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By January 27, 2020 February 27th, 2020 No Comments

Checking In. Dining Out.

By June Naylor
Photos by Jeremy Enlow

The basic hotel coffee shop for overnight guests is a thing of the past. New restaurants inside hotels big and small aim to be a destination for everyone.

Creating a national sensation with his tortilla soup and lobster tacos in the 1980s, a young chef named Dean Fearing transformed the restaurant inside the Mansion on Turtle Creek into a Dallas dining hot spot. For more than 20 years, North Texas food lovers and hotel guests booked tables there. Locals continue to do just that at his eponymously named restaurant at the Dallas Ritz-Carlton, no small feat in a city with so many eating-out options.

In Fort Worth, the Worthington Renaissance Hotel made a splash with the opening of the Chisholm Club steakhouse in late 2002. The Marriott property hired Reata’s founding chef, Grady Spears, who first gained attention at the Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas. Marriott gave the new hotel restaurant a massive makeover that included its own entrance, so guests didn’t have to walk through the lobby. (In 2004, the hotel and Spears parted ways.)

Opened in 2009, the Omni Fort Worth Hotel drew a crowd by featuring Bob’s Steak & Chop House, a locally grown fine-dining option. With its separate entrance and valet service, Bob’s — now with locations across the country — remains a downtown destination.

Today, Fort Worth enjoys another hotel boom. The Worthington underwent a remodel of its rooms and public spaces for several years before quietly announcing last August plans for a major revamp of its in-house restaurant with a new look, new concept (Latin steakhouse) and management by a Colorado-based restaurant group.

The Sinclair, another Marriott property in downtown Fort Worth, celebrated the grand opening of its dining concepts last month. The art deco-inspired hotel features a casual lobby bar and restaurant and a sister steakhouse on the basement level, which also opened in late January. Wicked Bar and Wicked Butcher are managed by a Dallas restaurant group.

We have to wonder: Will the arrival of several new hotels in Cowtown lure area residents into dining at their restaurants? And will you pay more? It depends. Our explorations reveal  prices on par with other high-end restaurants. What about parking? Hotel parking can be a challenge, especially when you’re not a guest. Some validate, some don’t cover parking. The biggest question of all: Will employing a “name” chef be the right kind of drawing card? One astute observer says, the answer is absolutely.

“When customers know the menu is not determined by the hotel itself, that makes a difference,” says Pat Sharpe, executive editor and restaurant critic at Texas Monthly. As evidence, she points to David Bull, named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine while at The Driskill in Austin, as well as Top Chef winner Kristen Kish, hired by the LINE hotel in the capital city. “Celebrity chefs enjoying great success with their own concepts in major hotels displace the notion of dull hotel dining,” Sharpe says.

Noting this trend, Fort Worth chef Jenna Kinard wanted in on the action. “It’s a whole new world, the hotel-restaurant realm, and my interest was immediately piqued,” says Kinard, who was approached nearly two years ago — when she worked at the now-shuttered Max’s Wine Dive —  to helm 97 West Kitchen & Bar at the forthcoming Hotel Drover in the historic Stockyards district. “Interesting hotels have interesting restaurants today, and that excites me.”

Fort Worth-based chef Tim Love — with eateries from Cowtown to Denton, Austin and Knoxville, Tennessee, and three more opening in Houston — jumped into a hotel with Ático, an authentic Spanish-style bar that opened in late January atop the new SpringHill Suites, also in the Stockyards. He feels that having a hotel as landlord solves a lot of problems. “Opening a restaurant is really expensive. A lot of chefs will tell you that the best way to pay for a good restaurant is to put it in a hotel,” Love says. “And design today keeps you from feeling like you’re going to a hotel restaurant. Giving the restaurant its own entrance means you’re not walking through the lobby to get there.”

Ático, across the street from Love’s landmark Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, creates a sense of place that Love believes will attract locals who won’t care if the bar-restaurant is in a hotel. “If you get the vibe right,” Love says, “people will want to visit and then come back again.”

Toro Toro Pan Latin Steakhouse

Where Anchoring the northeast corner of the Worthington Renaissance Hotel in Sundance Square, the restaurant, which opened in November, is accessed both from Main Street and the hotel lobby, which flows seamlessly into the bar portion of the dining space.

