Sometimes the best places are close to home, just undiscovered.
And sometimes all that’s necessary to find great food is to listen to friends.
Both were true this past weekend as my husband and I took a pleasant drive to a small town just 30 minutes south of Dallas.
Getting off the highway is key to discovering the best Texas towns. I have known Waxahachie for many years as the site of the Scarborough Renaissance Festival, and I have been down that road several times. But I had never before gotten “off the road” to get into town.
On this trip, however, the destination was Waxahachie’s downtown square, across the street from the historic Ellis County Courthouse.
The reason? A friend had recommended that we try a newly-opened restaurant. Actually, the friend and a partner own this newly-opened restaurant, and we were only too happy to be invited to sample the fare prior to the grand opening.
Both the restaurant and the town are unexpected treats.
Fresh and Local — and Seafood!
The Fish Grill is a labor of love many months in the making. Open for only seven days when we visited, it is sure to enjoy a long and healthy life. Retired architect Dana Wenzel partnered with Chef Christopher Stanford, a fifth-generation native Texan to bring a beautiful old bank building back to life as a charming and eclectic downtown eatery.
The building dates to 1900 when it was Citizens National Bank. It served at one time at the Ellis County Tax Office, but had stood forlorn and empty for a couple of years when Wenzel and Stanford found it. Well-known Dallas developer Jim Lake of Design District and Bishop Arts District fame, had already seen the potential for a restaurant in the space.
Features include the original vault doors, ornate brass handrails, stunningly detailed wall and ceiling medallions, and native stone inserts in polished wood floors. A mezzanine and upstairs bar offer patrons spectacular views of the stately courthouse and other historic buildings.
Large, arched windows let in lots of light, and etched glass doors both lead outdoors and can be closed to provide private dining areas.
There are vibrant red-orange walls, modern art, linen cloths and napkins, and a friendly vibe — it is immediately welcoming. And the menu is as special as the space.
Menu offerings are Stanford’s creation, with a layering of flavors that is at once satisfying and unique. The goal, according to Wenzel, is to produce “good food to get out to the world,” and the governing philosophy is “fresh and local.” All seafood is from the Gulf — none of it arrives frozen. Other menu offerings, including the catfish, pork and beef, vegetables and greens, are locally sourced.
The word is that if it’s not in season, you won’t get it at The Fish Grill — that includes the battered fried oysters and the Grilled Strawberries au vin rouge!
Our lunch began with an impressive Mexican Shrimp Cocktail, highlighted by a piquant tomato sauce with bits of onion, pepper, avocado and just the right amount of spice. We followed that with Fish Tacos and the ultimate comfort food — Mac and Cheese, served with grilled shrimp.
The only appropriate comment? Delicious! The only downside? No room for dessert, tempting as those grilled strawberries were. The bonus? Enough food in “packed with a smile” to-go boxes for additional taste treats at home.
After leaving the restaurant, we took the time for a walk around the courthouse, a tour of the abundant antique shops on the square and its adjacent streets, and a leisurely drive past the impressive gingerbread homes that characterize this town. Waxahachie obviously takes pride in its past and looks toward its future. It has the feel of a gracious, cultured college town; actually it was once the home of Trinity University, but that’s another story.
Because there are other stories to be told about this interesting little Texas town, you can be sure I’ll be returning to Waxahachie, and I look forward to enjoying more — perhaps many more — meals at The Fish Grill.