Jon Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine and Waters are definitely white-tablecloth, special-event joints, but with the chef’s 2008 partnership with New York native Ed McOwen, Buffalo Bros, Bonnell proved he could scale back to fast casual. When Fine Texas Cuisine celebrated 20 years last year, we started hearing about another fast-casual offering to play to the farm-to-table ethos for which Bonnell and company are known, with a burgers-and-brisket price point.
Jon’s Grille is a burger’s throw from TCU, and it’s loud and lit, to use my daughter’s vernacular. Granted, my party of three arrived at the end of the Texas Tech game. In the land of purple people, Tech has a strong following, and many were gathered in the new place, where everywhere you look, you’ll see a college game or three on a Saturday.
From the “Snacks” section, the burnt ends in a molasses-y ’cue sauce were a solid choice. The appetizer portion is a quarter-pound of the formerly overlooked brisket byproduct, and that was just enough of the chewy, well-marbled, savory bits to satisfy without overpowering us with smoke flavor.
The elote fritters are an absolute must-order. Jon’s cute play on charred corn, cotija cheese, and a tartly tangy hot sauce married with a good Southern corn fritter batter and a little spicy aioli proved to be irresistible.
But don’t fill up on the appetizers. Bonnell and his brother Dr. Ric Bonnell are raising an Akaushi-Angus bovine crossbreed that’s meant to produce meat with a higher level of oleic acid (one of those good fats found in products like olive oil) and conjugated linoleic acid (which, perhaps ironically, may make the beef heart-healthy) than regular beef. The rest of the menu falls fully into omnivore territory, and the only entrees without meat or dairy in them are a single salad, a baked potato, and fries. If your party includes a veggie eater, you may want to perhaps tranquilize them with the excellent Southside Paloma. The blend of blanco tequila, agave nectar, lime bitters, and tajin-rimmed glass was enough to put a smile on even the most cynical face.
Burgers are meant to come out medium, and it’s a credit to the hybrid beef that the well-done patty that actually arrived was still juicy and tasty in the Panther City Burger, which was vetted by our adorable server as the most popular on the menu. The jammy, caramelized onions with a touch of tart from the balsamic vinegar played well with the pungent gorgonzola cheese, and a couple of pieces of Wright brand bacon on the gorgeous brioche bun augmented the fulsome burger experience. A garlic aioli meant to add to the mix was actually MIA. However, add the excellent savory sweet potato fries (burgers don’t come with a side), and you’ll be happy for days.
The Big Frog Dog is a huge Akaushi beef dog topped with a pleasantly assertive, spicy whole grain dark mustard and more caramelized onions. The snap of the dog’s casing provided an intensely satisfying bite. Warning: The Best Maid pickle relish was sweet and not dill as advertised. Sub the huge crispy onion rings for an extra treat. It’s not often that thick-cut onion rings come out perfectly done with the peppery crust clinging like a life jacket to the veg, but this kitchen does make a little happy magic.
Finally, the Gobble Gobble was a great way to test out the rest of the barbecue. A smoked, sliced turkey breast came mounded with sharp cheddar, some more bacon, and perfect slices of avocado on hearty wheat bread. The club also came with hand-punched fries — thicker than shoestring potatoes but thinner than the traditional and delicious with or without ketchup.
In the unlikely event you’re not absolutely full, the custard pie with its delicious shortbread crust and sweet vanilla cream filling is a reminder that Bonnell’s kitchens turn out excellent pastry.
Service on the busy evening we visited was exceptional, considering the place had been open for three weeks at the time. And dare I say courtly: The host pulled out chairs for us as we sat. That’s definitely not something you see in the fast-casual world. The meal isn’t cheap, but if you consider that you’re getting some world-class farm-to-table produce from one of the area’s best restaurateurs, it’s a good deal.
Burnt ends $12
Elote fritters $10
Gobble Gobble club w/fries $16
Frog Big Dog w/fries $11
Panther City Burger $17
Sweet potato fries w/entree $4
Pie of the day $5
Southside Paloma $10