BOLSA / SMOKE / 48 NIGHTS
three completely different concepts, one common thread among them
keep it local, keep it community, keep it Oak Cliff.
by Kerrie Sparks // food-sparks.com

Christopher Jeffers and Chris Zielke credit a unique, close-knit group of collaborators
for the success of each of three restaurants they co-own. But I think if you were to
ask the community, the credit would come back to them for bringing a style
of eating, dining, and community cohesiveness to Oak Cliff that is akin
to Goldilocks’ third bowl of porridge.
Just right!

I sat down with the co-owners of Bolsa, Smoke, and the recently launched
guerilla restaurant,
48 Nights, at their middle-child location, Smoke, and
asked them a few questions about what it’s like to rule the South Dallas roost.
KS: Since it’s the first-born child, who initially came up with the concept for Bolsa?

CZ: It was a collaboration, we’ve known each other for a long time.  We were looking for
a simple bar, probably do some live music, looking between uptown and down here.  
We both love this area.  Christopher was living down here already, and I wasn’t at the
time, but I am now.  Now I just live at Bolsa, I might as well not have a house.

We found the Settles Garage.  We wanted it to be something very organic, in both the
food and the concept, and how we fit in the neighborhood with the existing restaurants
that are here was important.  We wanted the community that’s here to be a part of it.  
We didn’t want to be an Uptown transplant.  We really wanted to build a concept
around the building and the community.  We wanted somebody who had experience
to guide us thru it, so we called Royce Ring and Alexander Urrunago at
Plan B Group.

CJ: The cool thing about Bolsa was there were the four of us involved.  I’d never seen
where four people who had a lot of ideas, could come together cohesively into a really
good delivery.  That doesn’t happen too often.

CZ:  Everything is always a work in progress, always a struggle to just get better.  As you go
along, you do what you can afford to do, as good as you can.  And then slowly you
continue to refine it, purify it, continually changing small things to improve it.

KS: Give me the breakdown on the three restaurants with regards to the relationships that
have formed between them?

CZ: We’ve got Graham (Dodds) over at Bolsa in the kitchen, we brought Tim (Byres) on
over here at Smoke, and 48 Nights was a bit of a progression of this place, born out of
talks with
the developer of that building, who was coming in here a lot to eat.  Graham has played
an integral part in 48 nights as well.  Both he and Tim started calling all the chefs they
knew, and then slowly people started calling us back.

KS: With Bolsa it was converting the Settles Garage, then the old diner next to the iconic
Belmont Hotel becomes Smoke, and now 48 Nights in a space that will soon be scraped to
make way for the new Lake Flato and Good Fulton & Farrell designed development,
Sylvan
| Thirty.  Each space is so unique, what was it like going thru the design process for each?

CJ: It was a reality show waiting to happen!
CZ: Bolsa, from the time we signed a lease, to the time we opened, took two years.  And
with Smoke, from the time the owner of the
Belmont Hotel  first contacted us, to the time
we opened, took about 3 months.

CJ: [laughs] Three months!

CZ: We never shut-down the kitchen, we continued serving upstairs.  Their chef stayed on
thru most of that transition period, then Tim came in about a month before we opened,
when he left Stephen Pyles.
Interior - Smoke
KS: How important was it you choose to rehabilitate an existing space for your restaurants?

CZ: We prefer to take existing spaces and have some respect to the history of what it
was.  

CJ: Bolsa has really good bones, it has a good energy.  We didn’t even paint the interior
really.  We pretty much left the majority of it the way it was, and I think that’s really
important.  There’s a lot of recycled factors to Bolsa, like the original cement floors inside
we recycled, and that’s what the outside patio area is made of.  Even the interiors at
Smoke, a lot of what you see on the walls is second-hand stuff, like the apothecary
shelves and the ship lap on the walls.  A guy Chris knows crafted the bar by hand.  We
didn’t buy anything new except the carpet.

KS: What other kinds of materials were important to each space?

CZ:  Wood.  Keeping things earthy, while juxtaposing some modern touches like
aluminum tables on the patios and plastic chairs.  We try to keep wood and metal as
key textures.

CJ: Somewhat industrial.  With Bolsa being small, it’s got to have a very clean aesthetic
to it, and here, with Smoke, it’s about 5,000 sq. ft, so we could rough it up a little bit.  
Which is very much our personalities, by the way.  With Bolsa, Chris is the neat freak,
and Smoke is kind of like a Grandmother’s house, with too many pictures on the walls.

