Michael Ehlert has hung his chef's hat at numerous Dallas hot spots — including Hibiscus and now-defunct Campo and The Chesterfield — but these days you'll find him in the kitchen at Front Room Tavern, the recently revamped spot at the swanky Hotel Lumen. It's here that Ehlert managed to squeeze a coveted four-star review out of critic Leslie Brenner, who was charmed by the chef's laid-back menu and deft touch with handmade pastas. When he's not in the kitchen turning out pea fritters and shrimp rolls, here's where you'll find the NYC transplant eating and drinking.
Favorite breakfast or brunch place?
Favorite breakfast would have to be Cindi's NY Deli on 75. I am a sucker for a greasy plate of hash browns, a Denver omelette, and wheat toast. As for brunch, we're fans of Nova in Oak Cliff. We can walk there from home and bring our son, Bobby. It's laid back, the food is good and the drinks are cheap. Live music most of the time on Sundays. Really nice vibe.
Where do you go for a quick lunch?
I love to duck into Off-Site Kitchen by myself on the way to work, if I have time. Grape Kool-Aid, russet fries, and a green chile burger or the Litigator [crispy chicken] sandwich. That will set you right. I also like to grab a sandwich at Jimmy's. Everyone talks about the Italian Stallion and yes, it's good, but I prefer a muffaletta to bring back and share with the kitchen, or I'll get the Italian beef and house it on the patio before I get back in the car.
Where/what do you eat after you get off work late?
If it's the weekend, especially Saturday, I will hit CrushCraft Thai on the way home and get a couple dishes, plus spring rolls and a cold beer while I'm waiting. Most of the time that's the start of my weekend and I like to spend it filling up on delicious Thai food after a long day and watching bad TV with my wife. If it's late when I get home, and it usually is, I will put just about anything into a flour tortilla. I'm not looking for an involved experience. Grilled ham and cheese is also common, with lots of mustard and pickles. Pita and hummus. Scrambled eggs with hot sauce and toast. Mac 'n cheese in a box. Frozen pizza once in a while.
Where do you like to drink, and what do you usually order?
I like to stop off at Henry's Majestic if I can, and I typically go for a dry cider and a Jameson. For most of my drinking career I've been a beer and shot type of fellow, at least as far as the after-work hours go. If I'm out with the wife we do enjoy our cocktails, and Proof & Pantry is always a solid choice. I also enjoy The Libertine for an off-the-radar beer and a nip of green Chartreuse. My wife and I are also hopelessly devoted to the signature margaritas at Gloria's.
Best fancy date night destination?
We love to splurge at Tei-An, and just order all kinds of things — giant Pacific oysters, monkfish liver, and soba of course. It's sophisticated and soothing, a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle. A bottle of Champagne and a charcuterie board at FT33 is also a fine way to start a date night.
What's your favorite pizza place?
Cane Rosso for sure. I can eat a CR pizza anytime. When I was younger and living in Boulder, CO I got a job at a restaurant called The Mediterranean and the only way I could get my foot in the door was to accept the pizza chef position — they were all hand-spun and cooked in an authentic wood-burning oven from Modena. It was so hard, but over time I really fell in love with the process and I got better and better and it was an amazing feeling. That kind of pizza will always be near and dear to my heart. But we do also like to get a large sopressata from Zoli's and fold the slices in half.
Do you have a favorite burger in town?
Have to say it again — Off-Site Kitchen. The Murph style or green chili burger, they're just the right size and all the components are always in balance. They are a little sloppy in just the right way, and you aren't getting the full experience if you don't have a side of russet fries for the burger juice to drip on. For some of the same reasons I also enjoy Keller's — plus they'll bring beer to your car.
Best ethnic restaurant(s)?
Thai Ruby in Flower Mound has some amazing dishes, one of them a red duck curry with wide noodles that really surprised me. They are willing to do incredibly spicy dishes as well, and the flavor of the chiles really shines through. My wife and I also enjoy Korean BBQ from time to time, glass noodles and seafood pancakes followed by
short rib and pork belly, along with plenty of Hite beer and soju.
Any hidden gems or hole-in-the walls you swear by?
I used to love the Slip Inn on Henderson, but that's gone now. Nova in Oak Cliff is kind of a hidden gem in some ways, their staff is super friendly and knowledgeable and they basically do whatever they want, which I love. You can always get a solid pizza to snack on while you knock back a beer or ask them to make you an Irish Necktie and they'll happily do it. It's a fun place.
Any other favorite restaurants elsewhere in the U.S.?
New York City will always have a little piece of my heart, and I have always been fond of Balthazar, Keith McNally's perfect recreation of a buzzing Parisian brasserie on Spring Street in Soho. That restaurant perfectly captures many of the fundamental notions that appealed to me at a young age and got me to take cooking and restaurant work seriously — pride in your craft, romance, passion, pursuit of excellence, and doing things the very best you can, no matter where you are on the spectrum. To eat frisee lardons and steak frites at Balthazar and drink good Beaujolais is both a humbly satisfying and richly cosmopolitan experience.