By CHERIL VERNON
In a small town filled with mostly fast-food restaurants, one of Palestine’s newest additions — Red Fire Grille — is offering something a little out of the ordinary — fine dining that caters to regional foodies.
Executive Chef Christian Mailloux, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. is chef-owner of Red Fire Grille, operating the restaurant with his wife, Dawn, since their opening Oct. 10, 2012 in the historic Redlands in downtown Palestine.
Christian has had the opportunity to cook American cuisine from as far north as New England, into the heartland of Memphis and as far south as St. Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands) at prestigious country clubs, inns and restaurants.
“Originally we were looking for a bed and breakfast with restaurant space in it. We came here because we were intrigued by the history of the town,” Christian said during an interview with the Herald-Press — noting Palestine’s railroad history, abundant Victorian homes, dogwoods and ‘destination city’ label as some of the reasons they chose to locate here.
They looked at a couple of places in Palestine the first time they drove through, but nothing fell into place. They were told “don’t give up on Palestine, Palestine needs a restaurant of this caliber.”
Local attorney Jackson Hanks, who serves on the Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors, encouraged the couple to call Redlands owner Jean Mollard, but Dawn didn’t want to call her on Mother’s Day (May 2012), so they waited until the next day.
“Jean said ‘I’ve been waiting for your call,’” Dawn recalled when she called her the next day. Because the couple had already been to Palestine and had returned to where they were living in Lenox, Mass., they couldn’t fly back to Palestine until August 2012 due to prior obligations. “Jean told us, come back, take your time.”
Meanwhile, Dawn fell in love with the Redland’s restaurant space online.
“Christian was a little hesitant because of the kitchen space, but Jean worked with us to make it way more functional,” Dawn said.
In August 2012, the couple purchased the restaurant space and started renovations, opening in October.
“Palestine is right in the middle between Dallas and Houston, which makes it a perfect location,” Christian said. “We have quickly become a destination restaurant. People from Houston, Dallas, Athens, Tyler and the lake areas will drive here to eat.”
Numerous good reviews on www.tripadvisor.com and other review websites have helped spread the word.
“We love it here — the lovely history, the dogwoods. The people are so warm and friendly. We have never been hugged so much — Palestine is a quaint little town,” Dawn said. “I love all of the history, old buildings and the architecture.”
One of Red Fire Grille’s signature appetizers is currently the fried green tomatoes, topped with crawfish. Other menu choices range from soup and salad choices like the She Crab Soup and Baby Wedge Salad and entrees such as the Pepper Seared Tuna, Statler Chicken, House Made Ravioli or the Lobster Roll. Desserts currently include Mille-feullie (layered crepes, hazelnut creme), Prickly Pear Sorbert and Chocolate Panna Cotta (Italian dessert drizzled with Chambord and rose sugar).
“Everything is made from scratch,” the chef noted about not only the desserts but the entire menu.
Christian describes Red Fire Grille’s menu in this way:
“It doesn’t just revolve, it evolves,” Christian said. “Anything in season I can get my hands on and create, I will. We do a major menu overhaul every quarter where we look at what the culinary trends are. It’s not going to be the same boring menu all the time.”
Red Fire Grille also is known for its 8 ounce grilled filet.
“We have the best steaks. Our 8-ounce filet I would compare to anywhere in the world, whether it’s well done or rare, it will be the best steak you’ve ever had,” Christian said.
Atmosphere & Style
Stepping into Red Fire Grille, located at 400 N. Church St. in the Redlands in downtown Palestine, with its serene atmosphere (mostly white and black decor, comfortable seating and waiting area) and light music sets the mood for special occasions to be celebrated.
“Our music is an eclectic mix. We are all about details. We try to have little touches everywhere such as fresh flowers, filtered water and ice tea service (which have tea ice cubes) — things we enjoy when we go out, that’s what we want to do here,” Dawn said.
