A collection of neighborhood gems that are better than the ‘best’

Creating a “best of” list isn’t really our speed. At the end of the day, who’s to say what is truly “best”? Highlighting one neighborhood shop, restaurant or experience as better than another based on votes or our (ahem) expert opinion tends to be subjective, and it doesn’t allow us to fully appreciate the countless gems in Lake Highlands.

Instead of declaring the “best” this month, we’re calling attention to the things we love about Lake Highlands— the kinds of things that wouldn’t make it on a broader “best of” list because those of us who live here are among the few who know they exist and who understand their worth.

This story is only the beginning of our list. We’ll be highlighting the things we love regularly on Back Talk blog at lakehighlands.advocatemag.com. We want to hear about the things you love, too. Send an email to thingswelove@advocatemag.com, and you might find your description of a neighborhood gem on our website or in the magazine.

1. Backyard chickens
Dogs are great — man’s best friend and all — but can they make your breakfast? Several White Rock area residents keep chickens — which produce an average of one egg each per day — as pets. “But wait,” you might say. “Chickens aren’t pets; they’re dinner.” Bill and Barbara Katz, frontiers of the urban chicken movement in our neighborhood, aren’t typical farmers. “A hen will produce eggs for two or three years. Once they stop, usually a farmer would end it, but I just don’t have the heart to,” Bill Katz says. To the Katz family, chicken farming is about more than just eggs. The “chicken culture” is more than a hobby or fad, Katz says, but a way of life that sets the “chicken people” apart from the crowd. “Most people bring wine to parties; we bring a dozen eggs — you get used to it.”

2. Gluten-free fudge brownies at Wholesome Foods Bakery
Lake Highlands Village Shopping Center, 718 N. Buckner
The top semi-crusty and slightly candied layer is a delicious door to decadence that resides within. The inner cake is moist and melt-in-your-mouthy. It doesn’t matter to us junk food junkies that this treat is gluten free, but according to bakery owners Taylor Nicholson and Anne Hoyt, it matters to about 1 out of 130 people who are gluten intolerant. It is also widely suggested that children with ADHD and autism stay away from gluten. So, WFB, we love you and your brownies and the whole idea of goodies that everybody can enjoy.

3. Fields Cemetery
Is it creepy of us to say we love a cemetery? Perhaps, but we love it just the same, for its rich history and steadfastness amid burgeoning development (don’t misunderstand — we still like the Lake Highlands Town Center). The cemetery is named for the Edward Fields family, slaves who arrived in the Dallas area in the mid-1800s. Anderson Fields, one of the first black men to own land in Dallas, reportedly established the cemetery just after the Civil War. It is still maintained, but the gate remains locked.

4. Weekend warriors at Norbuck Park
We don’t mean the joggers or cyclists — we’ll get to them later. No these are for-real (pretend) warriors. Let us explain: Each Sunday, members of Amtgard, a medieval role-playing club, stage battles at the Kingdom of Emerald Hills’ (a.k.a. Dallas) Artus Pass (a.k.a. Norbuck Park). “We meet every Sunday at 2 p.m. We dress up kind of funny, and we play cowboys and Indians, in a way … slay dragons,” says member Jorge Rodas. “We have barbarians and build pirate ships, that sort of thing.”

5. Other old-world scenery
North of McCree along Audelia, there is a gorgeous green rolling patch of land (in October it turns orange with pumpkins) on which sits the gothic-inspired St. James Episcopal Church. From a certain vantage point, the scene makes us feel like we’ve stepped back in time, if only for a split second … that is, until we see the pre-teen walking across the lawn texting on her iPhone.

6. Rolling hills, peacocks and crappie fishin’ near Flag Pole Hill
Ask an outsider and they will probably tell you Dallas is flat — but we, especially those of us who walk, jog or cycle these streets, know otherwise. The area just north of Flag Pole Hill, the White Rock Valley neighborhood, is rich with rolling hills and valleys, trails that lead to White Rock Lake, horse stables, parks and peacocks — that’s right, peacocks. We think they live with the horses, but they roam the neighborhood, regularly revealing their glorious plumage, so keep your eyes peeled. Nearby, at Flag Pole’s base, fishermen gather in pursuit of crappies. From November to early March, fishermen cast their lines to snag fish that run in White Rock Creek during the cooler weather. Texas Parks and Wildlife rates the fishing excellent, and the white crappies, which get as big as three or four pounds, aren’t bad when pan-fried and finished with some herbs and a touch of lemon juice.

7. Our Hollywood connection
It was a surreal moment for Lake Highlands locals tuning to the 2010 Emmy Awards Show. “The Bachelor” host Chris Harrison stops “Glee” star Mark Salling on the red carpet for a short interview. The exchange winds up being almost entirely about their shared alma mater. “We went to the same high school,” Harrison tells Salling. “This is crazy,” Salling says. “I’m a little bit stunned. We grew up within a half-mile radius.” Harrison continues, toward the camera, “We both went to Lake Highlands High School in Dallas, Texas.” The two share some witty banter concerning their respective graduation years and, after discussing in brief “Glee’s” 19 Emmy nominations, Harrison signs of with “Good to meet you, a fellow LH Wildcat.” These aren’t the only LH Wildcats who have gone on to gain fame and fortune: Actress Morgan Fairchild was a 1968 grad. Singer Annie Clark; Michael Carnes, writer of Hollywood movie “Mr. Woodcock”; and athletes including Olympic silver medalist Darvis Patton, pro golfer Justin Leonard and the NFL’s Matthew Stover also hail from our neighborhood. Television series “The Good Guys” shot several scenes in Lake Highlands, and some of our neighbors, such as Melissa Adami, worked as extras.

