A couple of years ago, I went to a dark place when I thought about the restaurant scene in this town. A few of my favorites had closed (“Whatever Will Be,” Oct 28, 2015), and it seemed like the only things opening up were Dallas chains and places that served the exact same menu of upscale comfort food.
But on I trudged, looking for signs of hope from the foodie gods. I yearned for just one menu that wasn’t the product of a focus group or the result of chasing the newest dietary fads.
I think as a food town we’re finally starting to get back to respectability, like a fawn nervously returning to its forest home after a huge fire. Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, and a few new local eateries have restored my faith in the culinary world.
Tributary Café (2813 Race St, 817-744-8255) came out of nowhere and just floored me with its upscale Cajun/Creole menu. The chefs of Piattello Italian Kitchen (5924 Convair Dr, Ste 412, 817-349-0484) and Press Café (4801 Edwards Ranch Rd, 817-570-6002) aren’t new, but both places showcase the diversity of their respective head honchos. Heim Barbecue (1109 W Magnolia Av, 817-882-6970) is garnering regional attention for its outstanding prime ’cue. A couple of culinary heroes made triumphant returns to town: Jesus Garcia, who moved to the West Coast, came back to open Oni Ramen (2801 W 7th St, 817-882-6554); Francisco Islas, formerly of Paco and John’s, is back serving haute tacos on Magnolia at Paco’s Mexican Cuisine (1508 W Magnolia Av, 817-759-9110). Even our hole-in-the-wall game has stepped up thanks to place like Namaste Indian Restaurant (923 E Seminary Dr, 817-349-9350).
My latest food crush (and reason for hope) is Istanbul Grill (401 Throckmorton St, 817-885-7326). I guess technically the place is a chain, since the original grill has been an Arlington favorite for years. But owner Serdar “Sam” Sensel brought his unique take on Turkish cuisine to a cozy corner of Sundance Square (whatever that means these days) back in November.
The vibe is relaxed, upscale, with white tablecloths, high ceilings, exposed pipes, and floor-to-ceiling windows that allow the lunch crowd to bathe in natural light. The walls are decorated with colorful plates and tasteful framed art. Like the menu, the décor is subtly interesting.
Don’t let the prix fixe lunch menu ($12.95 for two courses) scare you away. There are plenty of options and variety. On my recent visit, my guest and I started with the interesting, tangy appetizer piyaz, a kind of white bean salad with red bell peppers, sliced onions, tomatoes, and parsley, which was heavy on the vinegar and olive oil. The kitchen’s falafel, a fritter of broad beans and chickpeas, was slightly overcooked, though delicious tzatziki-like sauce that accompanied the fried morsels covered up the mistake.
Istanbul Grill’s menu is replete with the usual greatest food hits of the Mediterranean (gyros, Greek salad), but you’d be wise to step out of your comfort zone and try the adana, a skewer of beautifully seasoned hand-cut lamb cooked so tender it could pass for an R&B slow jam. If you have to try something familiar, go for the Turkish meatballs, a juicy amalgam of marinated ground beef and lamb served with rice and grilled veggies.
Because of our lack of space in the paper, I usually don’t mention service in these write-ups unless it’s especially good or bad. The team of servers who took care of my guest and me were attentive, pleasant, and even witty.
I think this town is finally on the right track again. Heck, even some of the newly opened Dallas chains are pretty darn good. It’s a good time to be a foodie in Fort Worth. For now.