Full disclosure: Dean Fearing knew I was coming. I’d set up my lunch ahead of time with Lauren Lapeyre, who does PR for the Ritz, because I knew that Fearing’s schedule doesn’t afford him the time to work his downtown restaurant every day, and I needed him there. In order to cross this one off my list, I not only had to eat at Fearing’s, I had to meet the man, too. So let’s concede that the amount of attention I was paid during my visit wasn’t typical, and I might not have gotten quite so much face time with one of Dallas’ most renowned chefs had I just wandered in off the street.
But that’s not to say that Fearing isn’t plenty charismatic with all his clientele, whether you carry cash by the briefcase or have to scrape your pockets for spare change just to pay for your meal. He’s sort of a ubiquitous presence around the restaurant: working frying pans in the kitchen, keeping his cooks and servers privy to who’s-sitting-where, strolling through the dining room to schmooze customers. And he doesn’t just check on his diners once — he heads back for seconds and thirds, learning names and getting laughs and making sure that everything is oh-so-perfect.
I sat in the main dining room (there are several smaller, more intimate locales as well) along a row of chairs pulled up snuggly to a long counter. I had trouble deciding as I glanced over the lunch menu, because everything sounded good. My eyes darted from the Dublin Dr. Pepper-braised short ribs to the barbecue-spiced Nova Scotia halibut, then over to the Comanche buffalo Sloppy Deans and the pan-roasted Fran’s Fryers chicken with sweet corn pan stuffing. Eventually, Fearing stopped by to consult me.
“Anything you recommend?” I asked him.
“Yeah, I recommend closing your eyes and pointing,” he said with a grin.
In other words, everything’s good.
I settled on the pan-roasted chicken. Fearing worked his way back over after a few minutes, and when he found out I hadn’t ordered a starter, his eyebrows shot up like I’d just asked for a side of Cheetos. “The tortilla soup!” he said. “It’s been with me since 1980.”
Now, I’m not a food critic, and this isn’t a restaurant review. But I must admit that, to a relative foodie Philistine, it all tasted pretty damn good. The soup was first – a bowl of avocado, chicken, and crispy little strips of fried tortilla that comes to the table dry before it’s drenched in a smokey broth. The pan-roasted chicken was ultra tender. The sweet corn stuffing — oh so buttery —might’ve been my favorite.
For dessert, Fearing told me that he had something special they’d just put on the menu the night before. Then a server brought out a square plate packed with three small, round coconut cupcakes over Key lime sauce, some pineapple tapioca, and two fried coconut cream pies that looked like little empanadas.
I wasn’t overly hopeful. See, I’m not much for coconut — give me a Mounds bar, and I’ll give you a swift kick to the shin.
Having said that, I could eat fried coconut cream pies from Fearing’s at every meal for the rest of my life. I mean, seriously. The outside was warm and crispy and flaky, the inside was filled with a sweet yellow sauce that drizzled out with every cut.
As good as the food was, one of the most endearing aspects of the restaurant — to me, at least — was the relatively casual vibe, which eased my fears of committing some terrible foodie faux pas. I was probably guilty of a few (though I did, somehow, resist the urge to lick the plate), but Fearing’s isn’t the sort of place where anyone will call you on it anyway. So pop out your monocle, collapse your opera hat, leave your cigarette holder in the glove box. And if you can’t decide what to order, just close your eyes and point.