variation of a Kentucky Mule. But, I’ll be honest; their signature cocktail was the real show-stopper—the Tobacco Old Fashioned. It was almost as fun to watch them make it as it was to drink it. They got the deep smoky flavor by torching a plank of wood and then trapping smoke inside the glass before they added the bourbon … and other good stuff. The smoky flavor wasn’t overbearing and the other flavors were perfectly mixed by beverage manager, Jay Khan.

Axe and the Oak was awarded the New York International Spirit Competition “Colorado Whiskey Distillery of the Year.” You can now find their Bourbon and Rye Whiskey at Specs, Goody Goody and Siegels (with even more retailers coming soon) starting around $42 a bottle.

For more information, visit them at www.axeandtheoak.com.

Throw It Back with the Harwood District

It feels like the ultra-hip Uptown/Downtown Dallas neighborhood, the Harwood District, is constantly introducing tasty, new restaurants, bars, and hangout spots, so it’s hard to believe that Harwood International is actually celebrating their 30th anniversary this month. To celebrate this milestone, each of the beloved Harwood District concepts are throwing it back to the 80s by adding old-school “Throwback 30” favorites to their menus—think Sloppy Joes and Monte Cristos. Obviously, this is my kind of party, so I had to check it out.

I went to The Grove at Harwood to enjoy the last days of summer and taste the limited-edition Frozen Bleu Hawaiian cocktail—their Throwback 30 item. Sitting in the sun, sipping this drink, and listening to the mellow remixes of top hits that were playing, I could have sworn that I was at the beach and not in the heart of Dallas. It was that relaxing! … and then a semi drove by and honked. 😂

Their take on the Frozen Bleu Hawaiian is sweet, but (luckily) lacks that super syrupy taste that you sometimes get with frozen cocktails. (Yaaaaa no thanks.) Their FBHs is served in custom Throwback 30 cups complete with branded stir sticks with a flag featuring a mix tape—a symbol everyone from the 80s knows and begrudgingly loves.

The Grove is always a good time and they have so many activities to keep you occupied while you sip on cold beverages, make your way through a bottle, or chow down at their very own food truck. Grab your pup and your friends and head over before the summer is over. And don’t forget to try this throwback cocktail while playing a friendly game of sand volleyball or giant Jenga.

In honor of this milestone anniversary, all seven of the restaurants in the Harwood District will be throwing it back to the 1980s with the addition of popular throwback favorites to menus, including: 

Magnolias: Sous Le Pont: Don’t Stop Brew-Lievin’ Cold Brew – a fun play off of the popular 80’s rock band song by Journey, “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Marie Gabrielle: On Wednesdays Marie Gabrielle Restaurant and Gardens, an urban escape featuring a 1.5 acre garden, river birch trees, an 8,265 square-foot pond, as well as interior and exterior accommodations, will serve Sloppy Joes.

Mercat Bistro: Inspired by a French steak dish named after 19th century composer Gioachino Rossini, Mercat Bistro will add Tournedos Rossini to their menu. 

The Grove at Harwood: The Grove will be featuring their take on the refreshing tropical cocktail Blue Hawaiian – the Frozen Bleu Hawaiian.

Dolce Riviera: Introducing Fettuccine Mare e Monti, a traditional dish inspired by the sea and the mountains.

Happiest Hour: Join Dallas’ largest patio-bar for a celebration that includes a go-to classic, the Monte Cristo sandwich. This savory toasted ham sandwich will have you transporting back in time. 

Saint Ann Restaurant & Bar: Begin your meal at Saint Ann Restaurant & Bar by digging into their special Seven Layer Dip, which became overwhelming popular in the 1980s.


The Grove at Harwood
harwoodgrove.com
3019 McKinnon Street (Uptown/Harwood District)
(214) 663-1001

The Sake Social Hour at Uchiba

When Uchi announced that it would be opening a more bar-focused concept earlier this year, I could barely contain my excitement. (Though, I know many of us Top Knot-lovers were a bit wary.) You can breathe easy, because the new concept is yoi (gooooood).

The name makes sense—the word Uchiba combines “Uchi,” which means house in Japanese, and “Ba,” bar. Since its opening on January 31, this concept brought to us by Chef Tyson Cole under the Hai Hospitality umbrella, is Uchi’s sleek and stylish little sister has been a hit for those seeking shareable bites, fabulous décor and incredible cocktails.

 

If you’re anything like me (and our friend Susie), you love a good happy hour, but really love when the good happy hour also has incredible food. That’s why I was so excited to go check out Uchiba’s Sake Social Hour, which is offered daily from 5-6:30pm and the entire menu is $10 or less! Yes, you read that right! It features delicious creations like their hot fried chicken buns, spicy crunchy tuna temaki and hama chili. Oh, and not to mention, half priced specialty cocktails.

