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Making Dallas Even Better

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    It’s not surprising to learn that the beef jerky made by 44 Farms is some of the best on the market. The Cameron, Texas, ranch’s commitment to producing cuts of meat (from Black Angus cattle) that are minimally processed without hormones or antibiotics is well documented. 44 Farms’ approach to its all-natural jerky is minimal as well. After being slow smoked, one batch is covered with sea salt and pepper. Another is coated with sea salt, brown sugar, sugar, and a hint of spice. Both are rich with smoky flavor and leave an oily shine on your fingertips. That’s how you know they’re good. Four (2-ounce) packages, $25.95. Available at

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    Cesar Sanchez, founder of Zukali Mexican Gourmet, got his start cooking for friends and family in his hometown of McKinney. His specialty: fire-roasted jalapeños. In 2011, after years of experimenting and pressure from his fans, Sanchez decided to go pro and started Zukali. The company offers seven varieties of salsas and jarred peppers with exotic ingredients ranging from tangy pineapple to luscious guava, and even coffee. The Chipotle Kafé salsa is a blend of fresh chipotle peppers, roasted tomatillos, and freeze-dried instant coffee. It’s mildly sweet, with a smoky disposition and is best served warm. You can find Zukali Mexican Gourmet products at Central Market, Opening Bell Coffee, Jimmy’s Food Store, and

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    Most individually wrapped candies are produced by big confectionary companies. It’s hard to find a local source for such a labor-intensive treat. We actually thought it was impossible. Then we found Rain McDermott, the founder of the Dallas Caramel Company. She makes creamy-soft caramels in a dozen flavors such as Drunken Nut (with Texas whiskey and pecans), espresso, pumpkin, sea salt, and the popular bacon caramel, which is blended with bacon fat and real bacon bits. McDermott’s handiwork is available online and sold in half-pound, 1-pound, and 2-pound bags. Hunting for a surprising and delicious wedding or corporate gift? You’ve just found it.

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    Lauren Brundage’s mission has been accomplished. The CEO of Addison’s Live Love Pop has taken the guilt out of snacking. Her line of hand-popped, small-batch, all-natural popcorn is a healthy way to nosh without remorse. Seasoned without sugar or fat, all three flavors—sea salt, truffle salt, lime fresco—contain only 35 calories per cup. And Live Love Pop’s website features low-calorie recipes for trail mix and nut butter pop clusters, both of which make festive party snacks. Bags ($4.25 for the 2-ounce size; $5.99 for the 4-ounce) are available on,, and at Green Grocer.

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    Baker Rana Abla, owner of Miss Naughty Brownie, calls her creations “naughty”; we prefer “wicked.” Each of the nine varieties has three parts: a layer of cookie dough is followed by an Oreo cookie and then finished off with one of Abla’s unique brownies. Her signature, the Very Naughty Brownie, is a nasty-in-a-good-way stack of chocolate chip cookie dough, Oreos in the middle, and a thick, fudge-like brownie on top. I’d describe the Naughty in a Jar option, but this is a family magazine. Online only.

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    A recent spate of independent coffeehouse openings has kept the city’s coffee renaissance percolating. Enter Houndstooth Coffee. This new Austin import—located in the old Pearl Cup location on Henderson Avenue—has Dallas coffee lovers buzzing, not just for its brews but also for its locally roasted Tweed Coffee. With his roasting facilities located in the Dallas Design District, Tweed roaster Jonathan Aldrich focuses on seasonal blends and roasts. Our current favorite is Diamante Uno, a Guatemalan blend of Bourbon and caturra beans with notes of milk chocolate, marzipan, and red fruit.

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    If you have longed to take Village Baking Company’s wonderfully nutty granola on the go but found the sloshing of milk a bit messy, you’re in luck. The popular baker now sells granola bars out of its East Dallas storefront and at local farmers markets, combining its addictive mix of honey, almonds, coconut, and oats with sweet delights such as Valrhona chocolate, dried cranberries, cherries, pistachios, and other seasonal ingredients.

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    Back in 2007, chef Dean Fearing left the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek to open his eponymous restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton, after more than 20 years of pioneering Southwestern cuisine. Now he spends his free time writing cookbooks. Home cooks with a penchant for hearty foods, such as barbecue venison fajitas and sweet corn-sage pan stuffing, will devour The Texas Food Bible: From Legendary Dishes to New Classics. Every recipe is ideal for a summer backyard gathering with friends and family. Honestly, nothing sounds better.

