Free Man Cafe brings personality to Deep Ellum
Wednesday Dec 28, 2011
Pegasus News – by Rich Vana of Entree Dallas
New Orleans comes to Deep Ellum.Gumbo
DALLAS — To those familiar with French cuisine, the term mirepoix is as familiar as soufflé or consommé. Pronounced meer-pwah, mirepoix a is simple combination of the aromatics celery, carrots, and onions sauteed in butter to create a flavor base for any number of creations in the French culinary realm.
Down in Louisiana, though, things are a little less formal-sounding. Influenced heavily by French cooking, Texas’s Southeastern neighbor has its own version of the mirepoix, but it’s got a character all its own: known to them as the Holy Trinity, the mirepoix’s carrots are bid adieu in lieu of bell peppers to create a base for a cuisine whose combination of spice, seafood, and old-world influence give it a personality completely unlike that of any other. And with The Free Man Cafe, that personality is exactly what John Jay Myers intented to bring to Deep Ellum.
“This area – even just this street right here – has so many great, unique places, and we wanted to bring in something that added to it. We wanted to bring something that you just couldn’t get anywhere else; not just Cajun food, but this Cajun food,” says Myers. “We wanted to bring something here that can’t be duplicated.”
What Myers has brought to Deep Ellum is a restaurant that serves the food he loves with the jazz music he holds dear. Myers brought in consulting chef (and former Steelers Defensive End) Ricky Sutton to help Cajun-based menu with the intent of recreating the dishes he grew up with, and brings in musicians daily to help create a jazz-lounge atmosphere that’s completely unique – yet comfortable – to the Deep Ellum scene.
“We wanted to start with the food; once we got the food right, then we’d focus on the other things like the music. But with that said, people love the music here, and over the past few months we’ve had the opportunity to find the bands that we really like and get them back on a regular basis. It’s not really possible to get 30 different bands in here over the course of a month – especially right when you open – so this gives us an opportunity not only to hear a lot of new bands on some nights, but also listen to the bands we already know are great on some other nights,” says Myers of his restaurant, which took over the former Sol’s Taco space. “And with the layout we ended up with, it turned out great: The sound here works really well, but what I think is really cool is that I’ve always preferred a venue that’s up close and personal, where you’re right there with the band — it’s a New Orleans feel, and we’ve got that here.”Po’boy sandwich
Myers brought in Sutton, who also owns Desert Pear Catering Company, to not only create a Cajun menu, but to create a Cajun menu that the Free Man could call unique: Yes, it would have the gumbo and the red beans and rice with which Myers grew up, but it would also have a few items that can only be found at The Free Man, such as their Voodoo Chicken Sandwich.
“Growing up, I never realized that gumbo, red beans and rice, or other things like that weren’t just everyday fare for everyone. I just figured that’s what people ate all the time, because it was what my parents always made. Naturally, I wanted to recreate those recipes here. Well, my mom died 15 years ago – I wasn’t going to get her recipes, so Ricky came in here, and after a little experimentation, he got those to taste just like my mom made them. He nailed it,” says Myers. “And it’s not just the traditional stuff – there are a few things on our menu that you’re only going to find here, but it’s all in that Cajun vein – and we try to do everything by hand: Even our ketchup is homemade.”
There aren’t a whole lot of restaurants today that don’t want their customers to feel at home, and by making everything they can by hand, The Free Man is merely illustrating another aspect by which their customers might feel at home. But really, it’s more than that; Myers wants to see people having fun – great fun. He wants to see Deep Ellum completely revived and back to its heyday – a musician himself, he’s drawn to the overarching musical and cultural behemoth the neighborhood once was, and The Free Man Cafe is his unique way of helping to achieve that. After all, it’s a neighborhood that’s become what it is only after generations of different cultures contributed to it.
And in that respect, it’s lot like Cajun cuisine itself.