The name “Fitzgerald” often evokes imagery related to that of turbulent maritime themes. The ill-fated freight ship, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, has been forever etched into history due to its being the largest ship to have sunk in the Great Lakes and also perhaps to Gordon Lightfoot’s somber tune dedicated to the 29 lives lost that day. Another is that of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, whose life was spent sailing off the shores of New England but who also met a tragic end. Lastly, and perhaps most famously, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about the beautiful and the damned along the coast. The last line to The Great Gatsby still rings true today. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Although Ben Merritt took inspiration for the title of his new restaurant from his favorite cocktail, The Fitzgerald (named after F. Scott), the interior design offers elements of an uplifting and positive coastal vibe. Light and airy with varying hues of blues and greens, the Westside restaurant feels less Fort Worth and more Gulf Coast, which was where the chef and owner drew inspiration for the cuisine.
As I sipped on a Fitzgerald, a gin-based sour with the foamy egg white optional, the volley between cocktail and bite of the barbecue shrimp offered favorable complexity. Barbecue shrimp is a regional dish associated with New Orleans from an Italian-Creole origin and is far removed from the style of barbecue we know in Texas. The jumbo shrimp are marinated, then cooked before swimming in a Worcestershire- or soy-based sauce enhanced with seasoning, unlike barbecue sauce here. The Fitzgerald’s slightly smoky sauce gave way to a hint of Mexican mole, perhaps a nod to our state, with the result superb and respectful of its heritage.
While paintings of oysters adorn the walls, noticeably missing is a raw bar. Operations Manager Chris Lynch was quick to inform me that while one is in the works, raw oysters would soon be offered for service. In the meantime, we had to sate our oyster hankering with another New Orleans classic, Oysters Rockefeller. Along with a traditional preparation, The Fitzgerald also offers a spicy kimchi butter with umami and a cheesy bacon-jalapeno. The Rockefeller were well received to say the least.
Another delectable starter was the silky grilled bone marrow topped with caramelized onions, rendered greens, and blue cheese served along with pita bread. Also, a lobster corndog, crawfish and shrimp dip (which we eschewed for the spicy crawfish mac), and crab cakes that were so delicately battered and lightly fried, they were as close to perfect as I have had from Louisiana to Florida.
Well ensconced in my comfort zone enjoying the sweetness of a Vieux Carré, a rye whiskey cocktail akin to a Sazerac sans any bitter edge, and with buoyant jazz floating in the background, the direction of The Fitzgerald made sense. Their listed cocktail selection is short but well-imagined and the wine list extensive, and they simply offer three steaks with a thick pork Delmonico, a cut usually affiliated with beef. It’s The Fitzgerald’s seafood that really breathes on its own.
The common catch of the day is the cobia. Glistening from honey-bourbon glaze with a tangy burst of pineapple salsa, it was an enjoyable, easy offering. The blackened redfish, which is found on the menus of nearly every seafood joint hugging the Gulf of Mexico, showcased a flair from south of the border with chorizo and was flanked by a medley of vegetables. Up the Mexican influence with a side of poblano cheese grits or creamy elote.
Once the plates have cleared, a darkened lounge named Regal Room awaits in the rear, complete with couch and bar seating and several TVs. Although a more masculine setting, women of all ages outnumbered their male counterparts while conversing over beverages of choice on the day my guests and I visited. In contrast to Merritt’s other restaurant, Fixture, on the Near Southside, he and his team have built an experience where the results are certainly not calamitous but seaworthy.
Crab cake $20
Grilled bone marrow $15
Grilled Gulf oysters (half dozen) $15
New Orleans barbecue shrimp $30