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A coworker recommended Carpenter’s Café specifically because she said she loves their barbecue. Perhaps I’ve been to too many ’cue restaurants, but I wasn’t expecting what I found at this tiny family-owned restaurant across the street from Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital. This is not a traditional barbecue place. Nor is it strictly soul food, although it’s plain that a lot of love and soul go into the eclectic cuisine options.

On the current menu (the restaurant is open only Friday through Sunday for takeout), brisket, smoked chicken, and turkey make appearances as ingredients in other dishes. I was told the Smokey Chick ­ –– smoked chicken salad –– was excellent, and that’s no lie. The bird spent a good amount of time in the smoker, which amped up the flavor of the traditionally mild mayonnaise base. The dish was moist enough to stand up to bread or crackers but not oozing with an excess of dressing. Finely chopped celery and scallion bits ensured the flavor of both without a diner having to contend with an ungainly, fibrous bit of celery or a large chunk of green onion. You can order the Smoky Chick in an actual salad, where the bed of greens, cucumbers, and tomato wrestle with the chicken mix, bacon bits, and cheese. The smoked chicken is also served as a sandwich, with your choice of bread or on a croissant, in a wrap with bacon and spinach, or by the pound.

Katrina and Travis Carpenter’s eatery specializes in Southern comfort food with zing.
Photo courtesy of Carpscafe.net

If you want to taste the brisket, order the Fry-day special –– Babe’s loaded brisket fries were actually oblong potato scoops like you’d find in Irish nachos. On top sat a generous pile of chopped brisket in the House Q sauce that pulled the brakes on the right side of too sugary thanks to a generous helping of tempering vinegar. The mountain of meat and spuds was covered in queso made with Rahr & Sons beer, plus shredded cheese, a little sriracha sour cream, and tangy green onions. Usually with brisket nachos or fries, I’m left wanting more brisket. Carpenter’s delivered plenty of the tender, gently smoky beef, and the plate easily served three people.

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Craving grilled cheese? There are two kinds of the oozy, not-just-for-kids sandwiches on the menu. Big Baby’s grilled cheese came out stuffed with a lovely dried tomato pesto, and the slightly sweet, herb-infused dressing was more of an ingredient than just a gently applied condiment. I think I would have enjoyed the sandwich more if I’d asked for provolone or mozzarella cheese. If you want a more traditional version, the kid’s style comes accompanied by fries.

Carpenter’s Café and Catering, 1116 Pennsylvania Av, FW. 682-499-8630. 11am-7pm Sun and Fri-Sat, closed Mon-Thu. All major credit cards accepted.

The only dessert available on the day my party of three stopped by for takeout was the Grown Folks’ No Nanna pudding. The one thing my household agrees on at this moment is that banana pudding, in whatever form, is good eats. There’s a subset of people who like the flavor of banana but not the actual fruit in the home-style dish –– if you’re one of those people, you’ll like this version because it’s banana-less. But be warned: This is not your Nanna’s ’nana pudding. It’s more of a cheesecake. Rich with mascarpone cheese and whipped cream, it was delicious and inventive with vanilla wafers subbing in for a formal crust.

The menu is far broader than the brief sampling described here. Breakfast tacos, biscuits, a home-style breakfast plate with an option of a salmon croquette, quiche, smoked turkey, and fancy avocado toast with truffle oil on gluten-free bread all beckon. Carpenter’s Café had just transitioned out of their food truck into their current location at the beginning of March. Despite the pandemic, Carpenter’s rolls on with both their storefront and a catering business. The restaurant does an episodic Sunday dinner for four (pre-orders are recommended –– check the Facebook page for details). If you’re working near the Hospital District, this should be your go-to place for Friday lunch, both for the first-rate food and the excellent price points.

Carpenter’s Café and Catering

Big Baby’s grilled cheese $7

Smoked chicken salad $6.50 1/2lb

Babe’s loaded brisket fries $12

Grown Folks’ No Nanna pudding $6

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