With the three days of celebrations for Dallas' glitzy new Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge taking place this weekend -- even though the bridge linking downtown Dallas with west Dallas and Oak Cliff won't be open for traffic until the end of the month --lots of folks are going to be doing two things: 1) going into a part of town they don't know very well and 2) getting hungry.
Although there are many good eateries popping up in Oak Cliff -- ranging from Eno's for cracker-crust pizza to Lucia's and Hattie's for something more refined -- the recently opened Bolsa Market is perfect for a day of ultra-casual bridge walking, festivalgoing and neighborhood exploring. A spinoff of the popular Bolsa restaurant two doors down, Bolsa Market is half gourmet/natural grocer and half sit-down/takeout eatery, perfect for picking up something quickly.
Housed in one of the many former industrial buildings in Oak Cliff that are being repurposed for more contemporary uses, Bolsa Mercado is a large, open space (with a beautiful tin ceiling) divided by a long communal table for those who decide to eat there. A few chairs and couches are also available.
While the setting may be less than elegant, executive chef Jeff Harris and sous chef Matt Balke have taken care with the menu. They have developed a heady reputation already for their pork products, such as the wild-boar sausage that they bake into a scrumptious little boar and asiago kolache ($3) and an even better made-to-order pastrami on ciabatta bread with pickles, spicy mustard and red cabbage ($7).
If you don't opt for pig, you can always get the Mercado chicken salad (stuffed with grapes, celery and walnuts) on multigrain bread or the sliced turkey on ciabatta with avocado, spinach and sharp cheddar (both $7). Though both are solid, the chicken salad gets the edge with its blend of fruity sweetness and nutty crunch.
They also have a few take-home meals such as the shrimp, chicken or mushroom ravioli ($7) in their refrigerator, so you can have some culinary memories of your Oak Cliff excursion later. They also offer rotating choices of pricier dinners for two to go, such as the tamarind braised short ribs with haricot verts (green beans) with honey glazed chestnuts, frisée salad and assorted pastries ($31.99).
The desserts I tried -- including a very ordinary crumb coffee cake ($3) and white chocolate chip and chocolate chip cookies ($1 each) -- were less impressive.
If running a restaurant and a market would seem to be a full-time job, don't tell that to the guys at Team Bolsa. Because Bolsa co-owner Chris Zielke has just opened a new west Dallas bar, The Foundry, and its comfortably industrial space and outdoor garden/concert stage just may become the most popular hangout spot in the OC once the weather heats up.
Actually, to be perfectly correct, he's re-opening a west Dallas bar because he has taken over the space of the late, lamented Jack's Backyard, a really cool, under-the-radar hangout just a stone's throw from the Belmont Hotel. But any bitter feelings left from Jack's sudden and unexpected closing last year wash away upon entering The Foundry. While the interior retains its industrial roots -- the wall near the bar is wallpapered with the tread from truck tires, for heaven's sake -- it immediately feels warmer than its predecessor.
And the menu is full of Texas beers like Deep Ellum Brewery's Rye Pilsner ($6) and Fireman's No. 4 ($5) on draft. But don't just go for the drinks as the nosh is above the usual bar food. While the plate of hot wings ($10) is spicy but not out of the ordinary, the beef carnitas ($6) and seasoned fries ($3) are worth the calories.
The Bolsa guys aren't finished. Business partner Christopher Jeffers is pairing with executive chef Tim Byres (of the restaurant Smoke) to take over the building next door to The Foundry for Chicken Scratch, a place that looks like it plans to be to chicken (fried and rotisserie-roasted) what Pinkberry is to yogurt -- basically all it will do is chicken, and it is scheduled to be open by this weekend.
The only small negative is The Foundry and Chicken Scratch are a bit hard to find, and there's little parking around there if it's a night when the valet is using the small lot.
That's too bad because The Foundry is well worth seeking out.