Cry Wolf is a case study in dichotomy. In a city full of glitzy foodie destinations, Cry Wolf earns the accolades from a strip mall in gritty East Dallas. There’s a good chance you’ll enjoy a plate of foie gras while Led Zeppelin plays in the background. Here, an ever-changing menu showcases Dallas culinary talent with an easy-going atmosphere. Affordability is key to Cry Wolf’s appeal, so it seemed fitting that the day we caught up with chef and owner Ross Demers for photos and conversation, he showed up wearing a baseball tee emblazoned with the words LOW KEY on his chest while a Detroit Tigers hat kept his dark locks in check. After years of cooking at many of Dallas’ premier restaurants, Cry Wolf is Demers’ chance to truly be himself.
“I’ve always played at my own pace and done my own thing. I’m not chasing a trend or kissing this person’s ass,” Demers says before breaking into uproarious laughter. they are understanding.
Demers’ track record is impressive, including eight months at the helm of the acclaimed On The Lamb in 2016. Before opening Cry Wolf, Demers was the executive chef at Flora Street Cafe before it closed in 2020.
“I went to Flora Street knowing I was going to close it,” recalls Demers. “COVID was near when we closed, so I took those two years to pull myself together after working for other people for so long.”
Demers signed a lease on a long-deserted subway on Gaston Avenue in 2020, then went to work tearing down the interior and building his vision for Cry Wolf. It’s an intimate space; there are only 20 seats at tables against the windows and another dozen seats at the bar. Shelves lined with books span the windows, and the church pews making up half of the table seating were found on the Garland Road side by Demers and restored for the space.
When the pressures of the pandemic finally wore off, Cry Wolf opened in November 2021. Popularity and acclaim quickly followed. Reservations are almost mandatory every night of service.
“I take more shit for people who aren’t able to get in here than anything,” Demers says with more laughter. “I can’t even get my parents in here.”
Cry Wolf’s menu is constantly changing, which allows Demers and his team to play with new ideas and ingredients as they become available. The rigorously modified menu does not respect the traditional rules such as “appetizers” or “entrees”. On our first visit, our server explained that dishes were generally listed from smaller to larger, meant to be ordered and shared between tables. Dinner might be just one or two courses or a three-course meal; the world is your oyster.
By the way, oysters might be the only thing to expect on the menu with any regularity, as Demers is of the opinion that starting a meal with oysters is “the epitome of beautiful.” When the oysters are as fresh and bright as the ones we’ve tasted recently, it’s hard to disagree. These Cape Hatteras oysters want for nothing, though Cry Wolf serves up a dozen half-shells with lemon wedges, tangy horseradish, and a bright mignonette. Chef de cuisine Mike Stites shared our love of oysters, crediting the still-chill waters off the North Carolina coast this time of year for their exquisite taste.
Most nights, the menu will offer something from the sea, some poultry and perhaps beef or lamb, with perhaps a pasta along the way. The scallops, on the menu as a small plate on our first visit ($24), were cooked to perfection and served with foie gras and caviar, a contrasting study in bright, rich flavors. Later, scallops returned to the menu, seared crisp and surrounded by a mound of Squid Ink Spaghetti in Brown Butter ($30).
Cry Wolf dishes may look simple and elegant, but the techniques to make them are truly masterful. Take the confit duck ravioli that we tried just for this story. Stites tells us that he and one of his sous chefs pondered the idea while working at Gemma years ago, but the work involved in making the ravioli was onerous. Stites and team dabbled in different techniques and came up with a duck farce – a style of dish that uses ground beef – surrounding a duck egg yolk, all stuffed into pasta with a ricotta filling at the parsley. Stites pitched the idea to Demers and it made it to the menu quickly.
Cutting into the ravioli releases the deeply browned yolk while igniting every visual synapse in your brain. Every mouthful vies with layers of flavors and textures for your attention, whether it’s the savory duck puree, the delicate pasta, or the intensely rich duck yolk that ties it all together.
It’s almost a shame to talk about individual dishes at Cry Wolf, knowing they might not be on the menu for long. But in just over a year, Cry Wolf has built a reputation for intimate and creative dining, and diners have grown accustomed to the uniqueness of each visit. It’s the pinnacle of chef-led cuisine, before he became a publicist’s watchword for every new restaurant concept.
“I appreciate people coming in, but this isn’t the Design District or Greenville Avenue, and I don’t have to serve shit on toast here,” Demers says with another screaming laugh.
“I think the Dallas food scene knows who we are. The more culinary knowledge the restaurant audience gets, the more aware they are of what they are eating, and they are eating something not just for Instagram moments. I’m here for a good meal.
Demers is also quick to point out that he has surrounded himself with staff who share his quest for service and creativity. Tim Case, who worked with Demers at Flora Street, is the general manager and sommelier of Cry Wolf. After seeing him in action on Flora Street, Demers knew he wanted Case to work for him.
“Tim is a full-blown sommelier, the general manager, he answers the phones, he’s the host, the maître-d’. He doesn’t forget a face,” smiles Demers.
Similarly, Demers asked Stites to be chef de cuisine at Cry Wolf after Stites dropped the same role at Carte Blanche last spring. Stites was consulting for a new restaurant concept, so he was reluctant to say yes right away. But he took turns in the kitchen at Cry Wolf over the summer and grew to love the idea and the team. He formally accepted the role last August.
“Ross is the first owner and chef I’ve worked for who has taken the cuffs off me when it comes to creativity,” says Stites. “There are a few times where he puts his foot down and says no, but most of the time I pitch him something, he says go ahead and the next day it’s on the menu. It’s fun, it’s a challenge, he keeps us on our toes.”
In the time we’ve been speaking, Demers is sometimes insightful and self-deprecating, but unfailingly honest and authentic. He’s genuinely amazed at his success and is grateful for the team around him who help him make it happen six nights a week. But the more we talk, the more it becomes apparent that he is a chef who is comfortable with himself and with his talents. And in Cry Wolf, Demers is at his best, blending the exquisite with the unpretentious, the edgy with an easygoing side. It’s a combination we can’t get enough of.
Cry Wolf, 4425 Gaston Ave. Tuesday through Sunday, 5:00pm to 11:00pm