I've eaten Tex-Mex and Texas barbecue at least a half-dozen times each since moving here last month, but as my ate-that list was still short a traditional bowl of chili, I set out this morning for lunch at Tolbert's in Grapevine.
Tolbert's, of course, is a legendary chili parlor, first launched in Dallas by folklorist and Terlingua Chili Cook-Off founder Frank X. Tolbert. So the restaurant functions today not just as a hometown honky-tonk and Texas foodways defender, but also as a sort of link to the state's first well-known food writer.
I reached the restaurant by bike, which I figured was about the best way of approximating the round-up rides that might have prefaced a chili feed in old Texas. My journey was long, hot and windy, and Google Maps kept trying to send me down Highway 114. I felt like I had a fairly good sense of the hunger vaqueros must have acquired on the range.
Tolbert's "bowl of red" took care of it. Coming from a region where beans are so revered that a popular restaurant serves nothing but pintos and cornbread, I wasn't sure what I'd think of real Texas chili. Now I get it: It's the cowboy Clif Bar.
Tolbert's version was excellent. The spunky chili, graced with a single slender jalapeno pepper, was slightly gritty with cayenne. It was the color of shoe polish, and reminded me of the adjectives I use to describe my favorite wines: Earthy. Smoky. Tannic. Served with just a few onion dices and shreds of cheddar cheese, the chili -- which had just the slightest oily sheen -- was terrific. Next time, I'm ordering the Super Bowl.
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Tolbert's Restaurant 423 S. Main St., Grapevine 817-421-4888