Johnathan Brownlee Prepares for Dallas International Film Festival

Days ahead of the Dallas International Film Festival, Johnathan Brownlee and I sit down in his Design District office. Everyone in the office sits at their cubicles, anxiously typing away, preparing their final game plans for the festival. Brownlee, who is serving as the Executive Director of this year’s festival, is excited to showcase a variety of works by creatives from various parts of the world.

Throughout the course of his decades working in entertainment, Brownlee has shot and produced in different parts of the world, however, he has grown a great affinity for Dallas.

“Dallas really has all the urban and rural environments one needs to create a film project,” Brownlee says. “Plus, there are a lot of people here who want opportunities to grow within the industry.”

In 2016, Brownlee produced a feature-length film called “Three Days in August,” in which a young woman who was given up for adoption embarks on a journey to find her birth parents.

“We shot the whole thing in and around Dallas,” Brownlee says of his directorial debut film. “I worked with this amazing woman, Shannon Kincaid, to develop the project and ultimately shoot here and have it release at Studio Movie Grill locations nationwide. Everyone who worked on the film stayed together around the same area, so we all got to know each other very well. The camaraderie on set was very special.”

Although many people wanting to break into the industry work part-time jobs in different industries, Brownlee has been lucky enough to work within the entertainment industry from the beginning of his career.

“I’ve never had to wait tables, or work retail, or anything like that,” Brownlee says. “While I was studying to be an actor, I worked in the university’s scenic shop. I built sets, rigged, gripped; those types of things. I also made money renovating flipping homes, which led to the development of my series, ‘Johnathan Brownlee’s, atHome,’ based in Canada.”

This is Brownlee’s first year serving as Executive Director of the Dallas International Film Festival, and it is evident that he has a great vision for this year’s film showcase.

“I’m the new guy, and the new guy, oftentimes, gets to ask for forgiveness rather than permission,” Brownlee says. “I love this film festival. I’ve had four films show in the festival, so I kind of feel a responsibility to take the festival to another level.”

Perhaps the biggest change Brownlee will be making to the festival is the location and time. The festival will be taking place across the span of eight days, and all of the major programming will be screening at Magnolia Theater in Dallas’s West Village with family programming at Studio Movie Grill (Spring Valley).

Another big change to the festival includes a music component.

“Our Artistic Director, James Faust has programmed some wonderful films about music this year,” Brownlee says. “And some of the actual groups will be here to perform following the screenings.”

While organizing an 8-day long festival can be rather strenuous, Brownlee is thankful that working in Dallas doesn’t require getting through as much red tape as it would in other major entertainment cities.

“It’s easy to get things done here [in Dallas,]” Brownlee says. “we have great support from the City and it probably costs about a third less to put on a film festival here than what it would cost to put on a film festival in L.A. or New York.”

The Dallas International Film Festival kicks off on Thursday, May 3, and goes until May 10. Festivities will take place throughout West Village in Uptown Dallas. Passes can be purchased here.

Weekend Happenings 4/27-4/29: Arts N’ Beats, Taco Libre, and more

NFL Draft

Football fans, rejoice! Football season is underway. Make your way over to AT&T Stadium in Arlington to partake in the NFL Draft experience for free today and Saturday! Can’t make it to the draft? Be sure to download the official NFL Draft App for iOS and Android.

Live Music at Chocolate Secrets

Long week? Unwind with some wine and chocolate at Chocolate Secrets. The multi-talented Darwin Marvin will be performing tonight at 7:30 and locally renowned blues singer Martha Burks will be performing tomorrow at 7:30. Check out Burks’s rendition of “My Funny Valentine” below!

Art in the Square

Southlake’s Art in the Square festival will be ringing in its 19th year this weekend. Enjoy a variety of artworks, food stands, and drink options at one of the top small town art festivals in the nation. Want to arrive to the event in style? Use promo code DFWLOVE for $10 off of your first Uber ride! Art in the Square will be kicking off tonight at 4:00, then again on Saturday at 10:00 a.m. and Sunday at 11:00 a.m.

 

Movie in the Park

Tonight, The Shops at Park Lane will be hosting a free showing of the Academy Award-winning film, Coco. The showing will begin around 8:00 p.m., as soon as the sun goes down. Check out the trailer for Coco below!

