Oh, 2016. You’re like a belligerent party guest who won’t leave until you’ve alienated everyone with your mouth-breathing, vapid sense of self-righteousness. You mowed down some of our coolest celebrities like spring-loaded heads in a deadly game of whack-a-mole. You allowed a spray-tanned ski movie villain to be elected leader of the free world. Your man-bun #squad “broke the internet” watching sequels to ’90s sitcoms on Netflix while chilling and switching your Facebook profile to support a cause.
But people don’t read this column for vague pop culture references and sweeping generalizations. (Though if you do, this is your week.) I’m ready to scrape the year in Fort Worth restaurants off the plate and into the trash like half-eaten spaghetti.
The last 365 days on the local eats scene kind of mirrored our city as a whole. As it’s grown, our restaurants just keep getting more bland and uninspired. Some decent-to-great places opened over the past lap around the sun, but so many new eateries just seem to be the end result of focus groups collected at the Pottery Barn: generically good. The culinary floor was raised proportionate to the distance the ceiling was lowered.
The scene (and I) are still recovering from last year, when signs that our bourgeoning foodie-verse was making the jump from quaint to metropolitan were snubbed out like so many rock stars in 2016. But the culinary landscape wasn’t all scorched earth and roving gangs of zombie cattle cooked medium-well.
If this year had a big winner, it was Chef Felipe Armenta. His suddenly sprawling restaurant empire added two more impressive ports of call: Press Café (4801 Edwards Ranch Rd, 817-570-6002) amid the shiny, new money of the Edwards Ranch development, and Cork & Pig Tavern (2869 Crockett St, 817-759-9280) in the bro-Mecca of West 7th. Though the menus at each of his four local joints (Pacific Table and The Tavern) share some menu items, each has its distinctive voice and place. The cuisine may not be the kind of haute brilliance you’d find in the West Village or Paris, I’ve never had a bad bite at any of them.
The close runner-up has to be Travis and Emma Heim of Heim Barbecue & Catering (1109 W Magnolia Av, 817-882-6970). The Heims’ story is a heartwarming tale of a plucky food trailer cook and his wife who served succulent meats with depth of flavor you rarely encounter. After months of long lines and critical accolades, the two turned in their trailer for a brick-and-mortar spot on the chic Magnolia. The new location only fomented people’s appetite for those sweet, sweet meats, and now Fort Worth’s first family of ’cue is opening a second location, this one on White Settlement Road.
Though Le Cep (3324 W 7th St, 817-900-2468) didn’t open in 2016, the fact that such a pricey, high-concept place could survive another 12 months in Cowtown gives me hope. Every perfectly manicured bite of Chef Sandra Avilla’s French-inspired tasting menu could be an Instagram star for food pornographers. My chief complaint about the place is the price. Though the kitchen now offers an a la carte menu, it’s still a shame that so much culinary intelligence and imagination is locked up inside a restaurant that is hard for most people to afford more than once a year.
The year was also made brighter by Chef Jesus Garcia’s grand re-entrance to the Fort with his scandalously under appreciated Oni Ramen (2801 W 7th St, 817-882-6554). The former sushi chef-turned-noodler gives us everything we love about the trendy soup dish (fresh, exotic ingredients, quality noodles, rich broth) at a reasonable price.
My New Year’s resolution is to appreciate the great things we have and (finally) stop dwelling on the restaurants we’ve lost. I’ll even stop picking on the West 7th development – once it stops being terrible.