Bottom line: When people go out to eat, they want to enjoy a nice evening.
“Food brings people together. That’s why we try to do here — create a memory for your special occasion or your fabulous meal,” Christian said. “Palestine needs this restaurant as much as we need Palestine. It’s a great spot. You walk in the door and you are transported somewhere different.”
With Christian’s wide array of experience, his scope of cooking style is a mixture of the places where he has lived and worked.
“I have lived in 15 cities up and down the East Coast. It’s been the most valuable experience, something you can’t get in a book,” said the Bradenton, Fla. native. “My wife is from Lafayette, so there’s a little Cajun mixed in too.”
One of the notable places the chef has worked is The Lenox Club, an elite club founded in 1864 in Lenox, Mass. known for its reputation among the “cottagers” who owned large estates in the area during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with many of its attendees featured on the country’s top newspaper society pages.
He also worked as an executive chef and culinary instructor for The Robb & Stuck Kitchenaid Culinary Center in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., where he demonstrated and interacted with guests in a 36-seat theater style open kitchen venue, performing creative multi-course winemaker and micro-brewery dinner pairing events.
But those experiences, among others, have taught him how to evolve his menu.
“Seafood in New England is going to be different in Florida. Barbecue in Texas is going to be different than barbecue in North Carolina. Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve taken a piece with me and incorporate it in my cooking,” Christian said.
Red Fire Grille also offers a few gluten-free items on their menu.
“We try to make a few things that are gluten-free on the menu and we have a lot of vegetarians who come in as well,” Christian said. “Ninety-nine percent of the items on our menu are made with very little oil or fat. We try to cook as healthy as possible.”
Wine List & Special Events
The Red Fire Grille’s wine list is growing and evolving as well as the menu.
“We have one of the most extensive wine lists between Houston and Dallas that is continuing to grow. We are committed to sourcing the region’s finest ingredients, preparing an evolving menu and offering the perfect wine complement.”
In fact, Red Fire Grille hosts a monthly “Women Who Wine” event on the last Friday of the month and hosts weekly Prime Rib Sundays (with reservations) along with the regular menu on Sundays.
During the “Women Who Wine” event, six to 10 wines are paired with food.
“The ladies fill out a survey letting us know which ones they really like. Fan favorite wines stay on our wine list,” Dawn said. “It helps you figure out where in the world you are on your palate.”
Men can come to the “Women Who Wine” event too, the couple joked.
“Don’t be scared, feel free to join in,” Dawn said.
Red Fire Grille also is planning a Dog Days of Summer Beer Dinner featuring Dogfish Head craft brewed ales on Thursday, July 18, partnering with Ben E. Keith Distributing. The event will feature four courses and four different beers.
“We hope to do things like this as much as we can at least quarterly. We have a great microbrewing community here too, the Palestine United Brewers,” Christian said.
The restaurant has done some brunches as well as special events for Mother’s Day, Easter and Valentine’s Day.
“We sold out five weeks in advance for Valentine’s Day,” Christian said.
Service & Reservations
Red Fire Grille has one chef, so reservations are recommended.
“When you are making a reservation, you are reserving your time with the chef,” Dawn said. “We like to do no more than 10 to 12 people an hour. With four courses that is 48 plates for one chef, who does everything from scratch.”
Occasionally, the restaurant staff has had to turn people away who haven’t had reservations when space wasn’t available.
“Our business model does not allow us to do volume. Our guests generally are here for a minimum of two hours and we want to allow our patrons to dine,” Dawn said. “We would rather turn you away than give you bad service.”
Servers are trained every day.
“We want to provide the best service. We train non-stop,” Christian said. “We want you to have the best service not just here in Palestine, but the best service possible in Boston, Atlanta, New York. We are adamant. Our expectation for excellence and wanting the customer to be happy is very high. We created this place where we would want to dine if we were customers,” Christian said. “We want to offer great food, great wine, great service and a great atmosphere. If there’s a problem, we will fix it.”