Arts N’ Beats

Music, art, and fashion all come together at this Saturday’s Arts N’ Beats showcase. Be sure to stop by and see performances by Ron Bultongez, Blue Apollo, and more. Plus, an exclusive live art performance from Desmond Blair. Tickets for Arts N’ Beats can be purchased here. Proceeds from ticket sales will go to The Pursuit of Hope and Operation Go Quickly. Check out Desmond Blair’s inspiring story below!

 

Addison Health and Wellness Expo

Looking to make healthy life changes? Be sure to pay a visit to the Addison Health and Wellness Expo taking place at The Addison Conference Center this Saturday and Sunday. The Addison Health and Wellness Expo will feature lectures on physical, mental, and spiritual health, plus booths by Amy’s Chocolate, Down to Earth Vegetarian and Vegan Cuisine, and more. Tickets for the Addison Health and Wellness Expo can be purchased here.

 

Taco Libre

The biggest taco party of the year returns to Dallas Farmers Market this Saturday. Taco Libre will feature live wrestling, musical performances, and $2.00 tacos from 25 taquerias! For tickets, click here.

Taqueria La Ventana Opens in Cedar Springs

Last Wednesday, Taqueria La Ventana’s new Cedar Springs location celebrated its grand opening. In its first few days in operation, LV’s business has been booming. Taco heads are loving how quickly they can walk up to the stand, order tacos, and receive their order in a matter of minutes, despite how packed the booth is at any given time.

Although “La Ventana,” which translates to “The Window,” refers to the traditional Mexican method in which people order and receive tacos from the booth’s window, my friend Josh and I had the privilege of having our orders taken at our patio table on the night of the grand opening.

Upon our arrival, we meet Blake, one of the managers, who instructs, Jose, one of the cashiers to tend to mine and Josh’s needs.

Josh and I kick things off with frozen margaritas. I find the consistency of the margaritas to be like that of a Slurpee, minus any stubborn “frozen spots” at the bottom of the cup. The lime and alcohol flavors are perfectly balanced, and the drink goes down smoothly.

Cheers to Taqueria La Ventana’s grand opening (Photo credit: Alex Gonzalez)

Jose then brings us chips, with sides of queso, guacamole, and salsa. As for the queso and guacamole, I find both of them very light on spice. The salsa, on the other hand, is hot, spicy, and packs a powerful punch. I had never been served cooked salsa before, but this distinction in LV’s salsa makes for a delightful surprise. LV’s salsa is now a new favorite of mine.

Chips, queso, and guacamole (photo credit: Alex Gonzalez)

When it comes time for the tacos, I order the barbacoa and the suadero. Josh orders the pollo and the bistec. I am happy to see that whoever arranged the tacos doesn’t skimp on the meat. Plus, the cilantro and onion are served on the side, allowing the guest to throw on as much or as little as they want.

Taqueria La Ventana’s famous tacos (Photo credit: Alex Gonzalez)

As a Hispanic, I have high expectations for these tacos, and I must say, they were met. The meats are flavorful and spicy, and the tacos as a whole are filling and satisfying. I highly recommend adding the creamy tomatillo sauce to any of their tacos, because it is absolutely to die for! 

The team at Taqueria La Ventana is very efficient. Josh and I are amazed by how quickly our orders were taken and fulfilled, as well as how attentive the team members were. We leave the restaurant very pleased with our experience and with everyone who took care of us that evening.

Taqueria La Ventana makes for a cute, authentic taqueria in a highly urbanized district. It is the perfect place to meet with friends for tacos and margaritas in the summer heat, or to grab a late night snack after throwing down drinks at Station 4.

Taqueria La Ventana’s new Cedar Springs location is open Wednesday through Friday from 4:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Thompson Family Values: Mark Thompson on Home Security and Pest Control

Providing peace of mind is a full-time job. Mark Thompson, the founder of Smith Thompson Security, gladly accepts this responsibility. In a time when tragedies seem to take place on a daily basis, Thompson emphasizes the value of safety and security.

Mark Thompson started Smith Thompson Security in 1978. Smith Thompson Security is often regarded as a company born out of tragedy.

