As a longtime subscriber to Bon Appetit magazine, I am generally disappointed year after year when Houston's illustrious restaurant scene is completely neglected in the magazine's annual restaurant issue. Sadly, this year was no different, but I was at least able to take a bit of solace in the fact that Fort Worth beat out its bigger, more pretentious brother, Dallas, with a mention of Ellerbe Fine Foods (1501 W. Magnolia Ave, Fort Worth).
And on a recent trip to Fort Worth, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Named after the road that chef Molly McCook's "Mamaw" lived on in Shreveport, Louisiana, the food at Ellerbe is like that of a "charming southern grandma who invited you over to her cozy little house for Sunday supper."
The restaurant itself is housed in a converted gas station in a sleepy little neighborhood on a twinkle-lit, tree-lined street. A large, airy patio graces the front of the building, while a warm, intimate dining room lies behind the exterior walls. There is also a small market housed in one the rooms that features jams, jellies, wines, and quaint decorations that would make excellent gifts for any food enthusiast.
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The staff is friendly and welcoming without the slightest bit of arrogance. When I mentioned their award, the owner beamed from ear to ear and seemed genuinely pleased in a humble, endearing manner. Once seated, the server explained the concept of the restaurant, namely its farm-to-table credo (which is becoming increasingly fashionable).
My dining companion and I ended up choosing two appetizers, one main dish, and a side of fried okra. We also selected a lovely Canard Rose ($32) to complement the summer menu foods. Ellerbe does not have any liquor and has no plans to expand its liquor license beyond beer and wine. The wine list is fairly skimpy, but the choices offered are reasonably priced and fairly unique, so I was fine with that.
The food itself was good. The okra ($7) was very, very fresh and lightly battered whole in a flavorful cornmeal crust. The mushrooms and rye crisps in the warm red wine crimini salad ($8) were wonderful, though the arugula and radicchio were a tad too bitter to eat. I thoroughly enjoyed a shrimp toast starter ($10) made with New Orleans shrimp, homegrown tomatoes and herby Italian dressing on an exceptionally crispy piece of toast. The duck entrée ($26) was very tender and delightfully fatty, with a sweet corn risotto and an excellent wilted cabbage seasoned with house-made bacon. The portions were large enough that we left satisfied and happy.
It was a tasty, well-executed meal, served by a friendly, efficient staff in a lovely environment. But the experience did make me realize that this whole notion of a "Top 10 New Restaurants in America" list is really quite arbitrary and ridiculous. There are a number of places that are at least equally good, cool, and fresh in our largely overlooked city. So while I am thankful for the suggestion, I think a more accurate piece would have been called "Here's some cool places to check out."