While Aniece Meinhold has imbued The Federal (co-owned by Meinhold, Alejandro Ortiz, and chef Cesar Zapata) with a rustic ambience, Zapata created a menu that ranges from Colonial to ’50s Americana with plenty of out-of-the-box updates. Highlights include figs and cream with burrata, Concord grapes, nuts, and rosemary biscuit crumbs, and venison sausage with whipped potatoes and pan-roasted mushrooms.

The dish that best represents your restaurant?
The Jar-O-Duck (sweet-savory duck paté, candied sweet potato, and charred marshmallow fluff on top of crusty bread)—there isn’t anything more quintessentially American than Thanksgiving, and this dish will take anyone back to a time where leaves are changing colors and family gathers around a table.

The restaurant’s most creatively conceived dish?
Our rendition of pig ears. If a Big Mac, a taco, and a pig had a baby, this would be it. [They’re] fried crispy, dusted in ranch-dressing powder, then wrapped in a lettuce bundle with tart cabbage slaw and a homemade secret sauce.

Latest inspiration?
Retro classic American dishes. We recently held a dinner that was an ode to the ’50s and redid our own versions of Cheez Whiz, TV dinners, and Del Monte fruit cups.

Chef/mentor?
Chef Tim Keating, a four-time James Beard Award-nominated chef. He took me under his wing at the Four Seasons Hotel in Houston.

Your dog-eared cookbook?
Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. Although a bit dated, it has great information. I keep going back to it.

Earliest childhood memory involving American food?
Two days after I arrived [from Colombia] when I was 9, my aunt asked what I wanted to eat. I smelled something and pointed—it was pepperoni pizza.

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