“My father was killed by a drunk driver,” Thompson says. “Our hometown’s newspaper did a story on our family and said we’d be out of town for the funeral. When we got back from the funeral, we discovered that our house had been robbed.”

The look on his mother’s face upon discovery of the horrific incident was enough to motivate Thompson to take action.

“I will never forget how much this broke my mother’s heart,” Thompson says. “Our family completely understands how violating such an act can be.”

Since that day, Thompson has been committed to providing security to families at a reasonable price.

“Back then, home security systems were expensive,” Thompson says. “Only the wealthy could afford them. We tried to find ways to make them affordable for everyone.”

Smith Thompson Security customers can create personalized packages to match the needs of their families.

“Everyone’s needs are different,” Thompson says. “You have to make the system adapt to the customer’s to live with them, not make the customer live with the system.”

Like his home security business, his pest control business, Smith Thompson Pest Control, has also proven lucrative. However, Thompson is a firm believer in working for one’s earnings. At the moment, his children are learning the ropes of the family business.

Smith Thompson’s official Pest Control truck (Photo credit: Alex Gonzalez)

“Everybody in my family starts off like I did,” Thompson says. “I was crawling around in attics running wiring. My son, Jordan, is in the pest control business, and he’s learning it from the ground up.”

Thompson’s years of hard work and dedication have proven to be fruitful. Smith Thompson Security is currently the official home security system of the Dallas Mavericks.

“On our 30th anniversary, my wife and I came up with this crazy idea to visit all 30 NBA arenas,” Thompson says. “It started off as a joke, then it became a dare, then we actually did it. And then, the following year, we became sponsors after receiving a lot of media attention. We’ve been sponsors ever since.”

Having been heavily involved with the Dallas Mavericks for nearly eight years, Thompson won MFFL award at the final Mavs game of the 2017-2018 season.

Rick Carlisle, Lynda Thompson, and Mark Thompson at recent Mavs luncheon. (Photo credit: Tammany Stern)

Despite his staple status in the DFW community, Thompson has remained humble, hardworking, and dedicated to providing quality service to families and homeowners. Since Smith Thompson’s early beginnings, Thompson has never increased his home monitoring rate from $16.95 per month.

Smith Thompson Security currently serves families and homeowners in over 150 cities and towns in Texas. To get set up with affordable home security, call 1-888-888-1695, or visit http://smiththompson.com.

Weekend Happenings: 4/20 – 4/22

Unlawful Assembly Brewery Tour

Tired of the same boring brewery tours? Then make your way over to Legacy Hall! Unlawful Assembly Brewing Co. offers tour every Saturday from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. The tour is led by the hilarious David Jessup and Phil Parsons. For $15.00, each participant receives a souvenir pint glass, two beers, and the brewery tour of a lifetime.  If you enjoy raunchy humor, good beer and obtaining educational information, then UABC is the place for you.

A selection of beers available at Unlawful Assembly Brewing Company (photo credit: Alex Gonzalez)

EarthX

Dallas’s annual Earth Day festival will be taking place starting today and ending this Sunday. The three-day long free event will feature interactive exhibits and showcase a variety of documentaries. There will also be musical performances by Chucho, Atlantis Aquarius, Black Joe Lewis, and more. To see the musical performances, you will need to pay a $5.00 fee, but on Sunday, if you bring a vinyl record, you can see the music performances free of charge! For a full schedule of events, click here

A screencap from “Bangladesh,” a short film to be showcased at EarthX this weekend (Via EarthX)

Main Street Fort Worth Arts Festival

Got rained out of Deep Ellum Arts Festival? Well lucky for you, Fort Worth will be having an arts festival of their own this weekend. The Main Street Fort Worth Arts Festival will showcase a variety of food, paintings, sculptures, music and more from local artisans. The best part? Attendance is free! For a full schedule of events, click here

The Main Street Fort Worth Arts Festival will have activities for people of all ages (Via Main Street Fort Worth Arts Festival)

Live Music at Chocolate Secrets

Chocolate, wine, and music: the best way to end a stressful week. Every weekend Highland Park’s Chocolate Secrets features live performances from local artists. Be sure to catch Cindy Hortsman and Mike Medina tonight beginning at 7:30 and Joe McBride this Saturday at 7:30. Check out Horstman’s “Summertime” below!