Christian gave kudos to his wife for making cocktails.
“She makes the best martinis and cosmopolitans,” Christian said. “We make them the way you want them, real classic cocktails.”
Dawn said the staff provides good service by reading the table and being observant.
“We try to meet and exceed their expectations,” Dawn said. “We are in the hospitality industry. We are here to give good service and food. We are here to serve them.”
With the fine dining atmosphere, patrons are encouraged to wear “Sunday dress.”
“We would suggest appropriate dress. If you come in wearing blue jeans, t-shirt and flip flips you may be embarrassed to be seated by people wearing suits and ties,” Dawn said.
Celebrities & Kudos
Over the years, Christian has cooked for numerous celebrities including Gene Hackman, Dixie Carter, Mickie Mantle, George McFarland (“Spanky” from “Our Gang/Little Rascals” original series), James Taylor, ACDC’s Brian Johnston, Jose Feliciano, French chef Julia Child, sports icons such as Dan Marino, Redskins Joe Thiesmann, among others.
“I served Mickey and Spanky at a country club in Florida,” Christian said.
When asked how it felt to meet Julia Child, Christian said, “It was intimidating cooking for her because she was such a legend.”
Christian hopes to cook for more celebrities in the future if possible, including rock ‘n’ roll, blues and soul legend Daryl Hall (lead singer for Hall & Oates, solo artist and songwriter), who has been doing the “Live from Daryl’s House” monthly web show since 2007 (www.livefromdarylshouse.com). Four cable networks have picked up the series as of March.
“We are big Daryl Hall fans. It would be awesome if we could cook for him. He does a mix of music and food, bringing in chefs to cook,” Christian said.
Artist and potter Stephen Hawks from Columbus, Ga., who currently lectures at the University of Texas at Brownsville, recently found Red Fire Grille on a visit through Palestine.
“He was so impressed that he gave us a piece of art that is just lovely,” Dawn said.
Christian was recently honored as one of the country’s top culinary talents in the inaugural edition of Best Chefs America, a 386-page coffee table book. The book, released in March, is the first-ever peer review guide of U.S. chefs, who were chosen after extensive interviews between their fellow chefs and Best Chefs America analysts.
Another interesting sidenote to Red Fire Grille’s story is how Christian and Dawn met.
“He had me at ‘how’s your dinner?” Dawn joked.
They have been married for seven years, knowing each other for a total of eight years.
“We met at the Flagler Grill in Stuart, Fla. I had just cooked for Dan Marino, so it had been a crazy day and it was my third day at the restaurant,” Christian said.
Dawn recalled their meeting.
“It was an open kitchen and I was at Table No. 1. He leaned over and asked “‘How’s your dinner’ and that’s all it took.”
Dawn even asked him out first, leading to a courtship and eventually, marriage.
Christian is thankful for all of those who have helped him along the way in his culinary career and hopes to give back to the community in return.
Currently, Christian serves on the advisory board for the culinary arts program at Palestine High School. He also was one of the participating local chefs to teach a group of Washington Early Childhood Learning Center Head Start parents a healthy recipe through the school’s “An Honest Look at Nutrition” grant program. Parents watched Christian make a healthy recipe and then were sent home with all of the ingredients to cook the same dinner at home.
Christian also visited students at The University of Texas at Tyler’s Innovation Academy and hopes to do similar programs in the future.
The chef also plans to offer an intern program.
“I would like to offer a place for CIA (Culinary Institute of America) interns to come,” Christian said.
Taste of Palestine
For those who haven’t had a chance to try Red Fire Grille, the restaurant is one of about 15 participants in the upcoming Taste of Palestine event scheduled from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 13 at the Palestine Mall.
Red Fire Grille is open from Wednesday through Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m. Reservations are recommended. For more information call 903-723-2404 or visit www.redfiregrille.com or facebook/redfiregrille.