At the Lone Mesquite Ranch in Harper, Texas, the sight of a couple of guys on horseback isn’t exactly news. But when those “cowboys” happen to be a couple of chefs—Jason Dady, a pioneer of the San Antonio restaurant scene, and Pete Evans, host of Moveable Feast—it’s a little out of the ordinary. Jason, though, has been riding horses since he was a kid in Nebraska. “Coming out to the ranch with my family after working at the restaurant all week is a great way to relax,” says the chef/owner of several restaurants, including the Tuscan-inspired Tre Trattoria and Tre Enoteca, classic pit-to-table barbecue joint Two Bros. BBQ Market, and oyster-centric Shuck Shack. Right now, though, it’s not about relaxation; Jason and Pete are on a foraging mission. They dismount, kneel next to the gnarled roots of a sprawling shade tree, and dip into a clear stream to pick watercress for a salad of fresh burrata and peaches, which will be featured in this episode’s feast.
Jason’s San Antonio Six
From noshing on spicy curries to kicking back by the river, here are some of chef Dady’s favorite spots around town.
• Pearl Farmers Market is the best market in South Texas. It has passionate farmers and artisans, and it’s a great place to hang for more than just your produce. (atpearl.com/farmers-market; 312 Pearl Parkway, Saturdays and Sundays)
• Garner State Park is my utopia, my favorite getaway. It’s on the Frio River and is a perfect place to camp, swim, and hike. And it’s within an hour of town. (tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/garner; 234 Rural Route 1050, Concan, TX; 830-232-6132)
• San Antonio Missions National Historical Park shows the real history of South Texas. A very special place, and a terrific bike ride from downtown San Antonio. (nps.gov/saan; 210-534-8833 x270)
• Chef Stefan Bowers, who used to work as my chef de cuisine at the Lodge of Castle Hills, has a South-town jewel in Feast Restaurant. He serves up flavors from all over the world in a swanky spot. (feastsa.com; 1024 S. Alamo St.; 210-354-1024)
• At Mixtli, up-and-coming chefs Diego Galicia and Rico Torres focus on the culture and history of real Mexican cuisine. (restaurantmixtli.com; 5251 McCullough Ave.; 210- 338-0746)
• Thai Dee has the best curries ever! (thaideesa.com; 5307 Blanco Rd.; 210-342-3622)
Jason is co-chef for the feast along with Diana Barrios Treviño, of the restaurant Los Barrios, where her family has been cooking Tex-Mex food since 1979. San Antonio Mexican is the overriding theme of the menu Jason and Diana have devised, which means a chefs’ trip to one of the area’s premiere food suppliers, Sanitary Tortilla Company. This company has been preparing handmade tortillas for over 90 years. “Masa is the core of Mexican cooking,” says Diana. It’s also the core of one of her specialties, the puffy taco, a fresh corn tortilla that puffs as it’s deep-fried. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, the taco shell is the key element in the dish Diana is cooking for the feast: puffy tacos with chicken and tomato salsa dulce.
Jason and Pete discussing the steps for making the fajitas.
Back at the ranch, Jason sears New York strip steaks in a cast-iron pan for fajitas. “We’re applying the classic flavor profile of Mexican cuisine, but we’re bringing a sweet-and-sour pickle dish—a classic Italian peperonata—into the mix,” says Jason. “Then we’re one-upping it with a Oaxaca–style mole with charred tomatillos, toasted walnuts, and sesame and pumpkin seeds.”
Blending global flavors and raising the stakes is just what Jason had in mind when he moved to San Antonio in 2001 after living in Dallas and Lubbock and going to culinary school and cooking in California. “We wanted to put down roots in this city that was on the cusp of a big change,” says Jason of his partnership with his wife, Crystal, and brother, Jake, who manage the restaurants’ business side. “We were young, and the opportunity was there. We brought tasting menus to the area, and new ingredients, like farro. It was something people were ready for, and we just did a bit of nudging.” Working with local producers, he adds, has also been part of the joy of cooking in San Antonio. “The food produced here is the best I’ve ever had in my life.”
As the guests arrive at the ranch, spicy mango-kiwi tequila shooters are passed around. Pete brings out the fresh pickled okra he’s concocted, Jason plates his fajitas, and Diana serves her tacos, puffed to perfection. “If you ever get tired of puffy tacos,” says one guest, “they should take your San Antonio card away.” Hill Country winemakers Bob Young and John Rivenburgh from Bending Branch Winery pour their white Roussanne and bold red Tannat (“not your mom and dad’s Cabernet,” Bob says), further proof that Texans are thinking as big as the state about pushing the culinary envelope. For dessert, Jason springs crostatas of just-picked strawberries from a wood-burning oven. And although it may be his method he’s talking about, there’s a little bit of what he and Diana bring to San Antonio when he says, “We’re always cooking with fire!”