8. Halloween in Highland Hills
Certain pockets of the White Rock area are trick-or-treating hotspots, but we love none so much as the Highland Hills neighborhood at McCree and Audelia. There’s only one way in and out of the eerie enclave where all but a handful of homes go all-out each Oct. 31. There’s the dreaded “chainsaw guy” who stands, earsplitting chainsaw in hand, between the double doors to his magnificent entryway, daring brave trick-or-treaters to sprint for the bucket of candy at his feet. You can run from him, but there’s still Michael Myers (neighbor Ed Waters), “Halloween’s” infamous escaped mental patient/serial killer, walking the streets. You know when he’s coming because of his theme music and the flood of screaming children running from him.

9. Dot’s Cafe Denver omelet
10870 Plano
It’s not on the menu, but regulars know to order this meaty, savory and satisfying secret. The stuff on the menu at this greasy spoon gem is pretty darn good too.

10. Coyotes and other beasts
“I will never forget my first coyote sighting,” says Lake Highlands resident Colleen Ritchie. “I was jogging along White Rock Trail just past sunrise. I came up over a hill where the trees clear for a patch of grass. I thought it was a scrawny little puppy at first, standing there in the dewy clearing, but then he looked right at me, and I saw it was a coyote.” She’d heard much talk of the dreaded coyote — they’ll eat your pets, her neighbors had warned. But this little mutt looked so innocent and, well, “cute”, she says. Don’t get us wrong. The coyotes roaming Lake Highlands will most certainly eat your cat or Chihuahua if given a chance. So will the red-tailed hawks, which also frequent the lake area. And it’s not unheard of to see a snake sunning itself on a pedestrian path in our neighborhood. The whole idea — while frightening — is sort of thrilling when you think about it, no? Like Ritchie, we live in this area because we love the natural, wooded lakeside life complete with its birds, bugs and wild things. (FYI, according to Dallas Audubon Society, White Rock is home to more than 210 different types of birds, minks, foxes, armadillos and poisonous water moccasins, just to name a few.)

11. Big beautiful houses (that aren’t McMansions)
Like many urban areas, Lake Highlands has seen its share of residential rebuilds, but we’ve never really embraced the whole eternal-flame, faux-balcony, 5,500-square-foot-McMansion on a 5,600-square-foot-lot thing. We love that. Homes on last month’s Holiday Tour of Homes included impressive redesigns that upwardly added bedrooms without changing the home’s original footprint, for example. And many of our new builds, including all homes in the Urban Reserve development near Forest and Central, rely on environmentally responsible and sustainable materials.


Jogger cyclist wars
We love that our trails, especially around White Rock Lake, are so bustling, but popularity brings its share of problems, such as feuding cyclists and pedestrians. We see it in comments on our Back Talk blog: “rude cyclists act like laws don’t apply to them” and “tired of the stress and intimidation from the aggressive bicyclist”, complain the runners. “The oblivious runners with headphones blocking out the world” and “groups of runners think they need to travel three or four abreast”, counter irritated cyclists. In a perfect world, it would be all rainbows and happiness, but at least we have a place to enjoy, and one of these days we’ll figure how to share it.

Stinky birds
We adore our birds — mourning doves and red-bellied woodpeckers abound in our neighborhood woods, but beware the double-crested cormorants. They roost in their favorite trees along White Rock Lake trail, past Mockingbird bridge near the West Lawther curve. We’ve nicknamed this portion of the lake loop “the putrid pathway”, because it stinks in a way that makes the nearby White Rock Dog Park smell like roses. If there’s something to love about the situation (and we realize this is not nice), it’s the reaction of unassuming trail travelers: First there’s the look of disgust, then there’s obvious fear as they wonder if the culprits might be directly overhead, and then there is the detour. You’ll notice the well-worn path from trail to road that marks many an escape from this portion of the course.


“Those of us who want something better than a Walmart get called a snob on this blog — really? Has the ‘snob bar’ been lowered that much? Well then count me as yet another Lake Highlander snob who wants something better for Lake Highlands,” writes LHsnob following a post about development in Lake Highlands. “You have people going in their slippers to buy groceries, and they can’t even put a shirt on their baby,” posts LHLover following a piece about neighborhood grocery stores. There are those “thanks for keeping us informed” comments and those “why-should-I-care-about-this?” comments, and even comments from folks who simply wish to correct our spelling or grammar (hey, mistekes heppen to the best of os). Whether you love us and want to spread joy or you hate everything and want to let us know, we welcome your ideas (provided you don’t use profanity or attack fellow blog readers). We love reading what you have to write. If you have something to say about this story, find it on lakehighlands.advocatemag.com/blog, and read fresh content on our blog daily.