These days, even the most devoted Austinites are willing to admit that Fort Worth’s got swagger—a gritty cool factor that’s hauling in visitors and new residents in droves. Beginning this year, the city’s historic Stockyards—once the last major outpost for cowboys driving cattle down Texas’s famed Chisholm Trail—will undergo a $175 million overhaul, reimagining 200,000 square feet of old horse and mule barns with new event spaces, restaurants, shops, and a brand-new boutique hotel. The music scene (thank you, Leon Bridges) is garnering national praise. And beef is no longer the only thing for dinner.
Sure, you can still find a juicy thick-cut Texas steak with decided ease—the city isn’t nicknamed Cowtown for nothing. But more and more the dining and drinking scene in the country’s sixth fastest growing city is diversifying. Bursting with homegrown talent, the vibrant culinary landscape is perhaps the best reason to visit Fort Worth right now. Don’t just take our word for it, though. Meet three pioneering food-and-bev leaders who are blazing their own tasty trails.
Chef Lanny Lancarte worked in the kitchen at Joe T. Garcia’s—the Fort Worth barbecue joint turned Tex-Mex institution founded by his great-grandfather in 1935—until he was twenty-five years old and headed off to culinary school in New York. When he returned home, he opened Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana (an innovative Mexican-accented fine-dining concept) in 2005, earning a host of regional and national accolades. But he missed people—the regulars he frequently encountered in the dining room at Joe T. Garcia’s. An avid cyclist passionate about real, sustainably raised ingredients, Lancarte opened Righteous Foods, a mostly organic all-day café that proves that nutritious can be crave-worthy.
“In our market in particular, there was a void for healthy options,” Lancarte says. “I knew responsibly sourced ingredients and nonprocessed foods and an active lifestyle weren’t just trends but the way things would move forward.” To be certain that there is something on the menu for everyone, Righteous Foods can accommodate almost any dietary need. “Dietary restrictions force you to think outside the box,” he says. “I see them as a creative challenge, not a hassle.” But if you want to indulge, he’s happy to oblige you there, too.
Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. Whiskey Ranch
The job title listed on the Texas native Ale Ochoa’s résumé reads “Whiskey Scientist,” and it’s a dream gig for the twenty-four-year-old, who graduated from Texas A&M with a master’s in flavor chemistry and sensory science. “I fell in love with the process before I fell in love with the drink,” Ochoa says. “So many factors influence the final product—there’s no straight line to good whiskey.” But at Firestone & Robertson—the award-winning Fort Worth distillery founded by Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson in 2010—Ochoa’s job is to juggle those considerations and to check for quality from grain to glass.
The distillery produces two products: a Texas whiskey and a Texas straight bourbon made with a proprietary yeast blend yielded from local pecans. And this year, F&R opened its second location, Whiskey Ranch, a 12,000-acre campus overlooking downtown Fort Worth with an on-site tavern, a tasting room, a general store, and sweeping porches complete with outdoor fireplaces designed for gathering. “I think bourbon has a great power to bring people together,” Ochoa says. “There’s a kinship there.”
Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine; Waters, Bonnell’s Coastal Cuisine
“I’m from a ranching family, and my brother, my dad, and I were always out hunting and fishing whenever we could,” says the acclaimed chef Jon Bonnell, a fourth-generation Fort Worth native. “The first things I learned to cook were duck and dove and deer.” Many years (and a good deal of training) later, Texas-raised wild game is still one of the chef’s favorite things to prepare and features prominently on the menu at both Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine and Waters, Bonnell’s Coastal Cuisine. “I think most people have misconceptions about game because they have one bad experience,” Bonnell says. “Done right, it can be really elegant.”
All you need for proof is a plate of Bonnell’s crispy quail legs with a Southwestern buttermilk dipping sauce or a serving of seasonal dishes like the elk tenderloin with mustard greens and a tamarind glaze. The author of three cookbooks, Bonnell still hunts and fishes, competes in triathlons, teaches the occasional wine class (Bonnell’s was awarded a Double Glass Award of Excellence by Wine Spectator), and still finds time to enjoy a meal out. “We really have a close-knit culinary community in Fort Worth,” he says. “It’s not so much a competitive rivalry, but more…we are all in this boat together. We support each other.”
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