 

Al Biernat’s Introduces Brunch Menu

Earlier this month, Al Biernat’s unveiled their brunch menu and began to share its offerings with the public. For those wanting a luxurious, lavish brunch experience, Al Biernat’s should most definitely be on your food bucket list.

Now, before you make any brunch plans, be prepared to break the bank. The items on Al Biernat’s brunch menu are a bit pricey, however, I can vouch for the fact that the service, quality of the food, and the overall experience is worth every penny.

I arrive at Al Biernat’s on a Sunday morning. Upon arrival, I am quickly greeted and offered a place to hang my coat. The rest of my party has arrived before me, so I am immediately guided to my table.

To kick things off, I order a mimosa. Al Biernat’s mimosa can be described as a glass of champagne with slight touches of orange juice, which, if we’re being honest, is the way to do it. I mean, come on! No one wants to spend $7 on a glass of orange juice, am I right?

A selection of drinks from Al Biernat’s (Photo credit: Alex Gonzalez)

Al Biernat’s brunch menu boasts a variety of options for appetizers, including Atlantic Calamari, Lump Crab Cake, and Crab & Corn Chowder. I, however, opt for something light; the Seasonal Fruit.

The Seasonal Fruit is an arrangement of fruits of almost every color of the rainbow. There is a small bowl of raspberry yogurt in the middle of the fruit plate, which complements the already sweet, fresh fruit nicely.

Seasonal Fruit from Al Biernat’s (photo credit: Alex Gonzalez)

For my main course, I order the Carne Asada with scrambled eggs. The other two people in my party order the Chicken Fried Chicken and the Shrimp & Grits. During the main course, my party and I pass our plates around and allow each other to take a bit off of each others’ plates.

Carne Asada from Al Biernat’s (photo credit: Alex Gonzalez)

Out of all of the items I sample that morning, I must say, the Shrimp and Grits is my favorite. The grits are warm and have a sweet flavor to them and the shrimp are thick, meaty, and hearty. The shrimp come slathered in Al Biernat’s creole sauce, which is absolutely to die for! The creole sauce packs a perfect punch of sweet, spicy, and tangy. I love it so much that I order the sauce on the side, so I can put it on my eggs and carne asada.

Shrimp & Grits from Al Biernat’s (photo credit: Alex Gonzalez)

To wrap things up, we order the Brioche French Toast for the table to share. The Brioche French Toast comes topped with caramelized bananas, blackberries, and Chambord cream. The toast is cooked to a fluffy, cake-like consistency. It is a warm mound of pillowy goodness. Plus, the fruit was good and fresh, not mushy and soggy like in other restaurants.

Brioche French Toast from Al Biernat’s (photo credit: Alex Gonzalez)

If you’ve got extra money to spend, Al Biernat’s brunch is definitely worth dropping a pretty penny. Be sure to arrive in your best clothes with your favorite people.

Al Biernat’s brunch is served every Sunday from 11:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Joon Choe on FreshFin’s Legacy Hall Revival

Within the past few years, poké bowl restaurants have spread rapidly across the Dallas metroplex. Poké is a raw fish salad popular in Asian and Hawaiian cultures.

FreshFin, a concept which originally opened its doors in Lower Greenville in 2016, can be credited as one of the first restaurants to popularize poké in Dallas.

Earlier this year, FreshFin closed its Lower Greenville location, however, they are currently thriving in its new home in Legacy Hall.

One of FreshFin’s poke bowls. (Via Instagram, photo credit: @platesofplano)

“We don’t like to say ‘closing,’ rather, we like to think of it as a revival,” owner Joon Choe says. “As much as we would’ve liked for the Lower Greenville be our flagship location, I think it makes more sense to have Legacy West as the new flagship. I can’t split my body into two and be in both locations at once, but luckily, I’m able to put my energy into the Legacy West location and focus on making it great.”

After being approached to open a stand in Legacy Hall, Choe was excited for the opportunity to grow within Plano.

“Real estate was definitely a big factor for us moving to Legacy West,” Choe says, “but working with Frontburner Restaurants was the biggest factor for us. Seeing how Frontburner has opened restaurants and proven time and time again to be successful, it was really a no-brainer for me.”

