When Randall Copeland and Nathan Tate opened Restaurant AVA, they began with the goal of operating an upscale, fine-dining experience to Downtown Rockwall that featured contemporary American dishes created with seasonal fare and a focus on freshness and originality. It’s a simple philosophy to adopt, but one more difficult to execute. However, by sourcing local ingredients when possible and fresh seasonal ones when the Texas weather isn’t cooperating, what Copeland and Tate have created is a restaurant that is growing in legend not only in Rockwall, but the entire Dallas area.
Situated in the heart of Downtown Rockwall, a trip across Lake Ray Hubbard to AVA lends itself to a dining experience that’s more difficult to discover within the borders of 635. The laid-back, sleepy area is perfect for AVA’s Napa-esque decor and charm, where natural light streams through the windows onto the dark wood and white tablecloths. It’s upscale and casual, welcoming and refined; what comes out of the kitchen, though, is what sets it apart.
“When people leave here I want them to think, ‘That’s one of the best meals I’ve ever had,’” says Copeland, whose experience both at Bradley Ogden in Las Vegas and with Colleen O’Haire at the late Green Room helped to cultivate his culinary philosophy. “I really want every person who comes here to feel like they felt welcomed and that they felt comfortable – that it was a relaxing experience with great food and great service.”
With a menu that changes monthly to more precisely reflect what the season has to offer, what Copeland and Tate have accomplished is a dining experience that relies not only on the culinary talents (and they are substantial) of the chefs, but also their ability to find the freshest ingredients possible. Ideally, those ingredients come from farms around Dallas and Texas as a whole, but the North Texas weather does provide the need for exception.
“We say seasonal before local because of where we are – North Texas can only grow so much, and there are a lot of things that you can’t grow out here. But we utilize our produce companies, and about ninety-five percent of everything we make – maybe a little bit more than that – is American grown. We don’t try to source a bunch of stuff from Mexico and South America that are picked before they are ripe and then sit in a house to ripen. We try to utilize Californian grown stuff as much as possible, and then Hudson Valley and places like that on the East Coast,” says Copeland. “During the summer months the majority of what we get does come from within a hundred miles of here. We’ll buy our potatoes and stuff at the market, and all of our greens are sourced locally.”
The efforts that AVA extends to ensure fresh ingredients are delivered at their door provide insight into an an aspect that Copeland believes makes his restaurant unique – a concern not just for the protein, but a culinary approach that gives equal importance to all aspects of the entree.
“Everybody focuses on proteins and making a good steak or something like that, but what I think helps to set us apart is our attention to detail when it comes to side dishes and vegetables. When you can show somebody that swears they don’t like brussels sprouts that brussels sprouts can be really good, or that cauliflower, or turnips, or rutabagas can be good; that is so rewarding,” he says. “So many times people have told me ‘I’ve never liked cauliflower until I had it here.’ That makes you proud and happy, because almost anything, cooked properly, can be made to taste good. Beets, black eyed peas, you can go on and on down the list of things that people swear they don’t like. I really think that plays into our farm-to-table approach, and it’s definitely part of the reason we’re set apart.”
While Copeland describes the restaurant both as fine dining and upscale casual, it’s easy to see why: AVA toes the line between elegant and relaxed, where both a fifth anniversary or a first date might be appropriate. And it’s not just the decor and the atmosphere that reflect that character, either.
“It’s not a pretentious place; it’s kind of old-world. A lot of people have told me it feels like Napa, and that’s really where we were going with it,” Copeland says. “We wanted to have a comfortable environment, reasonable prices, and a good wine list – a wine list that encompasses both the boutique wines that are a little pricier, but also some really killer bottles that are thirty dollars.”
By operating with a seasonally-centered philosophy, AVA gives its chefs the opportunity to stay constantly creative while continuously providing the comfortable and relaxing experience they strive to ensure. Copeland and Tate may have a new place in Dallas that they have just opened with the owners of Veritas, but it takes a ride past Lake Ray Hubbard to enjoy the unique experience that their first restaurant provides.