From the Hotel Palomar, reaching the town of Commerce requires about an hour-long jaunt, most of which is on the not-so-scenic Eastbound Interstate 30. The town is the proud home of Texas A&M Commerce and – more pertinent to the world of Dallas dining – the former home of a small restaurant where Graham Dodds decided he would no longer pursue a living in the world of art. That is to say, not the form of art he had in mind.
“I was in college and looking for a job, just so I could pay the bills. I was working at a family restaurant called Christopher’s while going through the school’s art program,” recalls Dodds. “And then I realized that this is probably something I’d be better at than fine art or commercial art. And, at the end of the day, this is still art.”
Twenty-some years later, Dodds finds himself at the head of Central 214 near the heart of Dallas. The restaurant, located in the Hotel Palomar, faces some major changes under the helm of their new Chef – changes beyond that which can be found on the menu. Just 65 miles from A&M-Commerce, Dodds is bringing a philosophy developed by experiences from Portland to Switzerland and even Oak Cliff. From the town of Commerce, it’s safe to say that Dodds took the long way to Dallas.
“I’ve worked at a lot of places and traveled a lot – I’ve never wanted to just take two weeks off and just vacation somewhere, I’ve wanted to go there and live there; to really get to know the food, be a part of that culture and learn the regional cuisine,” says Dodds, who was the Executive chef at Bolsa from its opening in 2008 to the end of 2011. “And I’ve taken pieces of all those experiences with me.”
And now, Dodds isn’t merely learning the cuisine of a region’s culture – he’s helping to shape it.
With a new Spring menu that illustrates the fresh and local perspective he’s espoused since the early days of his culinary career, Dodds is striving for Central 214 to be more than a destination in Dallas, but a destination for Dallasites.
“This is a work in progress. We’re transforming the restaurant from your typical boutique hotel restaurant to more of a destination restaurant with a casual feel,” he says. “Yeah, we get a lot of visitors from out of town, but we want to bring in the local crowd – we want to introduce our style of food to them.”
What Central 214′s style of food is can be illustrated through Dodds’ menu; diverse and creative, his experiences throughout the world give the fare a flavor free of experiential restriction. From ‘popcorn’ sweetbreads with lime zest and butter, Windy Meadows Chicken with baby carrots, and striped bass bourride with fennel, leeks and saffron, the variety of the new menu (it’s got a Scotch egg, too) has an appeal for both the adventurous and the tame while maintaining a characteristically vivid and distinct touch throughout.
“With this menu we’re just playing on all the beautiful Spring ingredients that have just started popping up, from the ramps to the English peas and the morel mushrooms – those delicious little bites that Spring provides,” he says. “It’s diverse, but I think that it’s also a lot of classical combinations and techniques that really make sense. The ingredients do speak for themselves, but you’ve still got to execute a plate that somebody’s going to want to spend money on.”
And when the perception of Dallas cuisine – outside of Texas – is still dominated by thoughts of steakhouses and Tex-Mex, the Hotel Palomar is the perfect place for Dodds to break a lingering stereotype.
“No, we don’t put green chilies in everything,” he says with a grin.
Dodds’ consideration of the sources of his ingredients and the experience gained from throughout the states – and even the world – have now put him both figuratively and literally in the middle of Dallas’s culinary culture. A quarterly menu change is always on the docket at Central 214, but even changes to the restaurant itself are in order, and as he helps to recreate both the menu and the atmosphere at his new home, Dodds hopes to not only leave visitors wanting to stay for one more meal, but to have locals wanting to come back the next week.
“Ultimately, you want people to have a good meal; something that was prepared really well, and something that you had a good time while eating,” he says. “And that applies to someone from Chicago or someone from Dallas.”
Yes, Graham Dodds took the long way from Commerce to Dallas. It’s fitting, then, that he share his experience with Dallas and lead visitors to a memorable experience – all at the same time.