Feature Story: Do You Know the Spiceman?

[Originally published in FD Luxe]

by PATRICIA MORA

photographs by NAN COULTER

Dallas’ food intelligentsia — and a cast of civilian regulars — keeps coming to Tom Spicer’s garden and produce store for their greens and gossip. Trust us: It’s not just because of the kale

When it comes to getting a foodie fix with a heavy dose of Algonquin Hotel–style table talk, Spiceman’s FM 1410 continues to be the place. It is ground zero for chefs — both professional and serious enthusiasts — as well as civilian folk who simply want to savor the taste of microgreens in their salads or sushi. In the parlance of Mr. Tom Spicer, proprietor, all manner of edible gems are dubbed “nutraceuticals” — but just as important as the dense vitamin lode of his crops, many of which are grown in the vast garden behind his shop on North Fitzhugh Avenue in Dallas, is the conversation that bubbles up in his crazily assembled store. It’s an amalgam of hippie decor, an old-fashioned freezer case and moody Delacroix harem.

If that’s not enough, Spicer’s eccentric clients are formidable storytellers. The whole concoction is a gumbo of sorts, which is appropriate since Spicer’s roots are firmly fixed in New Orleans. It’s a virtuosic mingling of food and conviviality that proves a good dose of the Big Easy is a wonderful addition to a city known for platinum stunners in sky-high Christian Louboutins. Here, Dallas has Soul with a capital S and droves of attractive folks willingly seduced by a literal garden of earthy delights.

Red-veined sorrel (rumex sanguineus) in the organic garden

A trip to Spiceman’s FM 1410 is likely to involve merriment invoked by store personnel inciting shoppers to “Taste this!” Regular clients show up with wines and comestibles as offerings to the gods of table and bacchanalia. Bosque blue cheese from Veldhuizen Family Farm, two hours southwest in Dublin, was one big hit, not to mention Spicer’s own chicken-and-sausage gumbo or fiery peppers pickled in brine and paired with Manchego cheese. Out back, there is a porch, where stellar dinners are hosted for people celebrating anniversaries and birthdays — or merely another day on what, partly thanks to Spiceman’s FM 1410, seems to be an increasingly pleasant planet. For such occasions, Spicer is known to break out his self-devised bass instrument and play jazz tunes that would be the envy of music legend Charlie Haden.

Matsutake mushrooms at Spiceman’s FM 1410

It is true that Spicer grows and imports the best greens, vegetables and mushrooms you can find anywhere — black garlic, anyone? — and supplies them to some of Dallas’ best restaurants, but it is all offered in an ambience of good-natured fun. Sometimes out there in the world, an uppity attitude is mistaken for finesse. Spicer is, indeed, highly urbane and knows the ins and outs of gourmet goodies better than anyone — but he also manages to keep culinary exotica refreshingly accessible. This becomes more understandable once you realize that his great-grandfather provided fruits, vegetables and flowers to the Vanderbilt family at their sprawling “cottage” in Newport, Rhode Island. Also, his sister, Susan, is the celebrated chef-owner of Bayona in New Orleans.

Spicer himself is an accomplished musician who was getting his formal education at Berklee College of Music in Boston — until they discovered they had little to teach him. He subsequently embarked on a madcap tour of France with a group for whom he played bass. While on the continent, he discovered a deep and abiding love for cuisine, and an ongoing saga ensued. If you think of Spicer as a wild man with a heart as big as his backyard garden, you’re on the right track. About that garden? It is the ancillary soul of the place. It is carefully manicured to yield a harvest of exotic greens, including red Russian kale, Malabar spinach, maâche lettuce, cabernet sauvignon grapes and edible flowers. Spicer’s elegant jumble is as terrific a “find” as you’ll discover in Dallas. If upscale shopping at trendy haunts is a frothy dessert, then experiencing Spicer’s market is a hearty entrée. Paradise found, indeed.

Proprietor Tom Spicer with “red dreads” — red garnet amaranth — at his Spiceman’s FM 1410

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