Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Crossroads Diner wants to do the best breakfast and lunch in Dallas
Chef Tom Fleming works 12-hour days.
For 25 years, there was a particularly notable aspect of Tom Fleming’s cooking that he carried with him from each kitchen in which he found himself employed. Primarily fine French restaurants, he certainly understood classical techniques and executions; those will always stay with him, but even more than that, there’s was an aspect of the food – of him – that always made it onto the plate, from Saute de Boeuf a la Parisienne to Soupe à l’Oignon.
And now, of course, from corned beef hash to chicken-fried steak.
After two and a half decades working long nights in fine French kitchens, Fleming, the chef and co-owner of Crossroads Diner in Dallas, has found himself in charge of a diner of his own design – with the help of his wife, Karen, and business partner Carl Strelecki. Crossroads is a large, comfortable, and spacious breakfast and lunch spot where he can use his experience – and more importantly, his passion for great fare – in a format that, while common to the American landscape, is almost entirely unique in its precise and exhaustive execution.
“We want to be the best breakfast and lunch place in Dallas. I want people to be able to tell that there’s a passion in the kitchen about the food, and it transcends onto the plate, and that at the service level they can feel that passion for the food emanating through the service,” he says. “It’s not fine dining; it’s my interpretation of a diner. Maybe it’s a little more refined, but it’s ultimately about good, straightforward food and all-scratch cooking.”
Both the menu and the atmosphere Crossroads reflect Fleming’s vision: scrambled eggs, waffles, and even cocktails designed for the early riser (or those recovering from a particularly convivial evening) can be enjoyed in the bright, clean, and comfortable dining area that – while it reaches capacity regularly on weekends – maintains a a laid-back feel even as the wait staff whisks about refilling coffee and delivering omelets. BLTs and burgers make an appearance at lunchtime, and even diner classics such as meatloaf and mac and cheese grace the tables. It’s a simple but varied menu and a large, spacious setting. Nonetheless, between the service and the food, the staff at Crossroads almost make it look easy.
Rest assured, though, that it is not.
“It’s very labor intensive because we do everything from scratch,” says Fleming. “So take the the corned beef hash: We clean it, make the brine, brine it, turn it every day for 14 days, and only then can we make the hash with it. Eggs, too – they are the hardest thing to cook properly. That’s why, if you’ve got to do a cooking test while applying for a high-end kitchen, you’re going to have to cook some eggs. It’s not easy. So with everything being done from scratch, yeah, there’s a lot of work to be done every day. On top of that, when we’re doing 600, 700 people on a Saturday, I’ve got 10 cooks in the kitchen. It gets real warm in there.”
But the benefits of the from-scratch cooking at Crossroads Diner, Fleming believes, that truly set it apart – and he uses his restaurant’s sticky buns to illustrate his point.
“They’re just a labor of love for me. I have always had this thing with brown sugar and cinnamon and pecans,” he says. So our sticky bun is a handmade yeast roll that we make fresh every day. The dough rises twice – first we let it rise and then we roll it out, and then put the stuff on it, roll it up, cut it, let it rise again and then we bake it. It’s got this soft texture to it, with this great sticky schmear inside with the pecans.
For house-made corned beef for the hash, to handmade sticky buns every day, it’s clear that by starting a diner that could meet his standards, Fleming didn’t save himself much hard work. But despite what some might have thought, saving himself from hard work wasn’t what he was out to do in the first place.
“There were some people in particular who get enjoyment out of eating good food – I guess you could say foodies – who were a little perplexed, a little jaded that I wasn’t going to work in one of the high-end restaurants. Like that maybe I was copping out,” he says. “But it’s just that the hours are different – here’s the one truism about being a chef: We work 12-hour days. Whether I start at 4 in the morning and end at 4 or 5 in the afternoon, or I start at 10 in the morning and end at 10:30, 11 at night, it’s a 12-hour day.”
And while these 12-hour days are now spent preparing food in a diner style, Fleming’s passion for not just the fare, but the overall experience, remains as passionate as ever. Yes, if it makes the lunchtime soup of the day list, Fleming’s Soupe à l’Oignon may just be called French Onion Soup today, but that’s kind of the point: At Crossroads, there’s no need for pretense. It is, in fact, a diner – not a high-end interpretation of diner-style food (as Fleming could have easily made it) – it’s a diner. By transitioning from fine French to diner dining, it’s not that Fleming has lowered his standards in the least – it’s merely that he’s changed cuisines. And for that, Dallas has reason to be thankful.
After all, no one wants Sole
Meniuere Meuniere for breakfast.
Pegasus News Content partner - Entree Dallas
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