Chow, Baby isn’t a slave to the old school, but I do think it’s important to pay homage to the restaurants that have been around for a while. I’m not “get off my lawn” grumpy about the latest trends, hottest restaurants, or any other new-fangled addition to our local culinary canon. I’m just the opposite, in fact — those things excite me. But it’s nice to occasionally visit some of the places that helped shaped Fort Worth’s palate, like following a trail of bread crumbs back to the places where the Fort’s foodie explosion started.
Is there a more old-school place than the ramshackle, much-loved mainstay of West Side Café (7950 Camp Bowie West Blvd.)? It’s been around for 17 years and has that “kiss my grits” greasy-spoon vibe. That being said, the place is remarkably well maintained, and, unlike at some local cafés, its clientele still has a pulse. Having been there many times, I’ve always admired the fast and friendly service. The wait staff has the ruthless efficiency of those mechanical automatons in German clocks, and their ability was on full display on a recent busy weekend lunch.
The food ain’t haute cuisine — just hot, good, and generous. The menu is simple diner fare at a reasonable price. For example, my lunch of pork chops ($9.25), dusted in seasoned salt with creamy mashed potatoes, corn from a can, and a hot roll, might not have seemed at first glance to be worthy of a food critic’s time and ink. But considering the speed at which it was served to me and the outstanding bang-for-buck value, I feel an almost pathological need to share my experience with the world.
While the Park Hill Café (2974 Park Hill Dr.) hasn’t been around as long as West Side, the 13-year-old vintage bistro fills a “ladies who lunch” niche — not to denigrate the manliness of its male patrons. Its pinky-out tea-room vibe stands in stark contrast to West Side’s blue-collar character, but it’s every bit as authentic. On a recent lunch visit, the dining room was packed, and the service was a little slow as a result. But that gave my guest and me time to properly peruse the menu of mostly sandwiches and wraps.
The Mediterranean sandwich ($6.89) with roasted chicken, basil pesto, roasted red bell pepper, red onion, tomato, arugula, and balsamic vinaigrette was decent, but its flavors were drowned out by the massive chewy ciabatta bread. The highlight was the turkey Cobb wrap ($6.89), stuffed with sliced turkey, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, avocado, bacon, blue cheese crumbles, egg, and blue cheese vinaigrette in a garlic-herb tortilla. The wrap was fresh, and the richness of the cheese balanced the vinaigrette nicely. Each plate was served with fruit and potato chips.
My Nana once told me that everyone who ever made anything worth eating respected their elders — and the Park Hill and West Side cafés deserve respect. Both places have been doing things pretty much the same way for years, and it’s easy to take them for granted, like a familiar song you’ve always sung along to without ever contemplating its meaning. There’s a good reason they’ve been there so long. And judging by the packed dining rooms, they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
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