KS: You worked with Plan B Group on the design for Bolsa, who did you use for Smoke
and 48 Nights?

CJ: Mike Thompson.

KS: I hear that everything in the 48 Nights space came from the Salvation Army?

CZ: Yes, all donated by the Salvation Army.  Mike volunteers his Mondays and Tuesdays
to help out with that, because he has so much fun doing it.
Interior Bolsa
KS: I have to say that I got to meet Mike when
I dined at 48 Nights, and he was absolutely
lovely.  Picture Where’s Waldo meets Todd
Oldham, but in a totally squirrelly haired,
large wood rimmed glasses, retro-modern
way.  He was as cute as the fabric-covered
button on his impeccably classy tweed jacket.

KS: What’s your favorite thing in either
restaurant?  Say, what would you run out with
if a tornado were coming?

CJ: Probably the pictures on the wall at
Bolsa, the original screen prints from Texas
artist Dirk Fowler.

CZ: The vintage gliders outside Bolsa that took
me about 6 months to find and refinish.
 

CJ: No, you’d take the walnut table
underneath the large can lamp – he made
that!  He got the wood off of some redneck in
the middle of Iowa, and had it shipped
here.  It weighed about 150lbs.  That’s what
you’d take.
KS: You guys use Texas Olive Ranch olive oil, you get hydroponically grown products from
Tassione Farms, Smoke has it’s own quarter-acre raised garden, Bolsa’s chef, Graham
Dodds, makes and uses his own honey, and last summer you launched your own farmers
market once a month at Bolsa.  It’s obvious that local and sustainable roots run deep for
you guys, just how important was it that these elements be a factor in your restaurant
family?

CZ:  Very important.  At some level it’s just a matter of taste, and the product, and the
food.  Things just taste better, and having a commitment to that makes for a better
product at the end of the day, to use somebody local, and it helps the food community
in Dallas grow.  The longer we work with local farmers, giving them an outlet where they
can always sell their product, that’s a huge deal because it lets them grow some crazy
stuff that they wouldn’t be able to sell commercially to anybody else.  It’s great to see
the local community growing.  I think it’s exciting as a restaurateur to be able to buy
something from a face you know.

CJ: I think the footprint on the plate…it’s now become a common reality that the
consumer wants to know where the food came from.  It’s going to be a common thing
five years from now, but it’s something that’s always been common sense to us.  
KS: The next best thing to sliced bread is?
CZ: The iPhone.
CJ: Pandora.com or iTunes Genius.

KS: Pork fat or butter?  Cake or pie?
CZ: Butter, pie.  
CJ: Butter, pie.

KS: Favorite websites/blogs?
CZ: Eats, SideDish, City of Ate, Hidden List, eBay, Craigslist, and Yelp.
CJ: Eats, and Yelp.

KS: Best way to spend 48 hours?
CZ: Sleeping.
CJ: At the movies, outta’ town, or just home with my family.  

KS: You’re on a stranded island and a plane makes a food drop.  What do you hope is in
that crate?
CZ: Gummi bears.
CJ: Tacos from El Si Hay’s.

The Eats:

Bolsa
– ‘Twig & Branch’ flatbread with wild arugula, Dallas goat cheese, and oven roast
grapes, all washed down with either a watermelon margarita or sangria rojo.  Roasted
grapes…who would have thought, but it’s like warm olives from the oven, it just works.
Smoke – Coffee cured beef brisket anointed with fat, juicy pickle slices which were
perfectly briny and semi-sweet at the same time, and a side of hominy casserole w/
smoked cheddar and green chili.  The brisket was perfectly smoky even naked, before I
dredged it thru all of the four sauce accompaniments they offer.  I washed it all down
with their version of a spiked sweet ice tea, just the right amount of sweet, and refreshing
with a few pieces of mint.  It was like mojito meets southern sweet tea.
48 Nights – The wonderful Abraham Salum was the guest chef the night I dined, and his
menu of mushroom pate, scallop on a lentil fritter, braised Berkshire pork on salsify and
goat cheese puree, and mascarpone filed crepe with sherry roasted pear was
absolutely divine.  I sat at the small area of the bar that butted up to the steam and
prep tables area of the kitchen, providing me a bird’s eye view of Abraham at work, and
he chatted me up between each course, which was nice.
Kerrie Sparks is the art director of a North Texas arts and architecture magazine
and has quite the foodie following at
www.food-sparks.com.

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