plates green Living

In addition to daily lunch service, Patina Green hosts monthly, multi-course dinners. Menus change according to what’s fresh.

Chef Robert Lyford exchanges text messages daily with farmers all over Texas.

Patina Green Home & Market is at 116 N. Tennessee St. in McKinney. Call 972/548-9141.

“I work with everything from a 200-acre organic farm in Austin to a guy who literally has a backyard garden,” says the executive chef of Patina Green Home & Market, a restaurant and boutique that occupies a narrow, circa 1900 brick building on McKinney’s historic downtown square.

Named for the shimmery green surface layer that appears over time on bronze and copper items, Patina Green offers not only Robert’s seasonally inspired menu but also architectural finds, antiques, and home goods curated by his wife, Kaci. In fact, the business is a family affair; Kaci’s mom Luann helps run the retail side and often accompanies her daughter on back-road treasure hunts. Everything, including the reclaimed tables, rustic benches, and mismatched chairs used for restaurant seating, is for sale.

In the past six weeks, I’ve made the 50-minute drive northeast from my home in Fort Worth three times to dine at Patina Green. With each visit there is something new to admire—weathered curios, rickety sliding farm doors, dried hydrangeas, cleverly displayed vintage glass bottles—as well as something delicious to taste. Lunch service is casual; diners order from a selection of hot pressed sandwiches at the counter, then pick up salads and sides from a refrigerated case. I like Robert’s beer-can chicken-salad sandwich, chickpea-and-corn salsa, and tender shredded brisket tucked into a fluffy smoked-cheddar biscuit slathered with sweet and spicy jalapeño-blackberry jam. Regulars simply call the latter concoction the “Bob,” and it’s served only on Fridays at lunch, often selling out by noon.

Robert tells me that sourcing ingredients from local farmers introduces unpredictability in menu planning, but he says that’s part of the fun.

“It’s inconsistent. I’ve embraced that. Honestly, that’s kind of my style,” says Robert, a Dallas native and culinary-school graduate who honed his skills at such spots as the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek and the former Oak Lawn favorite Ciudad. “I like to say I have commitment issues. I’m always looking for the better option. I might change a dish for Saturday night on Saturday morning depending on my visit to the farmers’ market.”

Robert is proud to work with many farms in his own Collin County, such as Cartermere Farms in Celina, where he gets his eggs and a great deal of produce, and Pure Land Organic in McKinney, which provides blackberries in summertime. “These are not just farmers to me,” he says. “These are my friends, and I count on them to keep my restaurant what it is.”

Patina Green opens for lunch seven days a week, but serves dinner just once or twice a month, with two seating times that typically sell out.

“Our market dinners are an experience,” Kaci says. “It’s more than just going to get something to eat. We want to tell you about the farm and tell you about the ingredients.”

During a recent spring market dinner, my husband and I, along with 30 or so others, enjoyed six courses, each beautifully presented. The charcuterie plate, which included house-cured lonzino, creamy pickled-eggplant hummus, fig-and-black-pepper jam, and fermented collard stems, arrived atop a thick-sliced tree trunk that served as a platter. Beets in the salad course came three ways: charred, pickled, and smoked, and the dish was garnished with goat’s milk yogurt, radishes, and a sprinkling of toasted, dehydrated kale mixed with cracker crumbs—a savory powder Robert calls “kale dirt.”

“I start calling farmers the week before to ask what they’ve got in the ground and what’s coming up,” Robert tells me. “It is about getting the best, locally grown product and figuring out a way to put it on a plate.”

The market dinner concept offers flexibility for the couple, who opened Patina Green six years ago, in part as a therapeutic project after Kaci’s stepfather died. That same year, Kaci, a fourth-generation Texan who grew up in Plano, had shut down her house-painting business when the housing market crashed. At the time, Robert was helping her run the paint crews, so he found himself out of work, too.

“My mom and I thought, ‘Let’s open a store in downtown McKinney,’” says Kaci. “It was an up-and-coming, charming little town, and Robert could cook for our guests. We all needed healing.”

Kaci tells me she was inspired to eat real food—food she defines as lacking artificial colors, preservatives, processed sugar, pesticides, antibiotics, and artificial ingredients—after her stepfather’s death. Weekend visits to farmers’ markets soon became routine, as was buying local, reading labels, and learning about ingredient origins.
Robert’s menu reflected the family’s new mindset.

“Robert’s sandwich shop in the back of the store was kind of selfishly for us in the beginning,” Kaci says. “Then we realized we weren’t the only ones who were looking for healthier options.”

A tiny fridge stocked with farm eggs, milk, and produce for sale grew into the large refrigerated case that sits in the store today, packed with local and sustainable grocery items. Lines form daily for Robert’s vegetable-focused sandwiches, like spaghetti squash smashed with goat cheese, sweet onions, kale, and walnut pesto; or roasted cauliflower topped with cheddar cheese, arugula leaves, and green tomato slices. I’ve had both, and thanks to Robert’s strategic layering of assertive, savory flavors, I didn’t miss meat one bit.

As I gather my items for checkout—a bottle of locally made ginger beer, a jar of dark cane syrup, a handmade soy candle, and fragrant room spray—I notice Robert checking his phone, and I wonder which locally harvested item will appear on his menu next … and when I can make another trip to taste what he does with it.

From the July 2016 issue

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