About seven years ago, while pregnant with Haley, I started having the most wonderful, recurring dream.
I’m in a big box store that looks and feels exactly like Costco. The place is massive, with dozens of racks that stretch from wall to wall, ceiling to floor. Each rack has diagonal shelves like you see in a bakery. On each shelf are rows and rows of trays. On each tray, in perfectly lined rows, are hundreds of teeny, tiny, little desserts.
Little fruit tarts. Little chocolate cakes. Little apple crisps. Little cream puff pastries.
I’m not ashamed to admit that when I have trouble sleeping, I lie with my eyes closed and visualize my magical little dessert store. This dream is my happy place.
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This Easter my family took a break from our usual tradition of a low key Mexican buffet and decided to get all gussied up and have Easter Brunch at Riverwalk Cantina, nestled in the coziest corner of the atrium in The Gaylord Texan Resort.
There, I got to experience my dream in real life and it was so much better than my imagination could ever conjure up. In my dream-come-true, I got to have all of the little desserts as well as a sampling of some of the best New American cuisine I’ve ever had.
Riverwalk Cantina @ The Gaylord Texan Resort
1501 Gaylord Trail, Grapevine, TX 76051
We are a buffet loving family, us Dorns’ and I consider myself to be a well-qualified connoisseur of the genre. I love a cruise ship buffet, a country club buffet, a cafeteria-style buffet, a well-stocked salad bar- I’m all in as long as the food is delicious and well prepared.
This Easter Buffet was, without a doubt, one of the very best- if not THE best- buffet I’ve ever had. I was even able to meet and chat with the Executive Chef, Zeb Hartline and he gave me a personal tour of the whole operation.
Chef Zeb is a brand new Texan who just moved here a little over a year ago having graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Orlando. It seems that Texas suits Chef Zeb just fine. He’s even part of the Texan Smoke Bandits, an award-winning, Gaylord-Sponsored, competitive BBQ team. Chef Zeb brings a classic and refreshing culinary point of view to Dallas.
His Easter buffet menu is a masterpiece. It is creative and ambitious, delicious and totally relatable. I would love to see more Chefs like him in Dallas.
When it was time to make my first plate my head was spinning. Culinary sensory overload was at a ten. Luckily, I had everything all planned out ahead of time.
Jans Easter Buffet Action Plan
- Avoid the bread, pastries and breakfast items. I’m sure they’re all wonderful but I can’t have a Texas shaped waffle taking up precious space in my stomach.
- Save desert for last so I can have it with coffee.
- Eat two bites of everything until my Spanx give out.
Right in the heart of the Cantina were three huge cauldrons of shrimp, oysters on the half shell and crab claws over ice. I decided to start there.
I limited myself to two shrimps and two crap claws. If that’s not self control than I don’t know what is.
Then, just past the seafood, lie a table of awesomeness the likes of which, I’ve never imagined. Stretched across a twelve foot table, piled up in adorable, “please eat me” pieces, were eight different kinds of cheese.
Eight perfect little, deliciously stinky, cheesy mountains interspersed with rustic loaves of bread, jars of house made pickles and hills of Texas chorizo, capicolia and prosciutto.
Heaven, y’all. It was cheese HEAVEN.
I took one piece of each cheese and one slice each of the prosciutto and capicola. I stopped at the soup table, got a ladle-full of the lobster bisque and headed to the table for round one.
It was almost impossible to not eat and walk but I restrained myself.
So, you know how sometimes, you bite into a piece of cheese and it’s so good that you kinda forget how to think for a few minutes?
No? Just me?
Well, that’s absolutely what happened to me when I tried the Red Dragon whole grain cheddar. This cheese was on another level.
If Arsenio had tasted this cheese, he would have been furious.
The shrimp and crab were cooked perfectly. I’m definitely adding cold crab claws to my own party appetizer menu.
The lobster bisque was so rich and creamy, that I was mysteriously incapable of eating it without closing my eyes. My bowl should have had a bit more lobster in it but unfortunately, the gentleman in front of me had fished out all the big lobster chunks before I could get to it.
At this point I was feeling pretty good and nowhere near full. Main course(s) time.
In the main courses area, Chef had different action stations set up. At one station chefs were preparing Pan Seared Scallops with sweet corn puree, brussels sprouts with ghost peppered caviar. At another,he had Braised Chicken Tinga and Rock Shrimp Salad Tacos. Fancy yet, familiar.
They added a nice touch and made the place feel so much more lively than your standard, Easter Buffet Snoozefest.
Chef Zeb had the basics very well represented. The ham, prime rib and lamb were absolutely perfect. This is not an overstatement. All of it was perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked. Perfect sauce pairings.
I was beyond impressed.
Of all the main dishes, the Pan Seared Salmon with faro, fava bean, rainbow chard and vegetable mole was my favorite and I ate every bite of it. I’ve never eaten or cooked with fava beans before and Chef told me of the painstaking process involved in double peeling the beans for close to one thousand diners.
Well bless the mans heart, I sure do appreciate the effort. I cant wait to incorporate them into my own recipes.
Finally, finally, finally it was desert time.
The Executive Pastry Chef at The Riverwalk Cantina is Chef Arthur Surman. This man literally made my dream a reality.
Little mango mouse tarts. Little key lime pie. Little chocolate brownie. Little cream puff. Little chocolate eclair.
Next to my wedding day and the births of my two children, this was like the greatest day of my life.
I put one of everything on my plate. I got some funny looks from folks on the way back to the table but I didn’t care.
I was about to enjoy 15 different deserts and my spanx were holding up beautifully.
Best day ever.
I cannot thank Chef Zeb enough for the amazing food as well as the time he gave me in person and over the phone. I also want to thank him for going the extra mile for us parents by setting out a very impressive kids buffet.
I appreciated the consideration so much as did Chloe and Haley.
Chef Zeb couldn’t have been kinder and he is a Talent that I will be watching closely from now on. I cant wait to see how he grows in the future and I will definitely be back to The Riverwalk Cantina.