Go for the Food, Stay for the Play
At Stage West's Ol' Vic Café

Actors tend to know the ins and outs of food service. Table-waiting pays the bills for many a young thesp until that big break comes along. Edie Falco waited tables at a Manhattan steak joint even after making her film debut playing a waitress in Hal Hartley's directorial debut The Unbelievable Truth in 1989.

Fort Worth actor-director Dana Schultes chalked up a bunch of years as a "wactress," as she puts it. Now she draws on that restaurant experience as the menu creator, manager and server at Stage West's charming little Ol' Vic Café.

The 64-seat restaurant in the art-filled lobby of the theater on West Vickery Boulevard served its first dinners when the space opened on Thanksgiving weekend 2007. With kitchen equipment bought from auctions, the Ol' Vic, which still doesn't have an oven, serves light fare, mostly sandwiches, salads and made-from-scratch soups created by Schultes. Dinner service starts at 6:30 p.m., 90 minutes before curtain time on show nights, with a full brunch starting at 1:30 p.m. before the Sunday matinees. There's a hot entrée offered on Thursday nights.

The food's really good. When I review a show at Stage West, I always get there early for a nosh. And because the only other place to eat near Stage West is a Jack-in-the-Box, it's the best option for any anxious theatergoer who doesn't want to rush through a pre-show meal in downtown Fort Worth or on the University strip. At the Ol' Vic, you can get a nice glass of wine, a bowl of Schultes' organic vegetable soup (my faves are the autumn squash and the black bean/pumpkin) and a slice of cheesecake for about $12. I'm also partial to the fruit and cheese plate (big enough for two to share) offering three artisanal cheeses (recommended by Central Market cheesemonger Jeff Crain), crispy flatbreads, a dollop of fig jam, some grapes and mixed nuts. You can also pre-order coffee, wine and dessert for intermission, thus bypassing the bar line.

Stage West, founded in 1979 and still run by actor-director Jerry Russell, actually has a history of food service going back decades. Thirty years ago Russell's European Sandwich Shoppe was inside the theater's first home on Houston Street. The Ol' Vic still offers a few of those original menu items.

Schultes, who's also Stage West's director of development and a frequent leading lady in its productions, says running the café helped in her transition from busy actress to new mommy. She and husband Justin Flowers, who also works at Stage West, are parents to 2-year-old Matilda. Stage West regulars remember watching Flowers schlepp meals to tables with one hand while holding baby Matilda in the other.

The menu gets a tweak with each new show, with varying success. "The most controversial was the Danish beer soup we served during the run of [Michael Frayn's] Copenhagen," says Schultes. "People either loved it or really hated it."

The next show at Stage West is the comedy The 39 Steps, opening August 26. For that show, Schultes is putting a simple $5.50 bowl of chips and salsa on the Ol' Vic lineup. Why? "Oh, I dream of cooking gourmet meals here," says Schultes, "but this is just giving the people what they want."

Stage West 821 W. Vickery Blvd., Fort Worth Box office: 817-784-9378.

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