All of the food I sampled was incredible, but you can’t miss the nigiri (which is only $2 during the social hour)! I also tried both types of temaki that is offered during the Social Sake Hour, and while it’s hard to choose a favorite, the spicy crunch tuna has a little bit of spice with which the avocado perfectly complimented. And do yourself a favor and order the hot fried chicken bun. It’s similar to Nashville hot chicken but with Asian-style flare. They definitely have a kick but nothing too overbearing.

And the cocktails … yassss. All of the specialty cocktails are half-priced during the social hour. I started out with the Too Much Heaven, which was very similar to an old fashioned but with a nice hint of lemongrass. My second choice was the Sanmittai, a refreshing blend of gin, lemongrass, black warrior shochu, cilantro, mint and basil. It’s like an herb garden in a cup—in the most delicious way possible. If specialty cocktails aren’t your thing, Uchiba also offers a variety of wine and beer for a steal.

Something to note: if after you’ve had a taste of the social hour and you need to really fulfill your Uchiba fix, you can order from the full menu at the same time! I’ve heard that the fried milk dessert is to die for.

You can either walk-in or make reservations based on availability for the Sake Social Hour. If you’re planning to check it out on a Friday or Saturday, I would definitely recommend calling at least a few days in advance since those are some of the most popular days.

Sake Social Hour: DAILY, 5-6:30pm
1/2 price all specialty cocktails
$4-5 select wine & beer
$2 nigiri (sake, avocado, or hamachi)
$2-3 yakitori (shishito yaki, pork belly, or ribeye)
$6 temaki (sake karei or spicy crunchy tuna)
$6-8 tastings (hama chili, foie gras mousse, yuca fries, or hot fried chicken buns)
$6 selected seasonal dessert


UCHIBA
uchiba.com
Instagram | Facebook Twitter
214-855-5454
2817 Maple Avenue, 2nd floor (Uptown)
complimentary valet

Cover image courtesy of Uchiba.
**Thanks to Uchiba for treating Lauren to happy hour.**

Ferris Wheelers Backyard & BBQ

Growing up Texan, I basically came out of the womb eating brisket and ribs. I mean, what Texan didn’t? Eating brisket burnt ends are like biting into a piece of heaven… with bbq sauce… okay anyway. If you love good BBQ and great atmosphere you are sure going to love this place. I know I did.

Ferris Wheelers Backyard & BBQ is definitely the spot to hang out at. This fun spot serves up smoked meats, unique cocktails and oh, a 50-foot working Ferris wheel. The place is dog friendly, hosts occasional concerts and events, and has games like cornhole and jenga if you’re the competitive type.

As much as I wanted to eat everything on the menu, I stuck with a two-meat plate. I ordered turkey, and of course, I HAD to get burnt ends. Let me just say, that this is the best BBQ I have had in a long time. As a self-proclaimed BBQ eating professional, that is saying a lot. The brisket had amazing flavor and just melted in my mouth. The turkey was moist and soft, and left me in a coma afterwards. Served alongside are your choice of two sides, so I asked the bartender for his recommendation, and without hesitation told me to get okra. The okra was seasoned perfectly and was just the right amount of crispy. I had to stop myself from eating the entire basket.

This place is so Texas. Their cocktail menu proves it—they even have Lemon Chills. That’s right … their version of the old school lemon treats that we shouldn’t have been allowed to touch because they are gazillion grams of sugar. Turns out, they’re better when there’s booze in ’em. This refreshing drink will take you back to your childhood and give you a buzz, how great is that? I’ll take 3.

Their cocktail options aren’t limited to over-the-top sweet options. Look for a little more heavy-handed options like the Old Timer (an Elijah Craig bourbon old fashioned) and the Gentleman’s Handshake (a Lone Star tall boy & a shot of Evan Williams whiskey). Take it easier with one of their local beers—canned or on tap. And as wines go, they have glasses and bottles of a variety of options. You can even get a little chi-chi at the BBQ joint with a bottle of Veuve for $110.

Courtesy of Ferris Wheelers

You should know, thought, that this BBQ spot is more than just a restaurant. Keep an eye on their event schedule for upcoming concerts and special events!

Ferris Wheelers left such a good impression on me, through food, atmosphere and service. Come check out this smokin’ hot place, make some friends and ride the Ferris Wheel! You won’t regret it.


