Heading to the Big D? With the right plan, you could eat your way through a full day in Dallas to the benefit of at-risk youth, people with disabilities, and one seriously under-resourced local community. Here’s what’s on the menu.
Just south of Dallas, where the railroad tracks meet I-45, miles of chain-link fence surround industrial sites that aren’t exactly inviting to begin with: wastewater treatment, metals recycling, automotive scrap. You’re a mere 15 minutes from the gleaming towers of downtown, but it seems like a different world.
And then your Lyft pulls up to a cluster of country-chic cottages straight out of Real Simple or Southern Living. This is Bonton Farms, and breakfast in the recently opened Market is a must. No matter what you order off the menu displayed on rolls of butcher paper, the ingredients were probably sourced right outside the door. Forget about farm to table; in this case, the tables literally came to the farm.
The Market is a social enterprise that helps to support the farm, a community development project bringing jobs, health, and hope to a neighborhood where 85 percent of men have served time in prison and nearly half of all households live below the poverty line. Before Bonton Farms, the area was a food desert with sky-high rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The nearest grocery story used to be three hours by bus. Now residents can walk over to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables.
After breakfast, take a few minutes to wander the property or just sit in a big Adirondack chair, watching the buzz of a working farm. If you’re tempted to stay until lunch, they’ve got you covered. But if you do need to get back to town, you’ll find good options there, too.
Like most American cities, Dallas has its share of food trucks. But if you want grilled cheese with a side of good deeds, it’s worth your time to look up Ruthie’s. Many days you can spot the bright blue truck downtown at Klyde Warren Park, an urban green space bordered by world-class museums. Their creative interpretations of cheese + bread have won multiple awards, but even a classic like smoked ham and Swiss on sourdough manages to be memorable, somehow.
As a partner of Café Momentum (see below), Ruthie’s provides jobs and training for juveniles coming out of the justice system. Plus, through the Ruthie’s Snacks of Kindness program, hundreds of local nonprofits have enjoyed a free visit by the food truck and a monthlong fundraising boost.
That’s a lot of cheddar.
Located ten minutes north of downtown, in the upscale University Park neighborhood, Howdy Homemade is an ice cream parlor that’s special in every way. I dropped in for their signature flavor, Dr. Pepper Chocolate Chip, but Coleman, the young man behind the counter, wanted me to know what I was missing. One tasting spoon after another, he offered samples of exotic flavors like chocobananas, cinnamon swirl, ninja turtle, and orange creamsicle.
Aside from amazing ice cream, it’s the people that set Howdy Homemade apart. Four years ago, owner Tom Landis cashed out almost everything he had to open an ice cream shop that would employ young people with autism and developmental disabilities. They do everything here — make the ice cream, serve it up, run the cash register, wash the dishes. Tom’s goal is to show that restaurants can make a profit by hiring workers with special needs because they’re honest, dependable, and intensely loyal. (He’s had zero turnover.)
That message seems to be catching on. There’s already a franchise location open in Salt Lake City and several more are in the works, so if you can’t make it to Dallas, you might be able to show your support closer to home. The only downside is, you won’t get to meet my new friend Coleman.
Coffee-rubbed NY strip, topped with foie gras butter and served on a bed of sweet potato hash, caramelized onion, and arugula with a red wine reduction — the dish looks and tastes like something you’d get at one of those celebrity chef restaurants. At Café Momentum, Chef Chad Houser deserves to be a celebrity, but he makes sure his young staff are the ones in the spotlight. You can see they’re working hard with the prep, serving, cleaning, and more, but you might not know they’re working even harder to turn their lives around.
That’s because this downtown restaurant is a nonprofit social enterprise that works with Dallas County to offer a paid, 12-month internship to teens coming out of the juvenile justice system. Besides the foodservice skills that set them up for a productive career, these kids get social skills and life skills to help them break the cycle of violence and crime.
My server is a slight, soft-spoken girl who seems embarrassed to offer her personal menu recommendations. I honestly can’t picture her in juvenile detention — any of these kids, really. With their neat restaurant uniforms and polite, earnest demeanor, they seem like any other young adults just getting started in life and career.
On the night that I visit, a chalkboard wall highlights the restaurant’s impact: 811 youth served, with a recidivism rate of just 15 percent — compared to the average of 48 percent — saving taxpayers $34 million. As I chew on those statistics, along with my perfectly cooked and seasoned stake, I realize this is one of the most satisfying meals I’ve ever had.