My friend the Rock has dined all over this great country of ours, from Los Angeles to Chicago, and even across the pond in London town (where he was lucky enough to be among the crush of people witnessing a royal wedding). He has sampled the cuisine of chefs great and small, from hither and yon, and as you might imagine, he has definite ideas about dinner and lunch and all the many incarnations thereof. So who do you think is his Favorite Chef? Dean Fearing? Bobby Flay?? Stephen Pyles??? Answer: None of the above! It's Chef Jake Duplantis, the genial Cajun who just happens to ride the ranges at Lone Star Park, one of my favorite places in the Metroplex and The Place in DFW for top horse racing action.
Classically trained in New Orleans by such noted chefs as Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Somebody-or-other (otherwise known as Lagassi; BAM!!!), Chef Jake and his staff run all the food concessions at Lone Star, most notably Silks, their fine-dining fixture, and Post Time Pavillion, their simulcast palace. Because I am a fan of all things horse (particularly in the wagering arena), I always mark Kentucky Derby Day and Breeders Cup Day on my calendar, and make reservations for Silks well in advance, since Derby day in particular is always a quick sell-out. As such, I made reservations in September, looking forward to the last Saturday in October, when my lovely wife The Rock Star and The Rock could join me for a Breeders Cup day at the races.
Unfortunately, as the month of October wore on and the promised date approached, I discovered to my horror that all of us were certain to have scheduling conflicts. First, my lovely wife had a tour of The Frozen North lined up, slated to start on that Saturday, and since she had already had to postpone it once, she could not in good conscience do so again. Then, the Rock, despite his pleas, was totally unable to take off work, and I myself was dealing with a pressing family commitment. Luckily, my brothers and I finished our business reasonably early, so I set out for Lone Star Park, regrettably alone.
If you decide to do Silks yourself, I have three extremely important words of advice: TRY THE BUFFETT!!! (There is a very good set menu as well if your not so famished.) For all his high-class training, Chef Jake is a very humble man, and is an absolute master of the buffet, which features gourmet comfort food. Sure it's pricey (between $20 and $30) but if you get there early, you can feast all day long like a king. Sharp regulars especially know to come ASAP, when the morning omelet bar is in full swing. Grab a plate, get in line, select your ingrediants, then watch as the Man Himself, or one of his trusted assistants such as Miguel make you one of the eggiest, bestest, and most flavorful omelets you've ever tasted.(Be sure to toke or tip him a buck or two for his efforts.) These delicious creations are so popular that the diners often demand that the omelet bar be kept open until well after the noon hour. Sooner or later, however, eggs give way to pasta and you can return again later for a scrumptuous plateful of linguini or penne made with the same loving care.
Even though it may not be easy, screw your courage to the sticking place, and try the buffet proper as soon as you are able. It may sound strange, given the sheer quantity of quality delectable eats available, to rave about salads, but I feel I must. Do not Miss Chef Jakes Salads: They are among the best you've ever eaten. Being a card carrying Cajun, Jake has a natural affinity for seafood, and his traditional crab and shrimp salads are stellar. But do not feel slighted if your tastebuds can't swim because the Tuscan salad, featuring Italian sausage, green and red bell peppers slathered in Italian dressing, is superb stuff as well. Also don't miss the chicken salad, with its perfectly cooked cluck sharing the bill with pecans and other goodies too tasty to mention. On this occasion, Chef was offering pale, pretty pork loin, splendid asparagus, and (I believe) broiled new potatoes as well, and I dutifully took some of each; however, I saved most of the room on my plate for the carving station. Silks usually offers fine sausage and oven roasted turkey, carved to order, but as I approached, I noticed the prime rib was prepared medium rare and decided there and then on a rather large slice. Accompanied with creamy horseradish sauce and spicy brown mustard, the rich rib meat was easily the standout of an already fabulous meal. Later I returned for two dessert delights: first-rate, crunchy pecan pie (I am a Texan, after all) and a German chocolate cake guaranteed to please the Kaiser himself.
Silks has a beautifully elegant informality, much like Chef Jake himself. White cloths and good silverware abound, but the atmosphere is never stuffy, and you can watch either the live racing through the massive picture windows on one side of the restaurant, or simulcast thanks to a clever little monitor thoughtfully placed at almost every table. A couple of things to keep in mind however: Silks is set up on four different levels, rather like a formal grandstand, so if you have mobility issues, you should select a table near the top. (You actually enter at the top, like a theatre or sports box, and descend to your seats.) Also, some tables are back tables, which make it slightly more difficult to view live racing, and others have no monitors; be sure to clear all that up when making reservations. Finally, there is a dress code: no shorts, holey jeans or collarless shirts. Still, it's quite informal, and an aloha (Hawaiian) shirt is just about right for dress.
Faith, Inga, and Anne attended to my needs beautifully on this occasion. Faith and Inga took care of my meal, while the very knowledgeable Anne took my wagers and dispensed my tickets all in stride, so I didn't have to leave my seat to place a bet. Imagine! If you're a first-timer or veteran to this or any other track, you should purchase copies of The Daily Racing Form and Lone Star Today to read up on all you need to know about the days racing. Oh, by the way, there is a per-guest charge for the table at Silks, plus the meal, plus parking, so budget yourself accordingly. (Not to mention any alcohol you may care to indulge in!) Be sure to read all about it in advance at the website: www.lonestarpark.com
POST TIME PAVILLION
Silks will be closing soon for the season, not to open again until thoroughbred season starts in early April. (Like most tracks, Lone Star only runs races approximately half the year: thoroughbreds in the spring, quarter horses in the fall.) So, if there is no live racing, and you still want good food and great horse racing action, be sure to head for Post Time Pavillion, the facility's race book. Here the action is nonstop simulcast racing from mid-morning to late nite, with a more limited but still quite tasty bill of fare in the offing. The soup-and-sandwich combo is a great bargain for lunch, but I usually get the chicken nachos: layers of beans, tomatoes, peppers, and chicken breast all covered with ooey, gooey cheese, and served with sour cream and salsa, makes for a fabulous lunch, with plenty left to snack on throughout the day. On most days, you'll have plenty of seating options, and you don't even need a dining carrel: Just grab one of the many tables, and a smiling waitress will attend to you in short order. With plenty of big-screen TV's carrying racing action from virtually every track imaginable, Post Time Pavillion is truly a punter's paradise.
If you've never experienced live or simulcast horse racing, do yourself a favor and seek out Lone Star Park. It's truly fun for the whole family, for all ages and levels of society, equally loved by kings and poor folks alike. And if you don't feel like splurging, come anyway: there is plenty of cheap general admission seating during racing season, plenty of concession stands, all with tasty fare, and on Friday nights, cheap beer and good live bands as well! How can you resist? Visit soon, and remember:
LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR MEDIOCRE FOOD!!!