Touching Down in Dallas
A Cowboy Town’s Sharper Edge
written by COLLEEN ANN MCNALLY | photography courtesy of THE HIGHLAND DALLAS; MADRINA
“WHAT BRINGS YOU to Dallas?” the driver asked. What a loaded question, I thought as I settled into the black Cadillac Escalade emblazoned with The Highland Dallas logo.
“Work” would be a simplified response. I suppose I could date my first pull to the Texas town to when Dixie Chicks hit country stations decades ago. The Lone-Star-State-born rebels’ grits-meets-glamour lyrical stories instigated my intrigue of what life was like north of South of The Border.
Texas twang aside, more recently, I’d heard a handful of parallels between Dallas and Atlanta – both sprawling cities, deeply rooted in the South but reaching stylish heights.
While I’ll never know what it feels like to win a Grammy, I did get the platinum rocker treatment thanks to a two-night stay at The Highland Dallas, where heels are as welcomed as boots. Regardless of footwear, I had 48 hours to kick up some dust.
Still en route in the Cadillac, the surrounding Highland Park neighborhood set the scene. Some say the elegant suburb’s picture-perfect house-lined streets are the Beverly Hills of Texas. While the affluent zip code is home to Southern Methodist University, and at one point, former President George W. Bush and family – his Presidential Library resides adjacent to campus – the style isn’t solely white columns and regal facades. A bright punch of periwinkle paint adorning a front door or minimalistic renovated exteriors were a more accurate foreshadowing of what I’d find inside The Highland Dallas.
Originally opened in the 1960s as the Hilton Inn Dallas, the redefined hotel was revealed in Aug. 2014 after a luxe overhaul with a multi-million dollar price tag. The boutique result was the debut of Curio’s – A Collection by Hilton, or to borrow the hotel’s description, “a rich abundance of contrasts … Sophisticated luxury merged with a casual, live-in-the-moment spirit.”
To put it in my own words, The Highland Dallas might make you reconsider what to expect from a hotel chain. I delighted in the extra attention to detail inside the guest rooms – an asymmetrical pop of cowhide on a bench, faux distressed leather headboards, custom carpets inspired by oil and gas, a whimsical woven bull’s head hung on the bathroom wall and roller shades that reveal black-and-white photographs. With the shades pulled up, I could see a panoramic view of the SMU campus and Angelika Film Center and searched for the Katy Trail (think The Atlanta BeltLine).
Luckily, gracious General Manager David Lemmond had a hand in it all – particularly the mini bar. Inside, bottles of John Russo Beauty nail polish, made exclusively in metallic colors for The Highland Dallas, are included among more anticipated provisions.
The cool vibe his team has created continues at Exhale Spa as well as downstairs at the hotel’s signature dining experience, Knife. Helmed by former (three-time) James Beard-nominated and Bravo’s “Top Chef” (two-time) contestant Chef John Tesar, my expectations were high.
The term “maverick” originated in the Southwestern U.S. to describe unbranded steer. Not unlike outlaw country stars I’ve long admired, the tenured Tesar embodies the word. After a stint at The Mansion on Turtle Creek, he has proven his chops through this revamped version of Texas’ cowboy culture. Near many framed accolades – including Best Steakhouse by Dallas Magazine – is a window to the $50,000 custom-designed dry aging room, filled to the brim with “Old School,” “New School,” and “Exotic” cuts, most sourced locally from 44 Farms. If the latter category trips your trigger, the 240-day dry-aged 103 Niman Ranch Ribeye will set you back $160, your bill later delivered in a little envelope labeled “The Damage.”
Yet, this is not a “Good Ole Boys” steakhouse. The bacon tasting with five varieties, salad with pea shoots, pea sorbet, country ham and green goddess dressing, and oh my, let’s not forget burgers and avocado fries, left an equally lasting impression. There is talk of Knife expanding to other locales; if we’re lucky, it’ll be another commonality between my hometown and the one currently stealing my heart.
After hours spent in a corner banquette, I’d seen most of the dinner crowd come and go, or so I thought. Knife’s kitchen continues serving the full menu until midnight on weekends, or offers a limited room service menu around the clock – a smart move for those guests making the most of time spent in this chic city.
As I learned, no matter what brings you to Dallas, I’ll bet a coveted ticket to a Dixie Chicks concert that 48 hours is too short of a stay.
CRUISING IN THE CADILLAC
A Highland Dallas courtesy car is available 7 days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. based on availability and travels within a limited radius of the hotel. Call it up and explore our pick of Dallas to-dos.
FOR SOMETHING DIVINE: Reserve a seat at the chef’s counter inside Madrina, a French-inspired Mexican restaurant with a unique perspective on the two vibrant cultures. Cofounded by cocktail connoisseur Michael Martensen (who has ties to Tesar from shared Mansion at Turtle Creek days) a highly curated bar with brandy and agave-based spirits adds to the overall divine dining experience. madrinadallas.com
FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT: Explore the eateries at Trinity Groves, a 15-acre restaurant, retail, artist and entertainment destination located across the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in West Dallas. Central to the Trinity Groves project is the Restaurant Concept Incubator program, giving competitive pop-up concepts a trial period, as well as Four Corners Brewing Co. and mouth-watering confections at Cake Bar. trinitygroves.com
FOR TEXAS BARBEQUE: A passionate recommendation from my driver, Pecan Lodge got its start as a modest stand and the Dallas Farmers Market, but has evolved from popularity to a larger space in Deep Ellum. Still, be prepared for long lines as it’s considered one of the top places to get your fill of BBQ. pecanlodge.com
FOR HISTORY LESSONS: A more sobering experience, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealy Plaza is located at the site of JFK’s assassination and as close as look as you can get into one of our nation’s biggest turning point moments in time. You don’t have to be a Kennedyophile to connect to the presentation of the former president’s presents the life, death and legacy. jfk.org
FOR BOOTS AND HATS: Suggested by multiple locals, Wild Bill’s Western Store is the perfect place for a souvenir. Sip a Shiner Bock while you shop and try on cowboy hats and other gear. Before you say “kitschy,” know the store has been passed down in generations and their authentic goods are the real deal. wildbillswestern.com