Friday, January 18, 2019

Restaurant memories

Star Café on West Exchange in the Stockyards
I’ve been having lots of fun reading Lost Restaurants of Fort Worth by Celestina Blok. My ex- and I arrived in Fort Worth in 1965 and for several years were dead broke. But when he finished his surgical residency and I finished my graduate studies at TCU, we were able to step out on the town a bit.

We ate at the Carriage House most frequently. I remember a favorite waiter—Chad, a tall, thin man with a big Afro. When he saw me come in, he’d say, “Dover sole and spinach,” and he was right. That was what I wanted every time. The waiters used to serenade birthday customers, and I remember once when Joel told them it was my birthday. They sang to me, much to my embarrassment, while Joel’s mother kept saying, “Judy dear, such a considerate husband you have.” I was seriously thinking about strangling him when we got home.

A few years pass, and we took our two oldest children for their first night out—I think dinner was to be followed by a performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore and I now have no memory of how indignant the two younger ones must have been to be left behind. We ate, as always, in the back room where Mac had lined the walls with pictures of nudes. The kids could hardly eat they were so busy surreptitiously glancing at the art. And then there was the time we took my parents—my Scottish father was appalled that Joel spent $40 on a bottle of wine; Dad could hardly drink it.

We ate at Mac’s House frequently enough to be considered regulars—and I even did after our divorce. Colin, my oldest, worked there as a bus boy in high school, and we all have fond memories of Mac’s salad—the recipe is in the book. I also remember the Christmas Eve we all had brandy ices and went straight home to bed instead, as we intended, to the late church service.

The book solves another puzzle for me: for years I’ve wondered why the name Steve’s is embedded in tile in the sidewalk near the back of Lucille’s. In a charming passage, Steve Murrin, Jr., talks about the restaurant his dad, Steve, Sr., had in that spot. The feature was ham sandwiches, and a big part of his business came from people who had been hired to drive used cars to California, where there was a good market for them. They were given lunch money and stopped at Steve’s on their way down Highway 80.

I barely remember the Farmer’s Daughter on South University, a steak and prime rib house fashioned after a northern California fancy restaurant and owned by the man who also owned the Cattleman’s. What I remember best was that after its heyday they used to have wet T-shirt contests, and all the guys would gather to wait for their girls to emerge from the bar. I better remember the London House on Camp Bowie where I first saw—and loved—the concept of a salad bar. Later, the Steak and Ale chain picked up on the idea.

Other memories came flooding back—Theo’s Saddle & Sirloin Inn, supposedly the place that introduced calf fries—can you even get them these days? They also served a delicious sauerkraut soup—I remember taking a suitor there who was horrified that I would eat that. And the cafeterias—remember when Jetton’s introduced the new concept of food stations rather than one long line?

There are places in the book that I never ate and wish I had—Neil Hosper’s Cross Keys and Jimmy Dip’s, the Richelieu Grill where legend has it the famous chili recipe was written on the wall. When the building was demolished, someone saved that piece of plaster wall.

This slim book makes you appreciate what a rich restaurant heritage Fort Worth has. The last chapter is devoted to longtime restaurants that are still feeding us—and they include some of my favorites: Angelo’s Barbecue (who can forget the moth-eaten bear?) and Carshon’s Delicatessen where I still lunch frequently, the Paris Coffee Shop and Joe T. Garcia’s. But where is the Star Café, supposedly the longest continually open restaurant in the city?

Read and enjoy—and then go to the Star for what Bud Kennedy says is the best chicken-fried steak in town.

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