It’s springtime, and Love is in the air. I mean, everywhere, like pollen. I’m not talking about the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when the person of your dreams lifts the restraining order. No, I’m talking about Fort Worth celebri-chef Tim Love, who, after opening a new (controversial) restaurant, breathing new (but not necessarily welcome) life into an old bar, and making numerous national television appearances, remains one of the most polarizing figures on our culinary scene.
The Weekly’s Last Call scribe, Steve Steward, said it best (“Yes to the New Oui?” April 18, 2012): “Foodies seem to love him, and service industry people seem to hate him.” I haven’t met him and don’t care whether he rubs people the wrong way. The only real question is, does he rub steaks the right way? In other words, can he cook?
My first stop on the Love train was the Woodshed Smokehouse (3201 Riverfront Dr.). The spacious open-air dining room overlooking the Trinity River boasts a casual charm that sets a naturally relaxing mood (unless you’re one of those who are outraged about how he got permission to build there to begin with). A guest and I visited on one of the first hot days of the year and opted to dine indoors. We were comfortable, though I can’t imagine the dining room’s sliding garage doors will be open much longer.
I’m in love (ha) with the concept here. It’s like Paula Deen meets Animal Planet on the wide-open range. The menu read like a roster for Noah’s Ark. We started with the sausage of the day ($7), served with house mustard, pickles, and grilled pita bread. I’m not a fan of grilled bread and don’t understand why so many restaurants think their guests like the taste of a campfire. But I digress. The rabbit and rattlesnake sausage elevated what sounded like road kill to a lean, slightly sweet delicacy. The taco of the day ($9) was lamb — tender, a little oily but not greasy, and delicious. The accompanying salsas didn’t knock my socks off, but neither did they detract from the meat. Our server recommended the pork ribs ($10 per pound), which were way overcooked, like pulling apart wet particle board. Tragically, the excellent spice rub and sauce just couldn’t cover for the dried-out swine.
I’ve been many times to The Love Shack (110 E. Exchange Ave.), and experienced first-hand the booze-absorbing magic of the Dirty Love Burger ($6.24), a juicy patty of 50/50 prime tenderloin and brisket, topped with “love sauce” and a quail egg. But I hadn’t been to Love’s original burger stand, in the old space of the White Elephant Beer Garden. I remedied that with a trip to the Stockyards. The service was chaotic and a little slow, but it was 10 p.m. on a Friday night, and the line was long — I can forgive a lot under those circumstances. The burger was every bit as good as on 7th Street, though I’m not a fan of the thin-cut fries ($1.85), which were so limp they looked more like noodles.
My last stop on the Love path was his flagship, the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro (2406 N. Main St.), a Northside fine-dining anchor. The décor is predictably rustic, and the lunch menu, again, read like the inventory of an exotic game ranch, featuring things like kangaroo, wild boar, and elk. Skipping red meat for one course, I instead opted for the perfectly seared diver scallop ($9) with a thin carrot-ginger puree. The subtle, silken carrot-ginger sauce elegantly set off the rich seafood. I was enthralled by the house meatloaf ($12), an upscale take on a Chow, Baby childhood favorite, made with Yukon gold potatoes and spinach.
It’s Tim Love’s world; we just live here. As Cowtown’s self-appointed culinary ambassador he’s less than charming, but his restaurants make up for it. His all-creatures-great-and-small style of cuisine may seem kitschy by now, but let’s not forget that he was among those doing it first — and is still doing it right.
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