Fort Worth, Texas, may have earned the nickname “Cowtown” with its booming nineteenth century cattle industry, but local chef Bria Downey thinks the moniker also aptly describes the way the city has historically eaten. “Up until about five years ago, Fort Worth was a very steak and potatoes kind of place,” Downey says. “But now we’re starting to get more ethnic food, fresh pasta places, great seafood, mom-and-pop shops, and people butchering their own stuff.”
Downey has been part of that revolution herself. A San Antonio native, she grew up bouncing around the country with her military family before returning to Texas for college and culinary school. She moved to Fort Worth in 2013 to open Bird Café and later transitioned to a position as executive chef at Clay Pigeon, where she was named a James Beard semifinalist last spring just before COVID closed the restaurant and left her jobless—although not for long.
This spring, Downey will reopen Roy Pope Grocery, which had been a Fort Worth mainstay since the 1940s until shuttering last year. The new iteration will sell gourmet spices, meats, and dry goods, while offering daily blue-plate specials made with the ingredients on the shelves and whatever’s fresh in season. “One day we’ll have lasagna, and the next we’ll have meatloaf smoked on a five-hundred-gallon smoker out back,” Downey says. “You can buy a fresh slice right off the smoker, a raw piece to take home and bake yourself, or a packaged meal with sides to reheat. And if you really like a spicy pepper I’ve used, it will be on aisle three.”
The pandemic has undeniably changed the restaurant landscape, and that’s something Downey has focused on while crafting the spot. “I’ve been trying to take it a step backward and show people that you can accomplish the same things I make in my kitchen on your own,” she says.
Downey thinks that spirit of helping neighbors through hard times represents the city’s culinary scene. “Everyone is interested in lifting each other up and making everyone in Fort Worth better,” she says. Here are five spots she says embody Cowtown’s new appetite.
1001 S. Main Street, Suite 151
“This is a small Vietnamese place that my friend Tuan Pham owns. He named it after his four sisters, and each sister has a specialty cocktail named after her. I love their fried tofu dish. Normally fried tofu is super heavy, but this one is light and fluffy and crunchy. It’s on point.”
112 St. Louis Avenue
“Tulips is a new concert venue off St. Louis Avenue. They have great cocktails on tap: the Mai-Tro, which is a Mai Tai with coconut water and rum, and the Sunny Day, Night People, which is bourbon and coffee. It opened in November as a small concert venue—if there weren’t COVID precautions, they could seat about six hundred people, but with the limitations it’s just a little over one hundred. They have live music every night. Big Mike, who is kind of a celebrity around here, plays every Tuesday. People in the crowd can scream a song to him to play. They try to trip him up but somehow he knows all of them.”
2418 Forest Park Boulevard
“This is female-run and recently reopened. It’s been in owner Mary Perez’s family for years and years. It’s a cheap and tasty Mexican place—exactly what you want.”
5012 White Settlement Road
“They have lots of locations, but my favorite has a great patio and looks kind of like a silver Airstream trailer. I get their torta with barbacoa and they make a great sour margarita with fresh lime juice and Sprite, so it has bubbles, which I love.”
“Kevin Martinez is the chef at Tokyo Café, but he also runs a food truck called Yatai Food Kart with incredible ramen. He pops up at breweries and stuff. He’s the baddest all around. During the pandemic, he was doing to-go food on Sundays, and he would get local chefs to donate food and pass it out to whomever needed it.”