If you blinked, you might have missed it. While the spotlight shone on the Harbor and the growth along the I-30 corridor over the last year or so, downtown Rockwall was quietly transforming itself. Not so long ago it seemed that the heart of the city was destined to suffer the fate of all too many Texas towns. An observer standing on the courthouse steps could almost see the tumbleweed making its way down Rusk Street while counting the vacant storefronts.
But you blinked, didn’t you? If you’re looking for tumbleweed these days, you’ve got some drive time ahead of you. Good luck finding retail or office space to rent anywhere near the square. And where did all those amazing restaurants come from all of a sudden?
One of the most exciting and welcome changes to downtown has been its recent emergence as a fine dining destination. No fewer than four new restaurants, each with its own claim to greatness, have moved in, and it hasn’t taken long for local foodies to pick their favorites. Here’s a quick rundown to help you have fun choosing yours.
For solid Texas-style cuisine dine at Bin 303 at 105 Olive Street, just north of the Square. Chef Mat Nugent styles and prepares his dishes with what he terms a “Go Texas” attitude. Using local and seasonal ingredients, Mat rotates his menu and wine list to showcase the best our state has to offer. The extensive wine collection is evident through the windowed wine cave off the dining room, and the wait staff is well-briefed to help diners choose just the right vintage to complement their food selection. From the Vegetable Bake, layered with locally produced cheese and vegetables, to Wood Fired Hand Cut Ribeye for the heartier appetite, the menu is crafted to offer the ultimate Lone Star dining experience. You’ll also enjoy nice extra touches like coffee served in its own press with dessert. See the full and ever-changing menu at Bin303.com.
When the occasion calls for an atmosphere of quiet elegance, then pay a visit to Restaurant Ava, at 105 South Goliad. Owners and chefs Randall Copeland and Nathan Tate are also believers in supporting local purveyors, and even give them a shout-out on a page on their website, RestaurantAva.com. Impeccable presentation and unique flavors are trademarks of Ava’s offerings. Each entrée is paired with sides that are carefully chosen to make the whole much greater than the sum of its parts. If you’re lucky enough to catch the wood-fired filet with bleu cheese souffle on the menu, you’ll quickly get the picture. Whatever you order, be prepared for a pleasant surprise. Restaurant Ava is also open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and for Sunday Brunch. If that’s not enough, Tuesday is half-price wine night.
Zanata, 202 East Rusk, bills itself as “a gathering place for family and friends”. There’s no denying a feeling of everybody-knows-your-name as you enter and spot the large and welcoming bar which fronts the wood burning oven at the back. The handmade wood-fired pizza with its seemingly endless variety of toppings is arguably the favorite menu item, but don’t overlook the double cut roasted pork chop or the wild salmon. Each entree is paired with a uniquely satisfying combination of tastes. Zanata is open daily from 5:00PM.
If Tex-Mex is your preference, look no further than El Cayote Rojo at 308 North Fannin St. With an extensive menu, including a special kids section, there’s bound to be something to please anyone looking for a flavorful dining experience. The brisket tacos are especially tasty. The ambience is casual, with friendly wait staff and comfortable surroundings. The tree-shaded back deck is the place to be on a warm evening, and the elegantly wood paneled main dining room quietly urges one to relax and enjoy.
Great as these restaurants are, visitors would be doing themselves a disservice by merely eating and running. Downtown offers an engaging before or after dinner stroll, from picturesque courthouse square to the varied shops and the occasional view of Lake Ray Hubbard. Parking is a breeze, and the doors are open. Come on down!
After you’ve had your meal and your walk, be sure to share your experience in the Restaurant Forum.
Planet Rockwall Contributor