Dallas' favorite farmstead, Urban Acres, has hired a head chef, David Rodriguez, who will transform the cafe into a more meaningful dining destination. Rodriguez, who was most recently at Oddfellows in nearby Bishop Arts, already has created a new menu to showcase seasonal, local produce and goods from Urban Acres' farmers and artisans.
Rodriguez took inspiration from restaurants on the West Coast: pizza at the Cheeseboard Collective in Berkeley, quiche at Tartine in San Francisco's Mission District, and sandwiches at Lardo in Portland.
"We spent some time traveling and researching what the best chefs are doing on the West Coast, where they set the standard for cutting-edge local and organic cuisine," he says. "My hope is to take this little urban farm in Dallas and use the eggs from our chickens, the honey from our bees, the veggies from our greenhouse and other honest ingredients to put our unique spin on Dallas' food scene."
The menu will rotate weekly; typical new menu items include the "Pig and Fig" sandwich, tacos with chorizo, chicken salad, and organic pizza with garden sorrel pesto.
Prior to his appointment at Oddfellows, Rodriguez worked under chef Sheena Croft at Hannah's Off the Square in Denton. A native of Dallas, he began cooking with his father at age 13.
Urban Acres began on Davis as a produce co-op before moving to its current spot on Beckley Avenue. Visitors can dine on the patio at communal farm tables and tour the onsite chicken coop, herb garden, flower garden and aquaponics greenhouse, as well as sign up for classes such as knife skills, cooking, canning and gardening.
With Rodriguez's hire, the cafe has expanded its hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 8 am-2 pm; Friday, 8 am-8 pm; Saturday, 8 am-6 pm; and Sunday, 9 am-5 pm. There was always a small kitchen serving breakfast and lunch, says operations manager Ben Johnson, but Rodriguez brings professional training as well as commitment to their local focus.
"We hadn't defined ourselves as a restaurant, but we had all this food left over from our co-op membership," Johnson says. "We donate a huge amount every week, but we also wanted to funnel it into our kitchen.
"'How do you cook sorrel from East Texas?' We've been trying to make the connection between the raw ingredients and the way we eat."
They make their own granola and cookies, and there is always pizza on Friday nights and Sundays, which arose out of an interest among the staff. "A lot of our employees are passionate about what they do," Johnson says.