Puffed-up press releases are like a drunk in a bar telling you how hot you are – sure, the source is suspect, but you still want to believe the hype.

Heading to Bar-B-Cutie (5710 Rufe Snow Dr., North Richland Hills), the newest outpost of the Tennessee-style barbecue chain, super-hot Chow, Baby hoped it really was about to feast on “The World’s Best Barbecue Since 1950!” and that this location would resemble the press-packet photo of the original shacky-cool Nashville drive-up, complete with cutie car-hops.

The sobering truth: Bar-B-Cutie is just another stupid suburban fast-food hut, complete with whimsical olde-tyme adverts, zombie-eyed teenage counterworkers, and 99.5 The WOLF played way too loud. (Chow, Baby is working on a motto for The WOLF: “We Only Like Flaccidboringstupidsongs,” maybe.) It has this wood-shingle décor to make you think you’re out in the country, but Chow, Baby wasn’t fooled. Worst of all, it doesn’t smell like barbecue from the parking lot, or even when you walk in.

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Baby-back ribs (half order $8.95) got all their flavor from the Tennessee-style sweet tomato-based sauce, with none of the PR-promised “rich hickory smoke flavor,” but they were edible. Same for the heat-lamped pulled pork (plate $7.95): no flavor except from the sauce; edible. The only hickory kick on the plate was in the sweet baked beans, and Chow, Baby suspects that came out of a bottle, too. Mac-and-cheese was fast-food perfect: rich, faux-cheesy, very filling, but that plate was brought down by parched brisket and supposedly smoked turkey (combo plate $12.95). You’d have to be really desperate, or really drunk, to hit on this Cutie.

Chef Point One and Only
Speaking of Rufe Snow – Chow, Baby hates to say “I told you so,” so here goes: Expanding the wonderful gas-station-gourmet Chef Point into a real (really ugly) building on North Richland Hills’ main drag last year was a Bad Idea. Chef Point II shared the building and its kitchen with a nightclub, Sparks, and word is that folks didn’t play well together. (Chow, Baby has spies everywhere.) What with kitchen squabbles, menu dumbing-down, and untrained servers – and let’s not forget that revolting décor – it was just like an episode of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, a show Chow, Baby would watch more often if Gordon Ramsay didn’t inexplicably appear shirtless several times in each episode. Talk about an appetite suppressant.

So Chef Point II is gone, and Chef Franzen Nwaeze is back home, baby, inside the Conoco station at 5901 Watauga Rd., and gourmet-saucing his heart out: sherry wine sauce on escargot, asiago sauce on stuffed artichoke bottoms, garlic sauce on scampi, hot cognac sauce on bread pudding – you name it, Chef Franzen will smother it. Deliciously. On Chow, Baby’s plate, the deluge of mint-popping brown sauce was enough to bathe lovely wee lamb chops ($16.99 for eight, yes, eight!), soak into roasted potatoes, and engulf fresh-grilled summer veggies – and still there was enough scrumptious juice left to mop up with a warm soft roll.

Service from Chef Franzen’s son, Nathan, was perfect (Dad was watching closely); the décor is, well, it’s a gas station, but at least it doesn’t have fake-rock walls. Chow, Baby’s all for professional growth (without actually having tried it personally), but you can’t lose the mission in the process.

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