By Meda Kessler and June Naylor
Photos by Meda Kessler
The reimagination of Fort Worth’s historic Northside continues as the renovated Mule Alley fills up with retail and restaurants. Shake Shack celebrates a year open there this month. Provender Hall was on the cusp of opening last spring, only to delay its debut until July due to the pandemic. The Biscuit Bar followed in August. And there’s more to come in 2021. Longtime Stockyards favorites such as Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, H3 Ranch, Joe T. Garcia’s and Los Vaqueros are still a draw, and the new establishments will make the Northside even more of a culinary destination.
Ask any chef or restaurant owner their opinion of 2020 and they’ll likely give you an answer not suited for print. Running a profitable food and beverage operation is stressful in the best of times, and 2020 certainly ranks up there as one of the worst. We watched as everyone from mom-and-pop joints to fine-dining establishments wrestled with keeping their staff safe and healthy while continuing to serve their loyal patrons. We wanted to support our favorites, try new places and get out of the home kitchen. We found ourselves eating early to avoid crowds and discovered that isn’t a bad thing. And we learned to love takeout even as our recycling container filled up much more quickly. We decided to always replate our food, as everything looks better on nice dishes. We got used to sitting in our car waiting for curbside delivery and bundling up to stand in line even when the weather turned bad. (Pro tip: Travel with a small plastic bin, which keeps your vehicle safe from any inadvertent spills.) And speaking of tips, a generous gratuity became not just a courtesy but a true show of support. But the news isn’t all grim. Several chefs and restaurateurs expanded, with even more exciting projects in the works. Here’s a brief look at what’s coming up and nod to a few of unexpected favorites.
The boutique hotel, scheduled to open early in 2021, announced a new culinary team for its 97 West Kitchen & Bar after parting ways with Jenna Kinard last year. Grant Morgan has worked in the hospitality field for years, including stints at the Bellagio’s Le Cirque in Vegas and Hotel ZaZa’s Dragonfly. He’s also been the corporate chef for Velvet Taco. Food and beverage executive director Brian Richards has worked in the industry at resorts in Colorado and California.
200 Mule Alley Drive, Fort Worth, 817-420-6014, hoteldrover.com
Avoca Coffee Roasters
One of Fort Worth’s first roaster/coffee shops opens its third location, which includes a mezzanine and outdoor cafe (they’ll offer light bites: tacos, pastries, bagels and more).
128 E. Exchange Ave., avocacoffee.com
Second Rodeo Brewing
With a retractable roof, this light-filled 14,000-square-foot-plus space promises to be a draw for food from chef Jason Boso, who has partnered with wife Amanda to open the “backyard bar.” Expect food, live music and outdoor games in a family-friendly environment and yes, there will be beer.
This new project is from chef Christian Lehrmann, mixology guru Glen Keely and Sarah Castillo (Taco Heads, Tinie’s Mexican Rotisserie). This stylish watering hole is built around the cowgirl mystique — “a little rugged with a little class” is how Castillo describes the vibe. With 97w architects and Fagan White Design working around and with concrete pillars and high ceilings, Sidesaddle gets gussied up with eye-catching light fixtures, including a glam metal chandelier and elegant sconces. The dark wood bar features copper and stone details; seating also includes high-top tables and semicircular booths. Sip on frozen spritzers, gimlets, classic whiskey drinks or an aperitif. Snack on creamy pork rillete with pickled vegetables and toasted bread; deviled eggs; crudite with hummus and green goddess dressing; country ham with pimento cheese; bacon-cheddar-chive biscuits; and bison tartare with a mustard vinaigrette. Sidesaddle is on one of the interior streets — between Provender Hall and Hotel Drover — that make up Mule Alley. Look for a neon cowgirl sign out front. Follow @sidesaddlesaloon on Instagram for updates.
122 E. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth
FAMILIAR FACES WITH NEW CONCEPTS
The Rim Fort Worth
Buttons’ founding chef, Keith Hicks, returns to Fort Worth with Rio Mambo restaurateur Brent Johnson, a partnership that began in the late 1990s at the long-shuttered Ellington’s in Sundance Square (now Waters) and resumed last year at The Rim in Burleson. The two hope for a late winter/early spring opening in a revamped Taco Diner space — expanding the bar, beefing up the patio dining area and adding three chefs tables in the kitchen — for Hicks’ signature chicken and waffles, shrimp Creole and pot roast.
Waterside, 5912 Convair Drive, Fort Worth, therimrestaurant.com
Victor Villareal (late of Abe Froman’s pizza in the Food Hall at Crockett Row) teams up with wife Misty Villareal to turn a former ice cream parlor on Race Street into La Onda, a casual seafood bar and grill. Look for a seafood stew brimming with mussels, clams and Argentinian red shrimp, and a smoked clam and scallop ceviche topped with caviar and peanut-chile sauce. Utilizing Mexican and South American spirits, Misty is mixing up a coconut-banana rum horchata; mimosas made with ingredients like pineapple, blood orange and basil; and Texas specialties like Desert Door sotol with mango, lime and mint for the matador cocktail.
2905 Race St., Fort Worth, 817-201-8089, facebook.com/LaOndaftw
Ramen to go and Laotian fried chicken?