Prior to opening FreshFin, Choe spent a lot of time traveling throughout Asia, learning the craft and studying the food consumption habits of various Asian countries.

“The demands are completely different food-wise,” Choe says. “The fact that each region had its own impact on the type of food that was served, was eye-opening to me.”

Following his travels, Choe decided to take what he learned and incorporate it into FreshFin’s operations. As a restaurant owner, Choe places a lot of weight on customer satisfaction.

FreshFin offers options for vegetarians (Via Facebook)

“I’m no celebrity by any means, but I always search ‘FreshFin’ on social media outlets to see how people are reacting to the food,” Choe says. “FreshFin is my baby, and I want to see if there’s anything people don’t like about it. I opened this business to serve people and I always want to make it better, for the best interest of my customers.”

FreshFin’s signature Crispy Rice Ahi Tower (Via Facebook)

From the moment Choe wakes up to when he goes to sleep at night, his mind is always on FreshFin. Luckily, he has a good team behind him to help lighten the load.

“I spend roughly about 80 to 90 hours per week in the restaurant,” Choe says. “ I consider myself always on the run, I’m always taking calls for FreshFin at all hours of the day. Doing everything on my own has been difficult, but I’ve good a good group of people at Champion and Frontburner helping with marketing and advertising. It’s a huge weight off of my shoulders.”

Despite having accomplished more than most 25-year-olds can say, Choe insists he is just getting started.

“I feel like we’ve made such a small dent in Dallas’s industry,” Choe says. “Poké is such a small factor of food in Dallas. For me, I consider my success helping people eat a little more healthy.”

FreshFin is currently open in Legacy Hall. Be sure to stop by and try their many poké bowls, sushi burritos, and their signature Crispy Rice Ahi Tower.

Toulouse Marks Another Win for Legacy West

If five years ago, someone told me that Plano would grow to be a thriving restaurant and nightlife district, I probably would’ve never believed them. What I love about Legacy West are the many opportunities for shoppers, diners, and consumers to embrace a variety of world cultures. At Legacy West’s newest addition, Toulouse, Planoites are offered a wide selection of fine, authentic French cuisine.

Toulouse is the product of Lombardi Family Concepts, the founders of Taverna. It is the second of three Lombardi restaurants to open in the Legacy West development thus far (the third being Kai, which is set to open later this spring.)

On a Thursday evening, my best friend Nick and I dine in Legacy West’s newest addition. Upon arrival, we are promptly greeted by a hostess, who appears to be in great spirits. Although my reservation has somehow managed to have gotten lost, we are welcomed with open arms and seated immediately.

The restaurant’s walls, ceilings, and floors are decorated in white and silver. Each shelf of the bar is stacked to the brim with fine wines and pricey liquors. It is a replication of an authentic French brasserie.

Moments after being seated, we are approached by a server, who is clearly knowledgeable of the menu, ready to make suggestions based on our tastes.

To kick things off, we both order Old Fashioneds. Traditionally, an Old Fashioned consists of bitters, rye whiskey or brandy. Although the drink is served in a tiny glass, the amount served was satisfying. It is a very strong cocktail, so it is best sipped slowly.

Toulouse’s spin on the Old Fashioned (Photo credit: Alex Gonzalez)

For my second drink, I order the Blackberry Mule. I had previously tried the Blackberry Mule at Taverna and it immediately became a favorite of mine. I am thrilled to see that Lombardi brought it over to Toulouse. The Blackberry Mule is heavy on fruit flavor, but not too strong on booze. It’s like drinking a pressed berry juice with a ginger kick.

The Lombardi signature Blackberry Mule (photo credit: Alex Gonzalez)

When it came time to order appetizers, we ordered the Escargot Bourguignonne and the Oysters Rockefeller. When Nick and I order appetizers we typically take a little bit off of each others’ plates, and that night was no different.

I had never tried escargot before, but I am quite surprised by how much I enjoy Toulouse’s. They are easy to chew and taste no different from most kinds of seafood. Plus, the garlic sauce they come coated in adds an absolutely divine kick.

Escargot Bourguignonne from Toulouse (photo credit: Alex Gonzalez)

What I like about Toulouse’s oysters is the fact that they aren’t super greasy and oily, like those of most restaurants. Albeit light on oil, Toulouse’s oysters are still very hearty and flavorful.

