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Monday, February 10, 2014

Bird Café and AF+B...making Fort Worth Cool as a Cucumber (updated)

Gentling Brothers painted beautiful images like these that fill Bird Café's walls

AF+B's Jack Rose

All of a sudden, Fort Worth is cool. I always thought it was with its Cowtown roots, but now it is in a hip, cool cat kind of way (no...I'm not as old as I sound). With restaurants like Bird Café and AF+B we now have creative menus, fresh ingredients and crazy mixology behind the bar. 

Part I: AF+B

AF+B had a turkey pastrami sandwich special that day. Everything from the avocado and fennel purée and tomato jam to the turkey pastrami was house-made. The arugula was locally grown by
House-made Turkey Pastrami
the farmers depicted in the beautiful photography hanging on the tavern's walls. In fact my waiter James said nothing they serve has been out of the ground for more than three days. They make their own ginger syrups, "turn the curd" themselves for their ricotta, and create their own sweetened condensed milk.

The only thing not house-made was the bread, which came from the Black Rooster Bakery. That place is amazing for lack of better words (sorry, I'm in a hurry!). The tomato jam covered the inside of one slice, and the fennel and avocado purée the other. I loved the arugula, which added a nice peppery contrast to the sweet tomato and fennel flavor.

Back to the ginger syrup! I tried the Chilcano, which is Moscow Mule's Peruvian cousin. The house-made ginger beer was out-of-this-world awesome! Not too sweet but just enough spice. I also tried the Jack Rose with blended apple jack, fresh lime juice and pomegranite grenadine. It was delicious and served in an old-fashioned martini glass. I felt like I was sipping a cocktail with Murtle in the Great Gatsby.

AF+B's Chilcano
I love how simple and fresh this place is. I really don't think you can go wrong when ordering here. And the idea is a neighborhood tavern, but the atmosphere is much lighter and more airy than it is cavernous. It is loud when busy.

Update: I went the other night and ordered lots of plates off the permanent menu. I was blown away. Some of the best food I've ever had in Fort Worth. May I recommend items you must order when you go?

You must order the scotch eggs. No, I don't usually like scotch eggs, but these soft-boiled beauties are wrapped with a thin layer of chorizo sausage and then breaded. Amazing. I also thoroughly enjoyed the gulf blue deviled crabs. The lamb tartar was good, but tartar isn't really my thing unless it's fish. Their grass-fed beef chili was excellent, but a little on the sweet side.

For the main dish, I recommend their wood-grilled butcher's cut steak with their house-made chimichurri. It was unbelievably good.

Part II: Bird Café

If you're not careful you can rack up a serious bill here. For a hungry person it takes several of Bird Café's small or shared plates to fill up, which is a large portion of the menu. There is a small section titled "for those who don't share" devoted to diners who wish not to blow the bank on a dozen shared plates. (When I go back I am ordering off that menu
without shame.)

I started the meal with a "New Deal Old-Fashioned" and the shrimp and crab chop salad. The salad was good, but didn't blow me away. The drink did. The hard rye whiskey was ameliorated by house-made orange cordial, cherry brandy and bitters. I adored the single large ice cube that floated in my glass all evening.

Gentling Image
We then shared some hot plates—roasted quail with celery root purée, "moth balls," which are house-made ricotta-stuffed gnocchi thingies, and agave-glazed baby back ribs with boring potatoes.

My favorite was the quail dish. The celery root purée is actually poached potatoes and/or turnips seasoned with celery. It was delicious, and my friend's favorite. (They're very secretive about how they prepare their food so that's all we got out of them, hence the use of the word "thingie" and the turnip/potato confusion.)

I will probably not order the other dishes again, although the moth balls taste good they just have a unique texture.

I loved that the menu had a wine pairing or cocktail suggestion next to each dish. It makes it easy for those of us who want to try something new but don't know where to start.

My dining experiences are only as good as the atmosphere, and this placed rocked it from the upstairs dining room overlooking downtown Fort Worth to the cozy main room downstairs. The entire place is covered with paintings by the Gentling Brothers (Stuart and Scott). Walking through and studying these images is a must do when you dine here. I've always been a fan of these artists, so we spent thirty minutes admiring after dinner and skipped dessert.

Quail with celery root purée, which was actually some other root like a potato or turnip. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo #FWSSR

His first pair of blue jeans, cowboy boots, and his first rodeo. 

Bucking broncos and bulls send cowboys flying, tough cowgirls whirl around barrels as their horses' hooves thunder back into a tunnel beneath the stands, and children scramble to catch their calves for prize money. 

All of these things are reminiscent of the past, but the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo remind us city folks that the Wild West still lives right under our nose.

Every winter Jan. 17-Feb. 8, cowboys from as far as France and Australia move to Fort Worth for a few weeks to show us how it's done. They perform daring tasks actually practiced on ranches all over the world to show off their antiquated skills and win prize money.

And yes, these cowboys are the real deal. No show ponies here.

This long-lived North Texas tradition is one I recommend for everyone. I go at least twice every year.

Evening performances sell for $25 a ticket, and matinees $19. The event is held at the historic and beloved Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum in the heart of Fort Worth's cultural district.


Click here to read my feature story in Fort Worth, Texas magazine on the lady behind the sparkling Palomino Flag Girls.