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    The art of canning has been passed down through four generations of Janet Covington’s family. Today, she and her daughter, Natalie Cole, are keeping the art alive. They’ve quit their day jobs, and introduced Mr. Wittle’s Fine Foods, a line of pie fillings, jellies, jams, relishes, slaws, and pickled vegetables, last September. Each jar is free of artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. Pick them up online or at your neighborhood farmers market, because every pantry should be stocked with emergency foods such as blueberry pie filling, pickled corn relish, and raspberry-jalapeño jelly.

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    SYRUP-DIPITY Everybody has a pancake routine. For Dallas entrepreneur Nathan Sheets, it was topping them with a mixture of honey and jam. He did this for the longest time until his wife finally wondered aloud why he didn’t create his own combo. Like all good husbands who marry smart women, he listened. Nature Nate’s honey syrups (raspberry, blueberry, and strawberry) combine Nature Nate’s pure, raw, and unfiltered honey with the goodness of fruit purée. Use it as an ice cream or cheesecake topping. Marinate your meat in it. Mix it in with your salad vinaigrette. One 16-ounce bottle will take you far in your kitchen.

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    You don’t have to be a yogurt person to love Three Happy Cows’ Greek and drinkable yogurts. Created in 2011 by Edgar Diaz and Juan Padilla, this line of creamy, rich goodness uses ingredients like fresh fruit and caramel in every single cup. Just a spoonful of the custardy Greek vanilla-bean flavor is akin to eating a breakfast dessert. Top it off with crunchy granola and some Texas blueberries, and you’re guaranteed to lick the container clean. Available at Central Market, Market Street, and Sprouts.

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    Before becoming the owner of an eponymously named chocolate shop, Kate Weiser was the executive chocolatier at Chocolate Secrets, where she developed recipes for flawlessly beautiful treats. Now Weiser’s whimsical, color-splattered, Jackson Pollock-esque creations have a home of their own at Trinity Groves. Inside her 1,000-square-foot open kitchen and full espresso bar is where artisanal ice cream, French macarons, and bonbon-making magic happen. One of her favorites, a peanut brittle bonbon, is filled with a milk chocolate peanut butter gianduja (sweet, hazelnut chocolate spread) and crunchy peanut brittle. Available at Kate Weiser Chocolate.

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    For 10 years, mother and daughter Amy Wiede and Shannon MacDonald whipped up batches of chocolate toffee to give to family and friends. Based on the positive feedback—even their dentist approved of the crunchy candy—the duo launched Fowler’s Toffee. Each small batch is made with pure butter, sugar, roasted nuts, and either white or milk chocolate swirled in steel pots. Currently, they offer two varieties of toffee and three barks, each sold in quarter-pound to 2-pound boxes. I’m partial to the milk chocolate almond toffee, unless it’s raining. Then I reach for the white chocolate cashew. Or is it the other way around? $5.95 to $39.95 per box.

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    Jessie Dalton and his wife, Mildred, started out selling her pies, pastries, and mayonnaise door to door. Mildred chose to spice up her mayonnaise with some relish, but she couldn’t afford to buy it, so she planted a cucumber garden. As the cucumbers grew, so did their business. They began selling pickles in a grocery store in Fort Worth in 1926. That store eventually evolved into a massive enterprise called Best Maid Pickles. The company, which is still family run, sells pickles, dressings, and relishes. They also offer a fancy line of FARM TO MARKET single-barrel pickles. The cucumbers are grown in West Texas, and the flavors range from garlic dill to chipotle lime. Ready to try a Bloody Mary pickle? It’s an eye-opener without the booze. Prices range from $2.50 to $5.

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    Pastry specialist Samantha Rush, the woman who turns out some of the best macarons and muffins in Dallas, created a sweet, all-occasion present. Her UN-CUPCAKE, a cupcake baked inside a glass jar, is a perfect party favor, teacher gift, or wedding memento. Eight signature flavors are available—wedding cake, chocolate ganache, lemon crunch, caramel coconut & cream cheese, s’mores, red velvet, strawberries & cream, and caramel macchiato. (Other flavors are available for the holidays.) Ordering for a special event? Have the top monogrammed. Just have a sweet tooth? Pop one in the microwave for 10 seconds and dig in. Rush Patisserie, 1201 Eldorado Ave. 214-749-4040.