Toulouse’s signature Oysters Rockefeller (Photo credit: Alex Gonzalez)

For my main course, I order the Duck Two Ways. The Duck Two Ways is a plate containing Long Island Duck Breast, both grilled and fried, compressed apples, potato dauphinoise, and dark cherry demi. I find the duck to be delicious beyond my expectations, and the pairing with the fruits allow for sweet touches.

Toulouse’s signature Duck Two Ways (Photo credit: Alex Gonzalez)

Like the appetizers, Nick and I go splitzies on our desserts. We ordered soufflé and crème brûlée. It was my first time trying soufflé, and I wasn’t expecting it to be so egg-heavy. It’s good, but perhaps I probably would enjoy it more around breakfast time.

Soufflé from Toulouse (Photo credit: Alex Gonzalez)

The crème brûlée, on the other hand, is incredible. The caramelized coating is crisp to the touch, and the custard filling is thick, creamy, and consistent; not at all sloppy or oozy. Toulouse’s crème brûlée is probably the most well put-together version of the dish I have ever had the pleasure to try.

Crème brûlée from Toulouse (Photo credit: Alex Gonzalez)

Overall, I feel Toulouse is a fabulous addition to Legacy West. It is the closest thing to a French brasserie one can get in Dallas and makes for a remarkable cultural experience. Lombardi Family Concepts can do no wrong, and they show no signs of slowing down.

Luciano Salvadore on Early Career Beginnings and Coming to America

Perhaps one of the best-kept secrets in the realm of Dallas fine dining is Southlake. Known for its lavish neighborhoods and shopping centers, the city of Southlake boasts a variety of fine dining experiences. Although Southlake may be a bit of a drive, lovers of Italian food should most certainly pay a visit to Il Calabrese.

Il Calabrese is the brainchild of  Luciano Salvadore. From a young age, Salvadore was passionate about food. He studied culinary arts in Italy and graduated from The Recoaro Terme Culinary School at just 17 years old.

“School was pretty easy for me,” Salvadore says. “The hard part comes after. School is just pen and paper, but when you start cooking, it becomes a much harder process. Even now, 40 years after finishing school, I still find new ideas and challenges.”

Calamari Fritti from Il Calabrese (Via Facebook)

Despite owning one of the biggest, and most acclaimed restaurants in Southlake, Salvadore is always sure to keep an open mind. He believes that no matter how far one comes in their career, there is always room for improvement.

“A lot of people come out of culinary school thinking they know everything, and that’s the worst thing you could do,” Salvadore says. “There is something to be learned from everyone. Always be humble, be polite, and be respectful to others.”

Salvadore has lived by this code since the early beginning of his career. He came back and forth from Italy three times before he finally opened Il Calabrese.

“The first time I came to America, I told myself ‘if it doesn’t work out here, it’ll just be a vacation’” Salvadore says. “I worked in six different places my first year here. This guy hired me to help open a restaurant in January of that year. It didn’t end up opening until May, so in between that time, he had me helping out his friends in different restaurants all over town for anywhere between two weeks and two months at a time. Once the restaurant where I was working opened in May, I worked there for six months, then I moved back to Italy. Everything here was all too much for me.”

Salvadore’s return to Italy, however, didn’t last long.

“You grow to miss America,” Salvadore says. “Your mentality in your career changes when you get to America. You become open to more challenges. There’s a lot more competition in Dallas’s restaurant industry, but there are also a lot more opportunities to thrive.”

Insalata di Mare from Il Calabrese (Via Facebook)

Salvadore cites American eating habits as major factors in his decision to return to the states.

“In Italy, they go out to eat for special occasions, like birthdays,” Salvadore says. “Americans eat out seven days a week. There are a lot of people here who don’t mind spending money on different products, therefore, it is easier to work and make money here.”

Il Calabrese makes their tortellini in-house (Via Facebook)

Since Il Calabrese’s opening in 2014, Salvadore has certainly proven that by being open to challenges and new ideas, one will most certainly see success. Il Calabrese offers a variety of Italian dishes with ingredients sourced directly from Italy.

Il Calabrese is located at 1281 E State Hwy 114, Southlake, TX 76092. They are open seven days a week, from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.