Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, October 24, 2002
The Chisholm Club
Spit-roasted suckling pig tostadas
with Jose’s slaw $8
Prime beef porterhouse steak with
West Texas enchiladas $34
Bob white quail stuffed with chorizo
and fancy cheeses $21
Pudding sampler $9
Smells Like Team Spear-It

Another home run from Fort Worth’s kickingest restaurateur


The Chisholm Club

222 Main St, FW. 817-210-2222. Sun-Thu5-10pm, Fri-Sat 5-11pm. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

After recently visiting Spiral Diner, a vegan restaurant, I approached the meat-heavy menu at The Chisholm Club with the kind of trepidation that’s born of an awareness of animal rights. I winced when I read the menu’s “Things You Don’t Rope” section (e.g., seafood and poultry) and was almost unable to order suckling pig, quail, foie gras, and steak. I’m happy to report that a crisis of conscience was stifled by desperate hunger.

The Chisholm Club is located in the Renaissance Worthington Hotel, occupying a space that used to house a gift shop. The décor is cowboy chic, affluent-Texan but not overly trendy. One look at the oversized black leather chaps on the wall, and my companion was giddy. The place reminded him of “riding the Chisholm Trail on a Harley.” The chairs are comfortable, the room is finished with faux beams and recessed lighting, and the main dining room is completed by a bar and a teaching kitchen that looks out onto Main Street. And Grady Spears, the beloved and almost-famous restaurateur who put cowboy cuisine on the culinary map, is still a force in the kitchen, teaching cooking classes and hosting private parties.

My dinner guest and I got started right away with the suckling pig tostadas. The pork in the dish resembled a duck confit we tried at that other restaurant in the Renaissance Worthington, Kalamatas. The pulled pork had a slightly oily, rich flavor and was as tender as a love sonnet. The rest of the tostada was pure Grady. It was layered with cheese, guacamole, and barbecue sauce and served with julienne peppers and creamy red cabbage coleslaw.

Chicken-fried foie gras tasted like batter-dipped, lightly flavored liver, bearing out the wisdom of an acquaintance named Warren who once said that, with a good enough batter, anything would taste good. For folks like me who love liver, especially foie gras, the chicken-fried variation at Chisholm was kooky and frivolous — but ultimately delicious. It was served on top of a mound of caramelized onions and goat cheese.

For entrées, we tried stuffed quail with grits and the 24-ounce porterhouse steak. The porterhouse is a macho, powerhouse cut of meat with a gentle heart. The cut is from the best section of the short loin and contains both top loin and tenderloin, separated by a large bone. It was ruddy and rich but tender with a fine-grain texture and nutty flavor. It came to the table on a bed of whole charro beans and was topped with West Texas enchiladas: two tortillas wrapped around melted cheese. Once removed from the steak, the enchiladas simply congealed in a most unappetizing way. Why would anyone top a beautiful steak with a sloppy and unappealing mass of cheese and tortilla?

The quail entrée teetered between so-so and not bad until we took a bite of the grits. They were pure white and spiked with Chihuahua cheese, which tasted like a cross between ricotta and Armenian string cheese. Two quails were stuffed with chorizo and roasted until almost overdone. They were fine, but the grits were smashing. The dish also had roasted onion, zucchini, yellow squash, fennel, and peppers. Everything complemented the quail and the blue-ribbon grits.

The entrée presentation is so over-the-top that it seems like an apology for the cost of the meal. At both the Nutt House, which Spears also runs, and now the Chisholm Club, Spears insists on placing his protein on top of a massive mound of whatever side dish he wants. The trotters at the Nutt came atop a vat of mashed sweet potatoes. The quails at Chisholm came on top of a large pile of cheese grits, and the porterhouse swam in a pool of beans. This approach feels like the culinary equivalent of the vaudeville adage, “Leave ’em laughing.” In this case, it’s more like “Fill the folks up and they’ll leave happy.” But Spears doesn’t have to overcompensate. The food, the drinks, and the atmosphere make for a great dining experience; he doesn’t have to overload plates.

The final course was a trio of puddings. I’m going to assume that an Anglophile had a hand at the menu because the only country that uses “pudding” as a generic term for dessert is Great Britain. Either that or Spears’ humility has overwhelmed his common sense. The trio of custards with crunchy, burned tops resembled pudding about as closely as seared ahi tuna resembles canned tuna fish. One ramekin was filled with a cinnamon brûlée (the French word for burned), one with a chocolate mousse brûlée, and a third with a heavenly crème brûlée. Each was shiver-inducing, soft, creamy perfection.

The service was so efficient that we were done eating in less than 90 minutes. Since hanging out in restaurants is one of the more amusing aspects of this job, we retired to the bar for a nightcap.

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