I can’t believe I’m saying this, but ambitious young chefs looking for great opportunities to show off their skills should consider the suburbs.
This goes against everything an Oak Cliff planner like me should believe. But the thought was inescapable when I walked into Pangea, a triumphant new Garland restaurant where chef Kevin Ashade effortlessly weaves his African roots into a gourmet menu that looks like a map of the world.
Pangea is on the ground floor of the first of more than a dozen gleaming new buildings on the northern edge of Garland. For the apartment complex, Berkshire Spring Creek, the restaurant is a signature amenity; for Ashade, it’s a chance to make a big, bold statement.
Its dining space is huge, starting with an entry lounge filled with sofas and coffee tables. Metal scaffolding hangs above the bar like a monument to alcohol. The cabins are installed at height, as on stage. Flat screens sport on almost every wall. There are two different patios. The floor is parquet style.
Even more ambitious, Pangea bears the name of the supercontinent which, 200 million years ago, contained all the land on the planet.
“Everything was connected,” Ashade says. “There was no separation. The same with my food. I have Italian, Asian, African – all foods. Whatever your mood, I can find food for you.
In other words: there’s a lot going on at Pangea, which opened in January, and it’s up to the vision of Ashade and her colleagues to tie it all together.
Delivering food from around the world is a daunting task. But if anyone can serve up West African dishes like suya and jollof rice alongside steaks and cheesecakes, it’s Ashade, who has experience in almost any cuisine.
“I received global training,” says Ashade. ” I am African. I know a lot of European things. I grew up in Texas. I worked in New York. I have lived in England, Spain and Nigeria. I learned the French technique. So I had a bit of everything. »
Born in Dallas, Ashade grew up in two kitchens, cooking with his African mother and his best friend’s Jamaican parents.
I would recommend starting a journey into this chef’s mind with an appetizer of suya, the West African barbecue skewers that look like kebabs. Ashade’s meats, peppers, and onions are coated in a warm, salty, peanuty, and bold spice blend — the greatest flavor I’ve encountered since restaurants closed in March.
We sampled the shrimp suya ($12) and found tender shrimp on three skewers on a small bed of greens. The greens look like a garnish, but as the spices drip from the meat and peppers, they become a zesty salad instead.
In contrast, greens under Jamaican Beef Pastries simply wilt. But the pastries themselves are soft, slightly sweet squares with seamed edges, filled with ground beef, red and black pepper, allspice, and Caribbean heat ($12). I could munch on a can all week long.
The Jamaican seasonings reappear on the main course of lamb shank, a huge portion of meat — Ashade calls it her “dinosaur bone” — that’s perfectly cooked ($36). It’s tempting to overcook lamb shanks until the meat falls off the bone in a searing mess, but Pangea avoids that mistake. This lamb is tender yet firm, and the jerk spice warms the soul.
By the way, Pangea has some of the best crab cakes around. They’re $16, but that’s because they’re filled to the brim with crabmeat and seasoning, and barely enough filling to hold the cakes together.
Ashade’s most famous dish, however, is coq au vin, which is titled “Have Thanks!” because it is with this recipe that Ashade won an episode of Defeat Bobby Flay. Flay, bewildered by the challenge of cooking a dish that typically braises all afternoon within the show’s 45-minute time frame, produced substandard and inconsistent chicken. Ashade had a trick up his sleeve: he first fried his chicken, then added it to the sauce.
Watch the episode on Hulu, then head to Garland and try the winning plate ($30). Ashade’s coq au vin has the nostalgic, wine-heavy, long-cooked flavor that leaves the French licking their silverware. The spices incorporated are subtle but lovely; the mashed potatoes underneath have some texture and an indulgent amount of butter and garlic.
These same mashed potatoes can be served with the lamb shank or as a $6 side dish. This brings me to another point: apart from the salads, it can be difficult to come across vegetables in Pangea. Ashade is gifted with carbohydrates; at one point my table for two was staring at plates containing mashed potatoes, oatmeal, risotto, cornbread, and macaroni, all at once.
Incidentally, the champion starch is the order of grits, real, long-cooking grits with a blend of five cheeses and seeded jalapeños ($6). But the risotto jollof, a slight twist on the long-simmered West African tomato and rice dish, is also excellent and especially handy for cooling down the heat of the suya ($6).
One thing I noticed, after returning to Oak Cliff one night with a takeout coq au vin and Argentinian steak topped with chimichurri ($38) in the passenger seat, is that Pangea’s food travels badly. That’s because meats rely on good searing and precise cooking times; in a box to take on a long trip, they steam.
Well worth the effort to try Pangea’s food near its source. Sit in the restaurant’s two huge patios, where strict staffing prevents crowding. Or pack a picnic blanket and bring takeout to Spring Creek Greenbelt or nearby Breckinridge Park.
Ashade says he’s brought in clients from all over, even Arlington and Mansfield. But he sees its location in Garland as a major plus, capturing a neighborhood that doesn’t have many fine restaurants. Here, the menu is more upscale, the atmosphere is one where you can dress up a little, the price is a little higher, but you’re still comfortable, it’s not too chic .
“There’s nothing like it here,” he says. “A lot of people are tired of driving downtown, downtown traffic – it gives you a bit of a New York or Chicago vibe, but it’s in the suburbs. Suburban people love places like this, but they don’t want to drive downtown. I’m here for the long haul. I’m not here to be here five years and quit. The young crowd [is] cool, but I’m also here for families, for people here who also want to have a good time.
Do you hear that, young chefs? The suburbs invite themselves. And they will accommodate even the most ambitious chefs, even a chef who uses his African roots as the starting point for a menu that attempts to span the globe.
Pangea, 6309 N. President George Bush Hwy., No. 8101, Garland. 214-703-2222, pangeadallas.com. Open from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. from Tuesday to Thursday; 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday; 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.