Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do…
A sixth-generation Texan, I’ve lived mostly in Fort Worth. Born here, it’s the place I’ve most enjoyed spending my time, even after traveling the world for work. A longtime food-and-travel journalist, I’ve written a number of cookbooks (co-authored with Fort Worth chefs) and I work as a local dining critic and food columnist for newspapers, magazines and websites that cover the entire state and region. As an especially enjoyable sideline, I lead behind-the-scenes food tours and wine-and-dine adventures around town.
What inspired you to work in the food industry?
Learning to cook when I was not even yet 10 years old, I’ve always been fascinated by the symbiotic relationship between and culture and what its people cook and eat. Combined with my love of words and the crafting of such, I found my pathway to becoming a food writer an organic process.
Would you say Fort Worth has a strong foodie scene?
Fort Worth’s culinary landscape has simply exploded in the past decade. Whereas we were once mostly a place consisting of the four major food groups of Texas — that’s steak, barbecue, burgers and Tex-Mex — we’re now a city catering to any palate you can name. Our strengths in ethnic cuisine are growing all the time, and we have a credible line-up of places that make vegetarians happy, too.
How would you describe real Fort Worth cuisine?
Most appealing in our cuisine is our abundance of homegrown, grassroots culinarians. The most popular chefs in town are those who go out of their way to find products grown by farmers and producers around the state. You can find lamb, beef, chicken and fish from Texas. Same goes for vegetables and fruits, coffee, beer, wine, spirits and sweets. Our food may have flavors sourced from Mexico, Asia and the Middle East, too, because our chefs studied in those places or spent time examining those. But at the heart of it all, we love food made by hand from real ingredients — not in a commissary and never from packages.
What would your perfect night in Fort Worth consist of?
I’d most like to begin with a tasting at one of our craft breweries, such as Rahr & Sons or the Collective Brewing Project or Martin House, just to name one of several. If not beer, then I’d probably head to one of our local boutique wine bars on Magnolia Avenue, either Kent & Co. Wines or Grand Cru, for a glass or two. Dinner afterward on Magnolia would mean either a green chile burger at Lili’s Bistro; a fresh fish dish with a side of maque choux at Ellerbe Fine Foods; or chicken in adobo sauce at Benito’s. But if I’m somewhere in the Cultural District and needing a fancy evening, I’ll enjoy a multi-course French dinner with wine pairings at either Le Cep or Saint-Emilion on West 7th St. The most downhome experience, with loads of fun on the side, means an evening at Fred’s Texas Café, also just off West 7th, where the giant, cold schooners of beer with the Diablo Burger with Fred’s crazy-wonderful French fries are the perfect accompaniment to a night of local, live music.
If we’ve only got one day in Fort Worth, what should we do?
You’ll want to split the day into thirds. The first third of your day begins in the Stockyards National Historic District with breakfast at Esperanza’s Bakery and Café, where the migas must not be missed. After that, you’ll wander around the Stockyards to store at Maverick Fine Western Wear and M.L. Leddy’s Boots, and you’ll want to poke your head into the White Elephant Saloon, site of the last Old West gunfight in Fort Worth. Stick around for the daily cattle drive, where longhorns go ambling down the brick streets with cowboys in period garb herding them. The middle third of the day, you’ll spend in the Cultural District. I think lunch at Café Modern is mandatory, and you’ll ask for a table next to the reflecting pool. Tour the Modern Art Museum’s extraordinary collection, taking in Andy Warhol artworks, among many others. From there, you choose whether to see some of the impressionist works in the Kimbell Art Museum or American art in the Amon Carter Museum, but you need to leave time to explore the spirit of the west at the Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. For the last third of the day, head to the Near Southside for a meander along Magnolia Avenue. Cocktails are perfect at The Usual, Proper or Fixture. Appetizers at Fixture can be followed by sushi at Temaki or barbecue at Heim or Japanese small plates at Shinjuku Station or a steak with a lovely bottle of wine at Ellerbe Fine Foods. Live music can cap the evening at Live Oak, another Magnolia destination.
What’s your favorite time of year here and why?
Spring, definitely. When the city greens up – particularly in Botanic Garden – there’s a joy in the air. Our festivals are most fun in spring, I think, starting with the Fort Worth Food & Wine Festival, usually the last weekend in March. Main Street Arts Festival happens in April, followed by Mayfest, both of which get people outside to play, listen to music, admire art and eat and drink. Patios at restaurants are in full-blown party mode. The trails along the Trinity River come alive, and it’s fun to ride bikes to Woodshed and Press Café for something fabulous to eat and drink in the fresh air.
What do you think it is that makes Fort Worth such a unique destination?
Quite simply, there’s nothing else like our city. No place other than Fort Worth has the depth of world-class fine art and authentic, living cowboy heritage, topped by a renowned opera hall, downtown district with non-stop fun and a craft beer and food scene that’s grown in a wholly natural way.