Yes, please and thank you. While pad Thai, lo mein and stir-fried rice are popular to-go dishes, we include ramen on that list, too. They might suffer some in the plating, but they still tastes just as good. Here are a few of our favorite spots for top-notch Asian food.
SAAP Lao Kitchen
Some of our favorite takeout has been from SAAP Lao Kitchen in Bedford, best known up till now for their beef jerky. But they also serve a small menu of Laotian-inspired dishes — fried chicken, sausages, noodle dishes, barbecue kits and other Asian specialties — on most Fridays and Saturdays. Order ahead and schedule a pickup time online. The best way to keep up with their menu is to follow them on Instagram, instagram.com/saaplaokitchen.
2816 Central Drive, Bedford, saaplaokitchen.com
Chef Jesus Garcia was an early innovator of the “ghost kitchen,” a restaurant in address only with no inside dining. On Fort Worth’s Westside, Garcia serves his noodle soups from a small, nondescript kitchen. Garcia even offered his take on the classic “cup o’noodles” in the fall. Follow Kintaro on social media for the most recent updates: facebook.com/kintarofw and facebook.com/kintaroarlington (note that the Arlington location is full service).
6916 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth, 817-489-5055 101 E. Abram St., Arlington, 817-538-5344 kintaroramen.com
Barbecue might be last year’s big winner in the major food groups.
Heim Barbecue expanded to Dallas in late 2020 and then announced plans to open a fourth location in Burleson. Panther City BBQ teased its fans with the announcement that they are working on expanding in 2021. Small smoke shops reported long lines and lots of sell-out days. And some familiar names reinvented themselves. Shuttering his Billy’s Oak Acres location on Camp Bowie West, Billy Woodrich reinvented his concept as Rufus Bar and Grill in Cityview. His popular brisket, pulled pork, ribs, chicken-fried steak and burgers remain big hits, with newer additions including fried and grilled shrimp, washed down with giant schooners of beer.
4608 Bryant Irvin Road, Fort Worth
The Cajun Market
This Colleyville grocery-cafe has made our drive on Texas 26 much more pleasant. It opened in July after dealing with construction delays, changed its name shortly afterward, adjusted to pandemic protocol and still has drawn fans from across Tarrant County. Cooked-to-order meals including rich gumbo, meat pies, hefty po’boys, boudin and more; order online if you’re in a hurry. Beignets are now available on weekend mornings. But peruse the freezer, too, for specialties such as stuffed boneless chicken. Fresh shrimp is priced well, and they’re already making plans to serve crawfish in January.
5409 Colleyville Blvd., 817-527-2175, thecajunmarket.com
While it might seem iffy to expand during a pandemic, some chefs are growing their brand with additional locations or new concepts.
Felipe Armenta As Armenta readies Maria’s Mexican Kitchen for its debut in the former Hoffbrau space (1712 S. University Drive, Fort Worth), he also expands to north Fort Worth. Remodeling a building next to Mi Cocina in the Alliance area, he aims to open Towne Grill, which will offer many favorites from his original Fort Worth restaurant, The Tavern. “I want it to feel like a hometown restaurant to set it apart from the chain dining there,” Armenta says of his 13th restaurant in a collection (Press Cafe, Pacific Table) spreading from Fort Worth and Las Colinas to San Angelo, Midland and Odessa. Cooked on a wood-burning grill, dishes will include the ribs, tacos and charred artichokes that are The Tavern signatures, along with entree salads and elaborate brunch plates. He promises a modern, fresh look with bright colors; look for a February opening.
Alliance Town Center, 9365 Rain Lily Trail, Fort Worth
Stefon Rishel The chef-driven Trident Restaurant Group that opened Wishbone & Flynt and Berry Street Ice House in 2020 aims to put three more on the map this year. First up is TreMogli Cucina Italiana, Italian for “three wives” and a nod to the spouses of partners Kyle Bryson, Wallace Owens and chef Rishel. They promise Italian cuisine served family style in a 7,500-square-foot setting described as “dark and moody, Chicago mobster, with velvet drapes and big booths,” and are planning a May opening. 401 S. Main St., Fort Worth Cast & Hook is the group’s seafood restaurant and raw bar, aiming for a summer opening inside the contemporary Hotel Revel, 1165 8th Ave., Fort Worth. This fall, they hope to open Parker Co. Ice House, a big restaurant, bar and live music venue.
260 Willow Bend Road, Willow Park
Mary Perez The altruistic chef and owner of Enchiladas Olé has come a long way from offering samples of her sauce at Central Markets across the state. Perez made a success of her first restaurant, which she opened in 2013. There were fits and starts as she tried to move, but last year, with the help of business partners who also are loyal customers, Perez finally relocated to a prime Fort Worth location. She expanded her menu and her customer base. Not long after, Perez also opened her second location in North Richland Hills, in a space that offers not only dine-in eating but drive-thru service. Curbside also is available at both locations.
2418 Forest Park Blvd., Fort Worth, 817-984-1360; 9005 N. Tarrant Parkway, North Richland Hills, 817-849-2455; enchiladasole.com