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    A love of handcrafted spirits led to the creation of North Texas-based Texas Silver Star Whiskey. Founders Mark Lusignan, Ben Alexander, and Don Alexander, along with majority investor Chad Willis, believe hard work and integrity will help make their small-batch, Texas-made whiskey a household name. Also, they blend their American oak-aged Spirit Whiskey ($34.99) with wildflower honey from Round Rock Honey to create Texas Honey liqueur ($32.99).

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    The desperate-for-something-new downtown lunch crowd is swarming all over The Hospitality Sweet. They’ve given up their Subway sandwiches for the creative paninis, salads, and baked goods at this bright and cheery spot located just inside the front doors of the post office on Ervay. They open early and serve a mean breakfast egg strata with Brie, bell peppers, and potatoes, along with gourmet coffee from Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters. Order a boxed lunch and head down to Klyde Warren Park, or stop in for a cup of joe and some damn fine pastries. They also cater and do weddings.

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    Texans thrive on entrepreneurial spirit. Even more so if there are actual spirits involved. JEM Beverage Company co-partners John Straits, Evan Batt, master distiller Michael Pfeiffer, and designer Ben Jenkins have combined their talents to embrace this notion. Together, they have released a line of four liquors: Red River Texas Bourbon Whiskey, Stingray Spiced Rum, Southern Son Vodka, and Western Son Texas Vodka. The vodkas are made from 100 percent American corn and distilled 10 times in JEM’s Carrollton warehouse. The result is a clean, smooth vodka designed to make you proud to drink Texan.

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    Smart Cookie
    Rana Abla left Paris with her mother's recipe for sable cookies, the popular soft, crumbly biscuits of France. She made them for friends and gave them as gifts. Now she operates Sableh Sweet & Savory, a bakery dedicated to creating sinful treats. Besides jam-filled sables, she offers a large selection of European-style items that includes French macarons, cakes, and cake pops, alongside hard-to-find Greek loukoumades and Lebanese namouras.

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    A new way to beat the summer heat: customized ice cream sandwiches from the Coolhaus food truck. The mix-and-match options are mind-boggling. Choose a cookie (oatmeal, red velvet, potato chip and butterscotch, double chocolate chip with sea salt) and pair it with an ice cream (spiked egg nog, brown buttered candied bacon, beer and pretzels). Not adventurous? They offer Tahitian vanilla ice cream and chocolate chip cookies. Vegan? They’ve got you covered.

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    Chef Tim Byres is no stranger to fire. He builds one every day at his restaurant, Smoke, in Oak Cliff. Most of the items on his menu are cooked without the use of gas or a stove, instead prepared over fire or smoked. In his new book, Smoke: New Firewood Cooking, Byres details how he came to love all things wood-fired. Most of the recipes are geared for live-fire or grill cooking, and Byres explains how to create different fires, ranging from a simple kettle grill to an upright pig roaster and a barbacoa pit. But even if you don’t cook or have plans to bury a whole hog in your backyard, Byres’ book is a great read.

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    While Sandy Korem, founder of The Festive Kitchen, munched on her snack mix and tried to think of a name for it, all she could repeat was, “This is freakin’ awesome!” The name stuck. This sweet and salty addiction—made with tortilla chips glazed with brown sugar, dried cranberries, corn and rice cereal, and peanuts dusted with cayenne pepper and chile powder—is the perfect crunchy treat for large family gatherings. With the holiday season fast approaching, it’s safe to say that watching the Cowboys beat the Oakland Raiders on Thanksgiving Day is incomplete if you aren’t noshing on this freakin’ awesome snack. A 14-ounce bag costs $12.95.

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    When Liz Plimmer started The Tamale Company with her dad in 2007, she had no idea her labor of love would take off as it has. Now, when the Plimmers sell their six-packs of frozen tamales at local farmers markets and retail stores, they’re practically superstars. Every fall, customers religiously order these gluten-free, lard-free pumpkin tamales. “We call it a handheld pumpkin pie,” Plimmer says. She suggests serving them warm and crispy on the outside, with whipped cream, condensed milk, or spiced peaches.