Downtown McKinney is home to Patina Green Home & Market, a beautiful family-owned antique store and sandwich shop. Local treasures take up residence among one-of-a kind antiques such as a breathtaking arbor in the center of the dining area. Everything, antique cutting boards on up, is temporary decoration, meant to move into homes and lives. Reverence for individuality is in the air, a bird theme feathers delicately throughout and faith rests in the simple notion that true quality is timeless.
The three owners are retailer and mother Luann Van Winckel, interior designer Kaci Lyford and her husband, Robert Lyford, also known as Patina Green’s market chef. In the market’s early days, Chef Lyford, who specializes in vegetables and grew up on San Francisco sandwiches, created a to-go lunch menu. But people didn’t want to leave. So tables were moved in. After six years of customers shopping and eating, or eating and shopping, half of Patina Green is a designated dining area. Then Food Network popped in for a visit, declared a certain sandwich the best in Texas (we’ll get to that) and Patina Green went, as the kids say, viral.
Lyford is usually found behind the counter whipping up sandwiches, sides and cookies with the rest of the staff underneath shelves stacked with pickled vegetables that he’s preserved himself. Colorful salads arrive in to-go containers; sandwiches are fired upon ordering and wrapped up in paper. There are only five sandwiches available each day, based on what his suppliers deliver that morning, or what he has pickled himself the way picklers have been pickling things for centuries. Every salsa or mayonnaise gets stirred up from scratch, if not by him then by someone he knows, including one whose label warns “uncomfortably hot.” Storebought is a dirty word; instead all is from local farms and bakeries. In fact, don’t miss the tip jar at the counter, which supports the Farm Aid organization.
Onto the food.
Garlic Herb Focaccia and Tomato Bisque with sweet corn both reside on the “other stuff” menu and they’re meant to be together. The focaccia’s herby crust soaks in oil, red pepper, garlic and dill. What’s spectacular isn’t how oven-fresh warm it is on arrival, or its balanced flavor. It’s how soft and unashamedly spongy it is with a light crunchy crust. It’s perfect for dipping into the steaming hot tomato bisque. Together, they’re Hepburn and Bogart. They’ve got crazy chemistry.
As for sides, lentil salad, roasted vegetables, beets and Lyford’s take on coleslaw happen to have been made that day. The lentil salad is taste-and-texturally complex, topped with pickled bread and butter turnips, a bold move that pays off. The beets will convert anyone who claims they don’t like beets, tossed with blue cheese and pickled onion, while the slaw has some zing due to a clever garnish of red chili. My favorite, however, has to be the roasted vegetables: cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and carrots plated with housemade pimento cheese. The vegetables have a hint of Worcestershire-warmth and the cheese’s texture is closer to hummus than the mayo-heavy stuff you’ll find at a grocery store. Resoundingly, the vegetables presented in each of these sides taste like better versions of themselves.
Food Network did the the world a favor when they discovered one sandwich in particular, a little masterpiece starring ham and cheese. But here’s the thing about ham and cheese. We’ve all had it and it goes like this: Wonder Bread, American cheese, ham, slathering of Miracle Whip, and a final piece of Wonder-why-it-sticks-in-your-teeth-Bread. Sure, it carried us all through elementary school, but for the best sandwich in Texas shouldn’t there be more to it?
Enter: Locally-sourced smoked cheddar, hickory-smoked ham on jalapeño cheddar bread delivered that morning and a grande finale of jalapeño-peach jelly. A few minutes on the fire to toast it all up and you’ve got an honestly built classic which has been bumped up to heavenly with a sunny kick. This is Patina Green’s Old Faithful. Due to its stardom, the ham and cheese is always on the menu, while everything else cycles with natural crop yields and Lyford’s creativity.
The, greens, honey mustard vinaigrette and pickled red onion on cranberry bread is similarly worthy of applause and perhaps an encore. While the idea might be simple, the execution—namely the cranberry bread—is not. It feels remarkably timely this close to the holidays.
Then, for something very different, a vegetarian option arrives. Roasted cauliflower has been softened into a sort of spread with raw cheddar, a pickled green tomato relish, parmesan, parsley and greens, tucked between two slices of Hippie Health bread. On one hand, I’m wondering why there’s cauliflower on my sandwich. On the other, however, it rocks. The subtle flavor of cauliflower peeks through, with the help of an amazing duo of cheeses and that pop of pickled relish. You don’t miss meat at all.
Finally, Golden Delicious squash and cushaw nestle in a spinach and ricotta spread on a chubby ciabatta roll. Compared to the other sandwiches, this one is rather quiet. But it’s an undeniably happy sandwich, mild but lacking nothing. Pecorino and preserved tomatoes add a sprinkle of magic for a sandwich that’s tender and richly colored. Ultimately, it might be my favorite.
Let’s be clear: The Patina Green experience is not easy to create and chances of replicating it are slim and not just because of the dedication to a seasonal and sustainable menu. I call it revolutionary because Robert Lyford has taken an easy on-the-go concept, a sandwich, stripped it of the ease and added the art back in. The food starts at its finest, nurtured without hormones or whatever other nasty things get pumped into crops to make them grow out of season. The most wholesome best of it comes to the kitchen to be sliced and served with an unabashed slash of creativity and dill. Lyford has achieved a delicate balance of tradition in his methods and invention in his combinations, resulting in utterly loveable, utterly captivating food that feels good to eat. There’s no sign of an Italian sub or a Reuben, though I’m sure at some point Lyford might take on both. It’s not about getting people in, out and on their way. It’s not about supersizing and streamlining. It’s not even about giving people what they expect and demand the same way, every time. It’s about reminding them how a little care, a little patience and a lot of quality makes all the difference.
Originally published in Plano Profile‘s February 2017 issue.