FERRIS WHEELERS
ferriswheelers.com
1950 Market Center Boulevard (Design District)
(214) 741-4141

Casa M. Spice Company Gives Bland Chicken Hope

I’ll be honest, I’m not a great cook. It seems like everything I try to cook just ends up bad, blah, or (unintentionally) bruléed. I tend to have a problem of going to the store, standing in the spice aisle, and buying all of the spices on the shelf in hopes that my chicken will turn out not … bland.

After trying Casa M. Spice Company‘s spices, I now see a glimmer of hope for my kitchen. These spices can make anything delicious; your brisket, pork, watermelon, or even cocktails! This awesome company has flavor covered.

Why this company is different: because it is all about family. When I met the owners Mike and Manny, I was taken aback by how much they truly care for their spices and the people that support them. They are committed to making every meal great. As said on their (super cool) website, “Here at Casa M Spice Co™, we prioritize great flavor, because great flavor makes great food, and great food makes great memories.”

All of their spices are:
– Gluten Free
– MSG Free
– Low Sodium
– Dairy and Nut Free
– Animal Product Free
– Made in Texas

They care about their customers so much that they’re completely transparent about their mixes; their website lists exactly what goes into each blend.

Chain Reaction. The perfect spice to rim on a mango margarita! This base spice complements a margarita well and it would be perfect for a day at the beach or by the pool. You can also add this to a bloody mary or a corona for a little extra kick!
Ingredients:  salt, garlic, paprika, spices, peppers, & onion

Cattle Drive. This rub was my favorite! It was delicious on the brisket we tried and it added an extra texture to the meat. Add this rub to any beef, and you’ll be sure to be the best grill master in town. I’m drooling thinking about it … so please hold while I wipe my keyboard.
Ingredients:  spices, sugar, onion, salt, garlic, paprika, & peppers

These seasonings are sure to make everything you eat and drink amazing. Sign up to be the first to know when these spices launch! They’re sure to spice things up in the kitchen … and the bar. (We had to use the pun. Sorry, not sorry.)



CASA M SPICE COMPANY
casamspice.com

Andaz Napa—a Napa Valley Respite

Napa is hard. (Stick with me here.) Between multiple wine tastings and tours of more barrel rooms than you can count, rich food at every meal bloating you up (who can eat like that every meal!?), and the long drives through the valley, it all makes for a wildly exhausting “vacation”. So, after the long days of fun on my last trip to Napa, I was delighted to come home to the Andaz in Downtown Napa.

Its beautiful, slightly rustic yet modern decor and the incredibly friendly valets welcome you and start your visit on a wildly high note. And to make the welcome complete, you’re given a glass of wine.       *Hello, new favorite hotel e-ver.*       The hotel marries natural elements and high-end design, giving guests a ridiculously comfortable yet luxurious experience. The lobby offers a ton of comfortable seating and is roomy enough to make sure guests aren’t crowded. (I mean, waiting on people is the whole point of a lobby, so you may as well do it comfortably!)

The location is right in the thick of things with easy access to the highway up to Yountville, Oakville, etc., and plenty of local shops and restaurants. Our room faced Main Street overlooking Oenotri, which ended up being one one of the many amazing meals we had in Napa.

The rooms themselves are clean and spacious with a comfortable flow. Look for hardwood floors, fireplaces*, a desk, and a fully stocked bar. Our room had a little sitting area that gave us an extra space to relax and unwind. Oh, and the bed … that bed was hard to leave. The pillows were perfect for a full cocoon situation.
Pro Tip: Looking at the room layouts while writing this made me sad that I didn’t think to request a balcony. So make sure you do that.

In my opinion, the most delightful part of these lovely rooms was its bathing options. Between the roomy eastern white marble bathrooms with rainfall showerheads in wildly spacious (curtainless) walk-in showers and a freestanding soaking bathtub in the bedroom*, getting clean was always an enjoyable process. And with so much room and Jack and Jill sinks, there wasn’t any elbow throwing to get mirror time.

Outside of the rooms, the hotel offered quite a few appealing elements. I was happy to stumble upon an outdoor oasis (apparently called The Mercantile Terrace) with cabanas and fire pits. I spent some time out there taking calls here and there and sorting through work emails in peace on their complimentary high-speed WiFi. Other standard perks like free non-boozy drinks and snacks in the room and wine tastings in the lobby made the us feel like we were real VIPs.

If all of this isn’t convincing enough, it’s a surprisingly affordable option when hotels in Napa Valley can cost you upwards of $700 a night. For my money, I’m staying here every visit. (They should just go ahead and put my name on a suite.)

I know this may sound like one of those “there’s no way this place was that awesome” kind of reviews, I have to insist it was. The Andaz Napa was such a delightful respite that it really is at the top of my list for future visits.


