Chow, Baby: Wednesday, July 4, 2002
The Dives of Belknap

Chow, Baby was in a rut on Belknap when it realized it was in a Belknap rut. The first rut, the physical one, was in a dirt parking lot where Chow, Baby had pulled over to escape Fort Worth’s latest afternoon mini-monsoon. For 20 stormy minutes, a marooned Chow, Baby mulled over its habitual Belknap dining possibilities. Beef tips and cream pie at Dixie House Cafe? Falling-off-the-bone ribs at Sammie’s? Or perhaps Vietnamese delicacies at Pho Nam? As the skies cleared, the light dawned: Though you couldn’t tell it by Chow, Baby’s expense reports, there are more than three restaurants on Belknap. Chow, Baby broke out of one rut (thanks to the kind stranger in the red Ford F-150) and set about breaking out of the other.

In Fort Worth Weekly’s Best of the West-o-Plex issue last year, Pho Nam was named staff choice for Best Vietnamese. (As in, Chow, Baby nominated it and then bullied the rest of the staff into voting for it.) Readers’ choice was nearby Tu Hai, which gets major points for its daily chef’s specials. Chow, Baby savored the light, refreshing citrus flavor of Tu Hai’s lemongrass chicken. Chewy, cilantro-y spring rolls and beefy pho (noodle soup) were very good, too, but Chow, