I first began visiting the Pecan Lodge a few years ago. I had heard the raves about the restaurant’s pit-roasted meats that are cooked over a custom blend of oak and mesquite woods.
The combination creates a distinct flavor and has helped the restaurant develop a devoted following, which includes The Food Network’s celebrity chef Guy Fieri. In 2012, Fieri featured Pecan Lodge on his program Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and the rest is history.
When I arrive at the lodge on a recent afternoon for lunch, a line of customers snakes out the front door and around the side of the sage-green brick building. The lodge’s tagline, “Just like homemade, but with slightly less cursing,” alludes to what should be the official pastime of the Lone Star State—cooking meat.
Preparing and eating barbecue in Dallas engenders a sort of neighborliness among people, whether it’s at a family picnic or standing in line with the delicious smells from the pits wafting out the restaurant’s front door. I chat with the friendly folks around me as we compare notes on local barbecue.
I make my way inside the restaurant and examine a chalkboard menu, deciding on the popular plate with a beef brisket, one of the best tests of a chef’s barbecue skills, as the centerpiece. It will be flanked by ribs and pulled pork, with a side of fried okra, and Aunt Polly’s banana pudding for dessert. Now this is a quintessential Dallas meal.
Top of post: the Walking Tall Traveling Man sculpture in the Deep Ellum neighborhood. Above: Music Thursdays in Klyde Warren Park.
After a scrumptious lunch, I stroll the nearby Deep Ellum neighborhood, which is known for being one of the city’s most progressive and eclectic areas, with nightclubs, live music, unique shops, great restaurants and art galleries against a backdrop of dozens of colorful murals on the walls of neighborhood buildings. The images include historical, funny and abstract images, as well as a few famous Dallas citizens, such as the late musician Stevie Ray Vaughan.
A walk through Deep Ellum offers a worthy introduction to Dallas’ vibrant culture. This neighborhood is a place where window-shopping and people-watching are at its finest, as visitors and locals rub shoulders with students from Southern Methodist University.
Above: Amural of musician and Dallas nativeStevie Ray Vaughan.
TOURING THE BIG D
One of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, Dallas is home to more than 1.3 million people. It is part of the larger Dallas–Fort Worth area, which has more than 7 million residents.
Known for being spread out, the Dallas metropolitan area has been working in recent years to make neighborhoods increasingly more pedestrian-friendly. One such area is the Bishop Arts District in the North Oak Cliff neighborhood, which, like Deep Ellum, has developed into one of Dallas’ top destinations.
Located about 5 miles southwest of downtown Dallas, the Bishop Arts District features boutiques, bars, coffee shops and art galleries. The dining ranges from French cuisine at Boulevardíer and American bistro dishes at Oddfellows to some of the best slices of apple pie in the city at Emporium Pies.
A short distance south of the Bishop Arts District is the Dallas Zoo, where more than 2,000 animals live on more than 100 acres. A little farther southeast, you’ll find the Great Trinity Forest, one of the largest urban hardwood forests in America.
Reaching more than 6,000 acres along the Trinity River, the forest offers a serene spot for hikes that feels far removed from the bustle of the city.
HEART OF DALLAS
I like to catch a free ride on the Dallas D-Link bus from the Bishop Arts District to downtown’s Dallas Arts District. One of the largest art districts in the country, it is anchored by the acclaimed Dallas Museum of Art, with more than 24,000 works spanning 5,000 years of human creativity.
I am amazed at the variety of works at the museum, ranging from ancient South American artifacts to paintings by a wide array of American and European masters, such as Hopper, Monet, O’Keeffe, Pollock and Van Gogh. Next door, the more intimate Nasher Sculpture Center features one of the foremost collections of sculptures in the world, with works by Calder, Giacometti, Miró and Picasso on display inside the center and outside on the Nasher’s beautiful grounds.
I also like to walk to the nearby Winspear Opera House, a visually stunning building with vibrant red glass interior panels, visible through a 60-foot glass facade in the front of the building. The grounds include a 3-acre park with a reflecting pool.
The Dallas World Aquarium is also in the area. In addition to featuring many rare and exotic sea creatures, you also can walk through a reproduction of the Orinoco rainforest, which includes animals such as the three-toed sloth.
A few blocks north of the aquarium is the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in downtown’s Victory Park area. The Perot is a striking 14-story cubelike structure. Its 11 permanent exhibit halls include a variety of scientific exhibits. One of my favorites is the T. Boone Pickens Life Then and Now Hall, which houses an extensive collection of dinosaur skeletons and rare fossils.
Currently, the museum is hosting the “Ultimate Dinosaurs” exhibition, through January 6, 2019. The exhibition includes exotic and rare species of dinosaurs from the Southern Hemisphere, including the Giganotosaurus, the bigger cousin to the famed meat-eater Tyrannosaurus rex.
Also be sure to visit the unique Klyde Warren Park, a 5.2-acre green space in the heart of the city that sits on a shield over Woodall Rodgers Freeway. The park has created a soothing bridge over the highway for those strolling in the downtown area. It offers multiple daily activities, ranging from tai chi and African dance to yoga and poetry readings.
You can walk the paths of the park’s botanical garden and see a variety of native plant species.
OTHER DALLAS ATTRACTIONS
To see more parts of the city, hop on the M-Line trolley to visit the Uptown neighborhood. This vintage streetcar will take you to the West Village shopping district.
Shopping, like barbecue, is serious business in Dallas, and at West Village, you can eat in style and shop upscale brands. Be sure to buy pastries at Bisous Bisous Pâtisserie, and enjoy the public art while you peruse bespoke shops such as Rye 51, Abi Ferrin Flagship Boutique and Nicole Kwon Concept Store.
Farther north in Central Dallas is where you find the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the campus of Southern Methodist University. The facility’s museum has artifacts and items that help tell the story of the 43rd president’s two terms in office, 2001 to 2009. Multimedia exhibits also present information about the critical decisions President Bush made while in office.
Those looking for a natural retreat from the city will like White Rock Lake in the East Dallas area, which is one of the city’s top recreation spots. The lake is home to the popular Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, which includes hundreds of thousands of plants in the 66-acre green space.
From September 22 to November 21 this year, the arboretum features the internationally acclaimed Pumpkin Village, in which houses and displays are made from more than 90,000 pumpkins, squashes and gourds. These gardens, with more than 150,000 fall-blooming plants throughout the grounds, are another example of how Dallas offers a special beauty all its own.
Leah Shafer writes from Dallas.
This article appeared in the September 2018 issue of Alaska Beyond, the in-flight magazine for Alaska Airlines.