Mood and menu Dramatic and elegant yet comfortable, this concept comes from Mexico City native Richard Sandoval, whose Denver-based company runs properties around the globe. The prolific use of metal, wood and stone is artful, but the herd of silver longhorn skulls suspended high above the main bar has a thunderclap all its own. Toro Toro made its debut in Dubai, with other locations in Qatar, Washington, D.C., and Miami. Winning dishes include smoked swordfish with avocado and pickled jalapeno, eaten with tortilla chips; wild hamachi crudo with berries, chiles, mint and coconut; grilled octopus with Peruvian potato salad; and Kobe strip loin from the wood-burning grill.

200 Main St., Fort Worth, 817-210-2222, torotorofortworth.com

Toro Toro’s menu includes meats grilled over an open fire, as well as selections from a raw bar.

Wicked Butcher’s version of steak and frites.

Wicked Bar Wicked Butcher

Where The Sinclair, another in Marriott’s Autograph Collection, opened in fall 2019 with an extensive renovation of the 1929 office building downtown — with careful preservation of floors, fixtures, marble detail and elevator doors — that delivered a beautiful art deco-filled, 164-room lodging. The Wicked Bar sits to one side of the hotel lobby, while the basement restaurant Wicked Butcher is reached either by lobby elevator or a flight of stairs via a dedicated entrance in the bar.

Mood and menu White subway tiles on walls, black-and-white floor tiles, marble-top and glossy wood tables, leather chairs and banquettes, vintage sconces and modern pendant fixtures combine for a deco look with contemporary flair in Wicked Butcher and the bar. Guests can order from both menus in either venue, with substantial offerings downstairs in Butcher that include nearly 10 cuts of beef from Texas and Australian wagyu. From Midwestern meat producers, the star is a gorgeous cowboy rib-eye, a 28-day, wet-aged cut that melts in the mouth. A selection of seafood is offered, as well, as are raw bar selections and, to debut later this year, sushi bar choices. All cuisine is overseen by a team of chefs led by Richard Triptow and Austin Carlson, culinary directors for Dallas-based DRG Concepts, which also owns Wild Salsa and Chop House Burger in Fort Worth and Dallas, and Dallas Chop House and Dallas Fish Market. Wicked Bar serves three meals daily, and Wicked Butcher serves dinner. A rooftop bar, with its expansive view from the 17th floor, opens later this spring and will offer a limited menu.

512 Main St., Fort Worth, 682-231-8214, wickedbutcher.com

97 West Kitchen & Bar

Where The Hotel Drover, a 200-room resort, is expected to open in the fall as part of the Fort Worth Stockyards’ renovated Mule Alley. Architectural firm HKS and Celano Design Studio are collaborating on a modern Texas hacienda look for the six-story property, where the restaurant serves as both anchor and a stand-alone concept. 97 West will serve three meals daily, with indoor and outdoor seating.

Where Chef Jenna Kinard spent a year traveling around Texas researching native ingredients and food trends to suit the history of the hotel’s setting while making it relevant and contemporary. She favors communal-style dining, planning shared plates like pickled watermelon rind with feta, arugula and jalapeno; bourbon-glazed cauliflower; roasted quail over pear-farro salad; and rabbit potpie. Larger plates include a tomahawk steak for two and broiled redfish with boudin, crab, shrimp and Cajun gravy.

Hotel Drover, 2333 Mule Alley Drive, Fort Worth, 817-420-6014, hoteldrover.com/eat-drink

Jenna Kinard has been prepping for the opening of 97 West Kitchen & Bar for more than a year.
Photo by Ron Jenkins. Rendering (below) courtesy of M2G Ventures.

Ático

Where Opened late-January on the sixth-story rooftop of the new SpringHill Suites in the Stockyards, the spacious, contemporary bar and eatery offers a lounge feel and indoor and outdoor seating with magnificent views of the surrounding historic district, downtown and landmarks. Ático’s earth-toned furnishings and airy feel come from Studio 11 Design in Dallas.

Mood and menu Chef-owner Tim Love researched his concept on visits to Barcelona and Madrid. Roasted East Coast oysters peppered with Iberico ham, grilled and buttery-spicy whole shrimp, Spanish flatbread, roasted potatoes with addictive aioli and seared flank steak with housemade tortillas figure among numerous plates meant for sharing. One row of counter seating on tall, cushy chairs puts you almost on top of the kitchen action, while another places guests next to the bartenders crafting cocktails and pouring wine and beer. Open from 4 p.m. weekdays and midday Saturday and Sunday.

2315 N. Main St., 682-255-5112, facebook.com/AticoFtWorth