Li’l Chow, Baby was inspired by the movie Footloose. Kevin Bacon’s character moves to a small town that doesn’t allow dancing, but that isn’t going to stop him from organizing a prom. Armed only with his love for dance, he eventually melts the heart of the pious John Lithgow. Then Bacon turns into a wolf and plays basketball and goes back in time in a Delorean. The ’80s were a blur to Chow, Baby.
I sort of feel as though Fred’s Texas Café is following the same trajectory as Bacon’s character. Last month, the Outlaw Chef, Terry Chandler, armed only with his 1849 gold prospecting outfit and sterling reputation, opened a second location out in the ’burbs of North Fort Worth.
Chow, Baby was curious to see if Fred’s could maintain its comfortable, edgy, dive-y diner mojo and be a little oasis of awesome in an otherwise barren culinary landscape up near Keller. This is, after all, the same Fred’s that has survived — nay, thrived — amid the West 7th chain-a-thon that built up around the mother ship.
But can Fred’s be imitated out in the McSprawl? Well, no. But then I’m not sure if Chandler and company were going for a replica.
Fred’s North is next to a tanning salon in a corner spot of a strip mall. It’s kind of like seeing your hippie buddy from college grow up to get a middle management job and use words like “synergy” without any irony.
Inside, the place was hoppin’ and noisy with screeching kids and drunks. Some of the livelier bar patrons got into a mock cry-off with a fussy baby. (That “cold ass” beer brings the best out of folks.) There are flat-screen TVs everywhere, and the overhead music was blaring the worst of ’80s metal.
The service was slow and chaotic. We never figured out who our server was and had to flag down several of them to take our order. Chow, Baby and guests wanted to share everything, but the two empty plates brought to us were smeared with remnants of someone else’s food — having been washed without being scraped. Chow, Baby likes leftovers just as much as the next person, but not that way.
A much bigger tragedy — worse than the audacity of remaking Footloose (no one will ever play six degrees to Kenny Wormald) — was the food, which was just as cookie-cutter as the setting. The chipotle ground beef nachos ($11), with tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and drizzled sour cream, were pretty to look at but lacked spice. The chicken tacos ($10.50), which the menu said were served with guacamole, were instead served with a tiny slice of avocado and were just as bland. The salsa was decent but, again, could have used a little more oomph.
Both the Diablo burger ($11.25), with chipotle peppers, Swiss cheese, lettuce, pickles, and tomatoes, and the portabello burger ($11), with a big sautéed mushroom and veggies, were comforting reminders of what made the original Fred’s great. The Diablo was juicy, spicy, and nice-sized, and the portabello burger was bursting with earthy flavor. Both were served with delicious hand-cut fries.
I’m not sure if the night was just a new-restaurant misfire or if the Fred’s brain trust has changed its formula to fit into the sprawl. My hope was that Fred’s would go all Kevin Bacon on the ’burbs, not the other way around. Regardless, Chow, Baby will be back: I believe, like I believe that dancing can save my soul, that Chandler and company will get it right. Still, I wouldn’t spend money on a corsage just yet: It’s not quite prom night.
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