Meet the newest Auberge Bowie House chef turning heads with his ‘familiar’ but ‘reimagined’ Texas food
By June Naylor
Photography by Olaf Growald
Long before he prepares showstopping dishes, Antonio Votta dives deep into curating ingredients to use in his kitchen at the sublime new Bowie House luxury hotel in Fort Worth. The executive chef at Bricks and Horses, the brand-new restaurant turning heads inside the latest Auberge property, Votta devotes as much attention to what’s going into his food as he does fashioning it.
Maintaining personal relationships with purveyors — particularly, talking details about the products that come from their gardens and farms — means working closely with the likes of Taylor Sheridan. Yes, that guy: The ubiquitous TV and film producer-director raises beef on his storied 6666 Ranch northwest of Fort Worth, and that’s one of the Texas places (look also for Rosewood Ranches wagyu, Capra Foods lamb, Broken Arrow Ranch wild game) Votta has carefully chosen goods to feed lucky clientele.
An unrelenting passion for detail is essential at any Auberge property, and Votta came to the job well versed in that gold standard. The Las Vegas native’s resume includes work for superstar chefs Michael Mina and Scott Conant, time at the Four Seasons in Washington D.C. and in Michelin star-winning restaurants from coast to coast. Soon after he’d signed on with Felipe Armenta’s Far Out Hospitality in Fort Worth earlier this year, a headhunter persuaded him to pursue a home at the Auberge Bowie House.
“Fort Worth is going through a changing of the guard, with a lot of new places ushering in a new era,” Votta says, his ever-present smile telegraphing the message that he’s already having a lot of fun in his new culinary playground. “We want this place to be a pillar in Fort Worth’s new growth.”
With so many new restaurants springing up in town, such as the very buzzy new Emilia’s, just four blocks east on Camp Bowie Boulevard in the spectacular new Crescent Hotel, how does Votta aim to set Bricks and Horses apart?
“We think of it as a playful iteration, a modern take on Texas foods,” Votta says. “You’ll see familiar things, reimagined.”
In other words, this isn’t your grandpa’s steak-‘n-taters joint. The New York strip is dry-aged wagyu with mignonette pepper, red watercress and a lush handmade Worcestershire sauce. Look closely, and you see that loaded potato gratin is a painstakingly constructed pavé creation. And yes, there’s a fish fry plate on the menu, but don’t overlook it. That’s delicately battered halibut, drizzled in spicy pickle juice with kimchi tartar sauce, nori hushpuppies and green tomatoes. Just want a snack in the bar? Try mini-wagyu dogs with bacon and hot and sweet peppers inside brioche rolls.
Sweets warrant plenty of attention, too, thanks to pastry chef Laura Cottler, who left the Ritz-Carlton in Dallas for this opportunity. Her five-layer hummingbird cake with cream cheese frosting hinting of compressed pineapple and rum, served with pineapple sorbet, is the signature dessert. She’ll spoil guests also with sweet potato pie, Dutch apple pie and mud pie, the latter featuring a brownie bottom, chocolate pudding top and a drizzle of warm caramel sauce.
Cottler knows a lighter sweet ending was in order, too: Her spin on a vintage fruit cocktail is a light, airy combination of blood orange, pomegranate seeds and passion fruit, finished with Champagne sabayon poured on top, “because you don’t want something heavy after a big steak,” she says.
Such welcome comforts are befitting the swanky but warm vibe that permeates Bowie House. In the BOKA Powell-designed setting redolent with leather, cowhide, rustic stone and wood, diners are transported to an elegant ranch; even napkin rings are fashioned like western saddles.
Throughout the common areas adjacent to the restaurant, you feel as though you’ve stepped into a lavish home, complete with big rock fireplaces, collections of fine pottery, enormous Persian and other handcrafted rugs, and arrangements of inviting couches and chairs. Photography, paintings and mixed media pieces figure among artworks that come from hotel owner Jo Ellard’s private collection.
Just off the dining room’s west end, Laney’s Room is a private dining space where Votta offers tasting menus for special bookings. Votta and his culinary team are busy turning out menus also for the poolside dining venue, Whinny’s; the Billet Room, where locals and hotel guests mingle over billiards and where poker games and mahjong groups are welcome; The Mulberry Room, just off The Bar, good for a quiet talk amid a beautiful collection of books or maybe a bourbon tasting; and Ash, the hotel spa.
An enormous vintage wooden bar found in a Central Texas antique dealer’s shop commands attention in The Bar. If you’re stopping by for happy hour or a post-dinner drink, trust beverage director Mikey Riojas (a familiar face from 61 Osteria and Magnolia Wine Bar) to come up with an intriguing option. Among cocktails to consider, there’s the Rambling Mr. Crosby, which Riojas describes as “a riff on a spritzer, made with gin, grapefruit cordial with a short carafe of sparkling wine on the side to add as you sip.”
The Bar also doubles as an all-day place to hang. Neighbors are invited to come in the morning for coffee and some of Cottler’s tempting pastries, such as brioche doughnuts filled with mocha cream with mocha icing on top. Bring a laptop and work remotely, as high-top tables have phone chargers built into the tabletops.
“We want to be Fort Worth’s living room,” notes Votta. “This should be an extension of our guests’ homes.”
EAT/DRINK IF YOU GO
In the morning: Order the brûléed ruby grapefruit teased with lemongrass, ginger and Thai basil.
Signature snack: Ritz & Dips is a pretty silver tray laden with pimento cheese, French onion dip, smoked salmon and Ritz crackers.
Drink this: Better the Devil You Know is a blend of Casamigos reposado tequila, Cointreau, passion fruit, orange, chile powder and Firewater Tincture.
Top table: Ask for one of the round leather banquettes, like the one beneath a magnificent black-and-white Constance Jaeggi photo of three beautiful horses.
When the weather’s fine: Sit just outside Bricks and Horses in The Garden, an open-air courtyard with various dining spaces.