Monday, August 2, 2021
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Fort Worth

The Perfect Country and Western Song

🕐 3 min read

Horseshoe Hill Cafe

204 W. Exchange Ave.

Fort Worth 76164

Gradyspears.com

Grady Spears is way more than just another “celebrity chef” and the menu at his new Horseshoe Hill Cafe in the Stockyards is way more than just chicken-fried steak.

For those in search of the perfect chicken-fried, look no further. The backbone of the menu at Horseshoe Hill (which opened in the middle of July) is, in fact, five takes on his classic chicken-fried steak, some with a ladle of slightly sweet chili, and others with a side of hand-rolled green chili enchiladas ($17-$19).

Although those crispy-coated beauties are simply sublime, do not overlook the rest of the menu. It hits all the right notes and shows off its composer’s full range of talent.

On a recent visit, Spears hooked us up with the ultimate sampler platter. Rocky Mountain oysters (6 for $12) with two dipping sauces were outstanding. Their crispy exterior and tender interior are one of his long-time specialties, and he insisted we leave no calf-fry behind.

Bob Armstrong dip ($8) comes in a Mason jar filled with layers of spicy bean dip, queso, sour cream, guacamole, and pico with a surprise spoonful of chili meat at the bottom. His Texana deviled eggs (6 for $8) have a hint of mustard and are garnished with crumbled bacon and green onion.

The atmosphere is as laid-back and friendly as its famous owner. Chef Spears alternates between seating patrons, running the kitchen, bartending and even serving as bus boy when needed. Although he has been written about profusely, Spears never takes himself too seriously and he still has a few tricks up his sleeve.

Take, for instance, the intriguing fried egg perched atop my house salad, which was tossed with oven roasted tomatoes and cornbread croutons. The egg is both delicate and crusty at the same time. Spears says, “We slip them right into the deep fryer. The only trick is having the oil at just the right temperature.”

A few things have changed since opening. The snug space, which seats about 60 inside, now boasts a patio for dining and parties as well, seating 30 more. And while lunch is still counter order, the dinner crowd is now treated to table service.

The Dr Pepper braised short ribs ($18) are falling off the bone with a delicate, smoky sauce. Served with creamy mashed potatoes, peppery watercress and roasted carrots, these short ribs will ruin you for any others. Juicy roasted chicken with green chili cheese grits ($18) is an equally delicious entree.

Spears is still racking up frequent flyer miles this fall, commuting to and from Houston overseeing the menu at NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans. But, after all the appearances, cookbooks and rides on the fame-train all over the country, Spears comes back to share his gift with the hometown that keeps him so well-grounded.

It would be a mistake to think of Horseshoe Hill Cafe as merely another chicken-fried steak joint, or of Spears as a one-trick pony. I think what best expresses the feeling you get eating here is a bit like David Allen Coe’s classic song, “You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” (by way of Steve Goodman and John Prine) that talks about writing the perfect country and western song. Requirements for such a song are lyrics that include the words “momma, trains, trucks, prison” and “gettin’ drunk.”

After dining at Horseshoe Hill Cafe, it’s a bit of that same mysterious alchemy that somehow melds together.

Everything about Horseshoe Hill is familiar, as if you just stumbled into one of Fort Worth’s long-time institutions. It is planted in the perfect location, without a stuffy bone in its body. It is fine dining without the attitude. It’s a place you can dine and unwind and remember, right along with its owner, why we are so attached to our dusty Cowtown roots.

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