Hard to believe that it has been 25 years since Michael Thomson introduced his Contemporary Ranch Cuisine to Fort Worth. That’s right, Michael’s Cuisine and Ancho Chile Bar is celebrating its silver anniversary. And, if you look closely, you might notice a little silver in Thomson’s trademark, slicked back hairstyle as well.
At a time when other chefs were focused on spreading Southwestern Cuisine across the landscape, Thomson went in a new direction, blending the spices and textures of Mexico with the rich heritage of the American South to create a unique menu you can only find at his Monticello area staple.
He is a towering figure in the Fort Worth culinary scene…but then again, even without his boots on…Michael Thomson would be a towering figure just about anywhere.
He is widely regarded as one of the foremost authorities on the use of chiles, a fact that is apparent in most of his dishes. And, many of the hottest chefs in town got their start in Thomson’s kitchen, like a rite of passage.
Regulars have their favorites, like Mac’s Chicken Salad ($15), which is one of those flash-back items that never goes out of style. On one hand, it reminds me of my grandmother’s chopped iceberg salad, sprinkled liberally with Romano cheese, and toasted sesame seeds. On the other hand, it takes me back to happy memories of Mac’s House Restaurant, with its classic blue cheese vinaigrette, topped with Thomson’s own Roc-Doc Charbroiled Chicken Breast.
Appetizer’s range from Ancho Fried Calamari to his baked Ranch Oysters Rockefeller topped with pablano-spinach cream and parmesan cheese. We sampled the Baked Goat Cheese ($15) on a recent visit. Tangy and mild goat cheese is whipped until fluffy, then beautifully piped and baked until golden brown. It is an ample portion for sharing, drizzled with Raspberry-Chipotle Vinaigrette and served with baguette toasts brushed with basil pesto, and basil chiffonade for garnish.
Other Southern specialties like Chicken Fried Steak take a unique turn as well. Hand breaded sirloin steak (rather than often chewy cube steak) is presented with a touch of chipotle in the traditional cream gravy.
Likewise, MC Signature Gulf Crab Cakes ($22) are like none other. Two crab cakes are held together with a scallop mousse instead of the typical bread or cracker crumb binders, and baked instead of fried. The result are light and the flavor focus remains on the fresh crab meat, instead of fillers. They are served with an outstanding Ancho Chile Cream Sauce, with its unexpected smoky sweetness achieved by caramelizing ancho chiles in a fresh sugar caramel. The dish is a great balance of salty and sweet. Seasonal vegetables of carrots and green beans finished the plate.
The Chef’s Daily Specials are some of Michael’s Cuisine’s greatest hits, like the Ranch Roasted Prime Rib or Michael’s Pecan Smoked Shrimp and Grits. The Saturday night special is a Whole Smoked and Roasted Pork Shank, which is falling off the bone tender. The hearty meal comes with appropriate sides, which consisted of al dente green beans and carrots and a creamy mound of guajillo mashed potatoes.
Leave it to Michael Thomson to reinterpret a Southern classic like Red Velvet Cake ($7), with a hint of ancho chile in the bright red batter. The cream cheese frosting is spiked with a dash of bourbon and studded with pieces of his house-made ancho chile pecans. The eye-catching cake is served with fresh raspberry sauce, seasonal berries and sprigs of mint on the plating.
With a raised outdoor patio, laced with string lights, and the cozy Ancho Chile Bar with its glowing fire on chilly nights, Michael’s is a relaxing and decidedly adult spot to enjoy time with friends or to entertain clients. Although it is easy to overlook the tried and true with all the new restaurants entering our market, Michael’s should not be overlooked. It is among Fort Worth’s most original, consistent and enduring restaurants.