Chad Houser Served a Salad on a Plate Made of Sod, and His Pop-Up Crowd Devoured It

Categories: Food News

This thick hunk of sod served as a plate for a rustic salad.
Chad Houser told me things were going to be different at his next Café Momentum dinner, but when a large hunk of sod landed in front of me at my table, I felt a little unprepared. I wasn't the only one. In every direction questions rose up out of the darkness. "Are you supposed to eat it?" "Is that really grass?" "Is that dirt?"

See Also: Chad Houser's Cafe Momentum To Cook Underground Dinner For The Hip

The answers to each of these questions was obscured by lighting so dim you had to hunt for your fork before you figured out how to use it. In the end, yes, it really was sod, and yes, the sod clung to a considerable hunk of earth, and yes, you were supposed to eat it, but only what was gently laid on top and not the sod itself.

The greens were very lightly dressed and seemingly pulled from the earth seconds before they ended up in the salad. There were unidentified leafy things with toothy roots and greens with a pronounced herbaceous flavor. It was elegantly simple once you figured out how to eat it.

Forks were useless unless you wanted to turn up soil so we dove in with our hands. Through the murky dark I watched a woman forage, her wrists pointed upward over curled paws like a rabbit. She chewed with rapid fervor and stopped sharply as if alerted. "I think I ate some dirt," the rabbit said. I thought I did too.

Houser's Café Momentum dining event has become a staple in Dallas, raising money to help kids who have gotten a bad shake. But this version felt like Houser hijacked, or maybe Houser on acid. House of Plates, a group known for throwing booze-heavy cultural events featuring music, fashion and now food, promoted the dinner, and the results were strange.

They also got people talking. Dining in the near pitch black removes an important tool used to evaluate food. You can still smell things, but with your sight stripped away your mind plays tricks. Smoked squash and an unidentified pork product might taste like bacon for a flash, until you realize it's chorizo. And then you subsequently realize the chorizo is floating in a decadent soup. The appreciation comes in layers.

Other dishes and flavors were a lot easier to understand. They include the minerality of beef tartar, fashioned from hunks of meat larger and chewier than you're used to, and all the more delicious. Or a monster pork belly tater tot, with a maple-bourbon ketchup that smacked of barbecue sauce. And the pickles that were served at the end of the meal, of crunchy carrots and beets -- these dishes appealed to a familiar understanding of what food should be. They were delicious, and against the surreal, barely-candle-lit backdrop created by the folks at House of Plates, they were reassuring.

As was the wine, which combined with odd food and odd settings (assigned seats paired you up strangers instead of people you know) kept the chatter moving.

Good conversation is almost a given at pop-up dinners. Houser has held events in popular restaurant dining rooms, in hotels, and now in a secret, dimly lit Deep Ellum loft. Each has gotten people whose paths might have never crossed talking over good food. Viewed through the House of Plates lens Houser's event took on a youthful edge, while the nameless cultural curators who normally lean on Jell-O stepped out into new territory.

It felt like the start of something new for both parties. And it's a shame there aren't more pop-up dinners like this one for Dallasites to enjoy.

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This is got to be a joke. I have heard of people in rural areas in the Gulf South, called dirt eaters because they yearn for a clay located in dirt mounds. So good one Dallas Observer, you gave me a good laugh.


The salad was a fascinating and quite original presentation, to be sure.  Overall it was a good time. 

Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

I prefer gently laid while smoking grass.


I'm sorry, but a shark just got jumped. This has to be one of the stupidest things I have ever heard of. This shows that to some people, "Farm to Table" is just a trend that needs to be jumped on.

Mark Wootton
Mark Wootton

I am also sorry I wasn't there, but I'm not mad at anyone.

Really, though, "Farm to table" is an, admittedly, overused term to describe a way of doing things. Although, it describes a way of cooking that many people (more and more as time goes on, seemingly) enjoy for reasons far beyond a supposed "trend". The words may lose their appeal, they may be co-opted, used as green-wash, or just plain over-used; however, the "trend" isn't going anywhere. I wonder if you would tell Alice Waters that her way of cooking is a passing trend destined for failure. Roughly four decades in...

In any case, I bet it tasted good. It was probably fun to serve. It was probably fresh. I'd venture to guess that a small food producer really appreciated the cash. And, I'd go so far as to say the guests enjoyed it. 

Negative Nan....steve.


@Mark Wootton "I'd venture to guess that a small food producer really appreciated the cash."  Indeed, she did!

And they were harvested fresh, just hours before (couldn't pull off just "seconds" before, but glad they tasted that way...), from the farm - to the table - as well. I will vouch for chef on that!

Wild foraged salad greens served on a bed of organic sod - what a creative, fun idea! !

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