Every city has them: places that have been around so long and so are ingrained in the palates of the people who grew up eating there, locals can’t even tell if the food is good anymore. I call them mother’s milk restaurants, and Fort Worth has a ton of them. I thought it would be a fun, if near blasphemous, exercise to pit two of these venerable eateries against each other to see which mother’s milk joints has held up better.
For my first installment of the head-to-head restaurant battle, I’m comparing two longstanding diners: Paris Coffee Shop (704 W Magnolia Av, 817-335-2041) and Westside Café (7950 Camp Bowie West, 817-560-1996). The two places have a ton in common in terms of the menu and clientele. The bill of fare at each is classic comfort food, with an almost unchanging menu that includes all-day breakfast. Both are frequented by blue-collar types looking for good value, the crowds are typically older, and the dining rooms are always packed.
On my recent visit to Paris Coffee Shop, there was a 15-minute wait at the height of the lunch rush. As a native Fort Worthian, I’ve been “going to Paris” regularly since I was a pup. The bustling café is an anachronism in an area of town mostly populated by young, band shirt-clad hipsters. The place opened in 1926, and, on the day I dropped in for lunch, it looked like some of the diners were probably around back then–– I thought a retirement home bingo game might break out.
The décor screams “diner,” with a little coffee counter, comfy booths, framed, autographed photos of famous people who have presumably eaten there, and an open floor plan that maximizes the space. The biggest surprise was the vintage records for sale hanging on the wall. My guest and I were treated to Mick Jagger’s plumped-up package on the cover of the Stones’ Sticky Fingers throughout our lunch.
The food was pretty underwhelming, though it came out just a couple of minutes after we ordered. My Southern fried chicken and gravy ($10.55) was scorched. It was like eating battered particleboard. My guest’s “Cod Fish” (for those who don’t know that a cod is a fish) was decent, but nothing you couldn’t get at a middle school cafeteria. Had I not have grown up with it, I’m not sure I’d ever go back to the Near Southside diner.
Westside Café was as impressive as Paris was disappointing. It had the obligatory booths, famous people pics, and counter. There were also printed signs encouraging guests to keep their handguns concealed, so if you’ve been wondering when you’re ever going to get to wear that Kevlar vest you got last Christmas …
The food was fresh-tasting and plentiful, and it came out fast. My center-cut pork chops (10.50) were tender, well-seasoned, and juicy. The accompanying mashed potatoes were fluffy and creamy, and the squash casserole was hearty and buttery, if a little sweet. My guest’s calf liver and onions ($7.75) were a tad over-cooked, but the lake of gravy on which the tender slabs of meat sat provided some much-needed moisture.
In the first mother’s milk head-to-head battle, the clear winner is Westside Café. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ll stop going to Paris Coffee Shop. I’ll just pretend I’m still 11 years old and don’t know any better.