Lunch in Lancaster

Oak Cliff veteran exports food and movie magic to Lancaster with Theatre Cafe

Oak Cliff veteran exports food and movie magic to Lancaster with cafe

A former Oak Cliff denizen has blazed a trail south to Lancaster, to open a sweet, wholesome restaurant in the city's historic square called The Theatre Cafe. Owner Ken Arkwell will be a familiar name to lounge hounds as the onetime co-owner of Tradewinds, as well as an erstwhile film producer. It was the film thing that got him to Lancaster in the first place.

"Brad Keller, the director, and I have been in the film business for many years," Arkwell says. "We were thinking about putting on this play, and looked around to see if we could find a place to do it. That got us to thinking about buying a theater. Most old theaters have been turned into churches, but we found the Historic Lancaster Theatre and fell in love with it. Lancaster is like a lot of towns in Texas, with a little square, and it's just wonderful."

When Arkwell and Keller found the theater, it was in need of some work, and so they've made it their project to renovate.

"The theater was damaged during the 1994 tornado that took out half of the historic square," he says. "The then-owners put a new roof on it, stacked the chairs under the balcony and that is how we found it, 18 years later."

As part of that plan, they've opened this little restaurant next door.

"I am the chef," Arkwell says. "The menu's all mine, and I'm doing all the cooking. It's all fresh and handmade and our ingredients are extremely fresh."

He's doing sandwiches, soups and pizzas, with a lineup that changes from week to week. It could be a green olive egg salad sandwich on a croissant, or a smoked turkey sandwich with apples and dried cranberries. One week he did meatloaf sandwiches, but the meatloaf options consisted of one made with ground turkey instead of beef, and a vegetarian meatloaf made from lentils and mushrooms.

He also does amazing-sounding soups such as cauliflower broccoli soup, and salads such as a chopped salad with spinach, Romaine and mixed greens with house-made honey-mustard seed dressing.

He makes his own dough for his pizzas and toppings are creative, spontaneous and always fresh: mushrooms sliced nice and thin, cherry tomato and fresh basil.

The cafe's Facebook page is a lot of fun, with appetizing food shots and enthusiastic descriptions of dishes.

"Every week I come up with a theme," Arkwell says. "This week it was, 'Who crossed the road first, the chicken or the egg?' So we have chicken salad sandwiches and egg salad sandwiches. We have chicken and egg as ingredients on our pizzas, and chicken noodle soup."

For now, he's open for lunch, but they'll be adding brunch and breakfast, too. They're more than halfway through building an outside deck, and when they complete that, they'll be open for dinner, music and a bar. They aim to open the theater in the fall, when they'll recreate a similar deal to the movie nights he used to host at Tradewinds.

"Everybody loved our movie nights," he says. "And you'd be surprised at how close Lancaster is."

Theater Cafe, sandwich
Sandwiches are homey and fresh at Theater Cafe in Lancaster. Photo courtesy of Theater Cafe