By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
Whatever you call it, L&WT is true to its roots. All of the building materials have Texas origins, from the Austin limestone in the fireplace and the patio to the cedar, pine, cypress, and hickory that make up the floors, beams, booths, and tables. There's a massive antler chandelier in the front entryway with horns from Texas hoofed beasts lashed together. Phelps says he wants people to feel like they're dining in a rich cattleman's ranch house on Saturday night, which makes you wonder what bull inspired the ranch-hand school of interior design.
The food -- meat, pecans in the pecan pie, fish and seafood -- is virtually all from Texas. The wine list -- ours was plastered on an empty bottle of Llano Estacado Signature Red -- is purebred Texas. So are most of the soft drinks and beers, with the exception of Coke and a few Buds and Millers.
You're greeted at this ranch house with traditional Southwestern clutter: chips. Only these come in colors typically found in Deep Ellum hairdos. And the made-to-order guacamole ($6.50), "prepared right at the table by a Love and War ranch hand," didn't improve the chips one bit. Metal ramekins filled with tomato, cilantro, onion, garlic, and lime were dumped into a bowl of spoon-scooped avocado and then pulverized into guac glop. The result lacked nutty-rich flavor, as if the avocados were underripe. Or maybe authentic Texas ranch-hand guac needs to be prepared under the tire of a Cadillac.
I once swore I'd never eat a deep-fried pickle after I heard the havoc it wreaks on the typical New Orleans torso. But Texas wagonwheels ($4.95), batter-coated deep-fried pickle slices, were virtually greaseless. And while the batter was a little bland, the salty sapidity of the pickle seeped through, though the ranch dressing was soaked in more annoying fake smoke flavorings.
What really got my culinary spurs kicking was the Trailboss ($21.95), an 18-ounce mesquite-grilled T-bone. It's not elegant by any means, but neither is a Texas hairdo. This is a terrific country steak: hearty, rich, juicy, and tender.
The steak was mated with a tasty smoked corn ear sprinkled with seasoned salt. A portion of the husk was left in place and pulled back over the stem, where it was tied in a neat little bow with a strip of husk. More disappointing was the baked potato bundled in sour cream, butter, scallions, shredded cheese, and real bacon bits. The tuber was undercooked and hard.
Undercooking was the slight affliction infecting the Frio country platter from the Hill Country ($15.95) as well. The plate came with a half mesquite-smoked chicken and a half rack of ribs. Though just a bit underdone and maybe a little spongy, the chicken was still delicious: well-smoked without being blasted. The ribs were dry and mealy, though a side of tasty Lone Star beer beans was firm with malt flavor and beer spark.
Even the border stuff was good. Fajitas Del Rio were offered with a choice of three potential renderings: vegetable, shrimp, and a beef-chicken combo. The chicken-beef combination ($12.95) was good, save for a few drawbacks, namely grease splatters. Grease coated the sizzling metal plate with all the tortilla stuffings and spritzed the surface of the black tortilla warmer. Yet the meat was moist and relatively greaseless. And though it was hard to detect any lime-marinade flavors in the skirt steak, it was tasty, as was the chicken. Yet a side of "Texican" rice was dry and fuzzy.
There's no fuzziness, however, with Phelps' L&WT ambitions. The concept works well: It doesn't take itself too seriously (how many restaurants would put a stew paddle on a wall and call it heritage?), and even if the food isn't uniformly spectacular, the place sizzles with sincerity and good feeling. Plus, the staff is diligent and cheerful, even if a little green. L&WT has that indefinable spirit that more often than not spells success.
Phelps' cohorts in this epic are Matthew Tea, with whom he worked at Brinker, and Travis Shull, a commercial investment manager for General Electric. Together this trio plans to spread their Texas shtick to Dallas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio, among other places. Phelps backpedals a little when pressed on his ultimate plans. "We are not big rich guys that just wanna spill restaurants everywhere," he says. No, they're just regular guys who want to get rich spilling Texas all over itself.