Foodie Events / Restaurants / Architecture

Deep Ellum Restaurant Pioneer Celebrates 15 Years: How One Humble, Hard-Working Female Chef Outlasted Celebrity Chefs Galore

BY // 01.31.18

Chef Tracy Miller has seen countless restaurants come and go in the 15 years since she opened her Deep Ellum favorite, Local in 2003. “At one time, I thought about keeping a list in the kitchen of restaurants that had closed, but I couldn’t do it,” Miller says, laughing.

In the past decade and a half, hundreds of eateries have opened and shuttered in Dallas, many of them by top-name chefs. Throughout the month of February, Miller is celebrating Local’s extraordinary milestone with complimentary champagne cocktails and a special tasting menu with French wine pairings.

The recipe for longevity in this volatile world of Dallas restaurants is a mystery, and not one that even Miller fully understands.

“I really don’t know, except that I’m a firm believer in consistency,” she says. “I’ve stayed true to myself despite the culinary trends. Fifteen years ago, I put things on the menu that I wanted to eat — and I still want to eat that way.

“I’ve changed only what made sense to change.”

Local’s classic tomato soup with farmhouse cheddar grilled cheese sandwiches have stood the test of time, along with other comfort foods such as panko-crusted tater tots, fried green beans, pan-seared Maine lobster cakes, and a juicy cheeseburger made from Heritage Wagu beef and Gruyère. There will likely always be grass-fed steak, wild-caught salmon, and braised beef short ribs on the menu.

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Miller’s fare may be refreshingly uncomplicated, but it’s also elegantly prepared and delicious. Carefully considered wine pairings elevate it all.

“There’s a luxury in knowing you can rely on consistent food like this,” she says. “But I didn’t reinvent the wheel. Fifteen years ago, Food & Wine put steak and French fries on its cover. Thomas Keller was doing tomato soup and grilled cheese at French Laundry. That sensibility was so relevant back then, and it’s still what I resonate with.”

Alice Waters, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Donna Hay all continue to inspire Miller’s palate.

Local’s Historic Setting

Set in the historic 1908 former Boyd Hotel building, Local’s interiors are as welcoming and elegant as they were in 2003 when Alice Cottrell designed them.

“We’ve maintained the space to keep everything fresh,” Miller says. “But it’s a timeless design that alway works.”

The building’s original bones, with its exposed brick, hardwood floors, and 20-foot high ceilings give the restaurant soul. Cottrell contrasted the rustic materials with luxurious touches such as cashmere-covered walls, custom mohair banquettes, velvet chairs, wool shag rugs, and cork floors. Mid-century inspired parquet wood tabletops and Herman Miller dining chairs help keep it casual.

Cottrell designed this restaurant to last, and it has aged beautifully.

Still, the 15-year mark has Miller considering the possibilities. “It’s a fun time now to make changes to the menu in ways I haven’t before,” she says.

“I don’t know yet what that will be, but I’m thinking maybe adding more options for appetizers and smaller plates that can pop on and off the menu. But fried green beans, tomato soup and about 10 others significant to Local will never go.”

The restaurant has expanded from 40 seats to 100 over the years, and Miller hopes to commandeer the outdoor area in back to add even more seating in 2018. She also wants to redesign the kitchen to function better and to allow diners to see some of the action.

It might even make sense to get a liquor license to serve cocktails, she thinks. “These things take time. When we first opened, I thought we’d be solid after 10 years,” she says. “But there was still so much to do.

“Even after 15 years, we haven’t reached our potential.”

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