After two years CastawayAfter 15 years of cooking in Dallas‘ most elite kitchens, chef Ross Demers has finally opened his second restaurant, Cry Wolf.
Located in Old East Dallas about a mile from its first restaurant, On the Lamb, Cry Wolf is a quirky, unassuming 32-seater that’s quirky with an almost daily changing menu of inventive, chef-led dishes.
As of 2016, when On the Lamb closed its last position as executive chef at Flora Street Cafe, Demers says opening his own restaurant was all he could think of. He says his first restaurant was “on the verge of greatness”. Citing drug addiction and an unsuitable neighborhood as the reason for On the Lamb’s closure, he says, “I wasn’t ready for Deep Ellum, and Deep Ellum wasn’t ready for me.”
Demers left Richardson as a teenager to attend the California School of Culinary Arts and returned to Dallas to work in kitchens like The Mansion Restaurant, Stephan Pyles, Spoon, Smoke, Beverley’s and Flora Street Cafe. However, he says, the idea of owning his own restaurant made him hate every job he ever had.
“It’s been hell on earth working for other people in their restaurant and having to cook the food they want you to cook. It’s been a [expletive] nightmare. I put on my little hat and tried to smile and not get drunk to death,” he says with a characteristic booming laugh.
Loaded with pleasant and unexpected anomalies, it’s almost impossible not to smile at Demers at some point while dining at Cry Wolf. Dinner can start with a live scallop fresh off the coast from Nantucket with foie gras drizzled with browned butter – eaten on a repurposed pew while Lynyrd Skynyrd and Eddie Money play loudspeakers. A heartier dish could follow, such as Kashmiri-spiced quail with red coconut curry and fermented fennel, something Demers says he must have created one day from Led Zeppelin, before the check was presented in a book of retired library titled, How to talk to your cat about gun safety.
“I play at my own pace,” says Demers. Its eccentric and flamboyant air brings the neighborhood – as well as top Dallas chefs – to dinner. For example, private chef “Gigi” Zimmermann and nationally acclaimed chef Misti Norris of Petra & the Beast recently celebrated their birthdays at Cry Wolf. Norris calls it his favorite restaurant. Another regular, Homewood’s chef Matt McCallister, succinctly describes it: “a fun atmosphere and great food.”
The head chef is Liam Byres, former sous chef at the Homewood, Fauna and Flora Street Cafe. Demers says he likes working with him because he’s “into the way I move. He is the thinker; I am the maker.
Together, Demers says their ultimate goal is to serve a good dinner “that isn’t $24 meatballs 30 stories up in a $12 million dining room.”
The two chefs first met when Liam was around 8 years old and his father, Tim Byres, was the head chef at The Mansion on Turtle Creek. It was Demers’ first “real job” — as an oyster shucker — in 2007, when John Tesar was executive chef. Demers had just finished reading Anthony Bourdain Confidential kitchen.
“We’re not going to get too crazy,” Demers says, “but as a young cook working with a New York chef, that would totally insult you and throw you off. [expletive] to you – it was great. It was like, you can take it or you can’t, but I thought it was awesome. I think I’m part of the last generation of cooks who could deal with this.
By contrast, plenty of “thanks” can be heard at Cry Wolf’s chef’s counter seats, the bottom four seats of the bar that overlook the wood-fired parilla acquired from the famed Oklahoma City restaurant, Incomparablewhere Liam Byres got his first job as a cook.
At Cry Wolf, the parilla is used to cook one of Demers’ favorite dishes, grilled razor clams accompanied by a gremolata of charred shallots. “It’s so simple, like two ingredients,” says Demers. “That’s what I try to do – like, not how much [expletive] can I put on a plate, but for example, what is the minimum amount of ingredients that I can make to make this dish excellent? »
Of the chefs Demers has worked for, he credits Tesar for teaching him what he calls the highest level of French cuisine and technique. “I think people look at me as a fish cooker because of my tenor with him [at Spoon]but before him, I always thought that fish was the most delicate and sweetest thing in the world.
What Demers still doesn’t know how to do after all these years is how to price a menu or be consistent. “If I’m rated on consistency, I get zero stars,” he repeats with an infectious laugh. “If you came here two weeks ago and the snapper had a little more sauce on it, that in no way defines who I am as a chef.”
The goal for him and Byres is to have an empty walk-in by Sunday night and start fresh Tuesday, when a new menu is created based on what can be stolen that week. It will not necessarily be seasonal or local, even if Demers says he respects this approach.
“We are in 2022”, he specifies. “If I can get some Oregon black trumpet mushrooms through the night, and they’ll be at Love Field by noon… having black trumpet mushrooms is way cooler than not having black trumpet mushrooms.”
The general manager and sommelier is Tim Case, who moved from Memphis to manage Stirr, then worked at Fauna and Gemma. Demers describes him as “the ultimate showman” and the best he has ever seen in dealing with clients.
The wine list at Le Case matches the menu of dishes: constantly changing, but concise and accessible. He says he wants to “have a little fun without trying to shock you” and he doesn’t try to bore diners with his knowledge of wine.
“I think that’s why people love this place,” says Demers. “He’s not fake, and I’m not fake.”
While he plans to roll out more adventurous dishes after watching diners enjoy his “not-play-safe tricks,” Demers plans to set up the outdoor patio next. He has also submitted a letter of intent to rent the space next to the restaurant, where he may open a bar.
“That will be my goat,” he says, referring to the crisp but beloved East Dallas dive bar that opens at 7 a.m. “But only if I find someone very sober to run it.”
Cry Wolf is located at 4422 Gaston Ave., Dallas. Hours are 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. crywolfdallas.com.