ANDAZ NAPA
napa.andaz.hyatt.com
1450 First Street, Napa, California
707-687-1234

Images courtesy of Andaz Napa. My visit to the Andaz Napa was partially comped.
*amenities available only in select rooms

ORNO—No Ordinary Wine Bar

I promise you, I had every intention of ordering wine when I arrived at ORNO last night. It is a wine bar, after all. As I walked through the front door, I saw the matte black wall of wine—individual bottles stood on floating shelves with their respective names and origins neatly written out in white chalk. Beneath this display sits a long, cushy leather banquette, the majority of which was already occupied by what I observed to be a big, happy group of friends who were enjoying the company and their meal.

Courtesy of Orno


The restaurant has a cozy, neighborhood vibe with good music, perfectly low lighting, and a quirky live aquarium display on a large flat-screen TV set right in the middle of the back bar.


… now we come to one of the reasons why I never ordered the wine. I perused the cocktail list that the server presented, and quickly spotted a spirit that I didn’t even know I was craving: mezcal. As if on cue, the bartender walked over from behind the bar to say hello and ask if we wanted to order some drinks. My date ordered a sangria while I ordered an El Viejo.


Once I tasted the mezcal, I never turned back. Every cocktail I subsequently ordered centered around the smoky, agave spirit, and I only requested that each new mezcal drink be different from the last.

Turns out, the friendly bartender was Nael Rodriguez, the owner of this fine establishment. He was also a food runner, server, greeter, gracious host, and seeming jack of all trades. During the meal, he informed me that, during ORNO’s design phase, he made sure that everything in the build-out facilitated the ability to jump from one position to the other with as much ease as possible. From the bar, he could still an eye on the food coming out of the kitchen as well as on the front door to welcome guests. It’s actually brilliant.

Speaking of food coming out of the kitchen … ORNO’s cuisine offerings are top notch New American bites, and by “New American”, I mean it highlights aspects of many cultures that make up the fabric of our wonderful country. For example, I requested that he surprise my date and me with a three-course dinner of his choosing, no dietary restrictions or food allergies to worry about. Nael smiled and disappeared, promising that our first course would arrive within an hour (he’s a funny guy, that Nael!).

Within a few minutes, a dish of  sweet and spice lacquered pork belly bites arrived at our table, with earthy and sweet aromas wafted my way and made my mouth water. The meat melted in my mouth, and the fresh slaw of julienne veggies in the center offered an appropriate balance to the depth and unctuousness of the fatty pork.


Not a bad start, Mr. Rodriguez.

Nael then took us from Asian-inspired fare to more Italian flavor with the Pig & Fig flatbread.  The crispy, thin crust held a light layer of Alouette Brie cheese that was topped with delicate slices of prosciutto, dollops of fig preserves, and bits of candied cayenne walnuts. Simple. Delicious. No one item overpowering the rest, each playing off one another so well that before I knew it, the whole flatbread disappeared. Oops!


So far, Nael is two for two. Where was he going to take us next?
To the Caribbean!

For our last course, Nael presented us with the Voodoo Shrimp—a half pound of jumbo (and I mean JUMBO) shrimp dressed in a Caribbean-inspired BBQ sauce that intrigued us to the point that we tried to identify as many spices in the sauce as we could. There was such complexity and depth of flavor that eventually Nael had to come by and reveal that there were no less than 18 spices that make up the sauce and that the sauce had to be made a few days prior to serving so all of the flavors could deepen.

It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? As consumers, we go eat out at restaurants and the dishes we enjoy take mere minutes for us to consume and enjoy. We usually don’t think about the time and work that goes into composing our meals, but in the moments when we do stop to really consider it, it’s usually when some part of us recognizes that the food was made with thought, care, and love.

… and that’s ORNO.

I truly love it when a meal inspires me to wax romantic about the dining experience, and the best part about this meal is just how comfortable the setting was. The space housed around 24 seats in the dining room, and no more than maybe 8 seats at the bar. If I lived in the Cedar Springs area, I could see myself stopping in there at least once a day, even if just to say hi to the staff or to grab a cocktail.

ORNO is a neighborhood gem that’s bursting at the seams with soul. And, in a tricky restaurant city like Dallas where every week is a laundry list of flashy openings and abrupt closings, I hope that ORNO’s quiet charm and culinary approachability ensure that it’s here to stay a while.


ORNO Restaurant
facebook.com/ornodallas
3908 Cedar Springs Road, Dallas (Cedar Springs)
(469) 726-2004

Closed Mondays, Open Tues/Wed: 11AM-10PM, Thurs-Sat: 11AM-11PM, Sun: 11AM-4PM

Susie knows all things boozy …