Fred’s: Blazing Saddles
I like to think of the story of Fred’s Texas Café (915 Currie St.) like a dramatic Hollywood movie. For years, the ramshackle burger joint was a culinary beacon in the then-barren West 7th Street area, charming customers with its dive-y environs and gourmet flair. Then, as the Mc7th development sprang up around it, the quality of the food wavered while the prices skyrocketed. Though I still frequented the place, my Fredburgers were sometimes brilliant but occasionally flat and overcooked.
I can just imagine the movie trailer (read in a dramatic baritone): It was a burger place for everyone, serving thick, juicy burgers, hand-cut fries, and the occasional four-star quality gourmet dinner. (Cue ominous music.) Then, a gang of developers with no sense of design cohesion surrounded it with Dallas-based chain restaurants and luxury apartments. And trouble came calling.
But this movie is also a story of redemption. In 2011 Fred’s began expanding its brand, opening a location in North Fort Worth and rolling out a food truck. And then over the summer, Fred’s opened its third location, this one near TCU (3509 Bluebonnet Cir.). And it’s a reminder of everything good about the Fred’s Empire.
Owner/chef Terry Chandler, part-owner Quincy Wallace, and the Fred’s team took over the former combined spaces of the longstanding Oui Lounge and beloved Mexican food eatery Caro’s that Tim Love and an ownership group turned into a sterile, lifeless bro bar. The Love group had the place only about a year, but I thought the stain of populist hokum would never wash away.
Now the place looks completely different. Chandler and his crew have flipped the proverbial patty on the place. The atmosphere is laid-back and fun. The décor is ranch-themed, with some schmaltzy Texas bric-a-brac lining the walls and hanging from the ceiling. Everything is wood-toned and rustic.
Announcer voice: It was a dark time for Bluebonnet Circle. Then a band of heroes armed with only giant burgers and cold-ass beer rode into town.
The food is flawless. My guest and I started with the thinly sliced fried pickles ($5.95). Cloaked in a light, crispy batter and served with a spicy ranch sauce, the disks were nice and salty and begged to be accompanied by a cold-ass beer.
The burgers were vintage Fred’s greatness. The half-pound Texas ground beef patty on the Diablo Burger ($11.50) was juicy, with a thrillingly dark crust. The goliath stack of ingredients featured generously portioned chipotle peppers, grilled onions, melted Swiss cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomato, and mustard slathered on a grilled bun and served with hand-cut fries. In the wrong hands that mass of ingredients would be a mess, but the kitchen had the balance just right. The Serrano Burger ($11.50) was loaded with the Mexican peppers and packed a spicy punch. The mellow and buttery Oaxaca cheese balanced out the spice.
In the battle against bland burgers and weak bars, Fred’s gave people in the TCU area hope.
I don’t know how the movie ends, but based on my lunch it looks like it will be happily ever after.
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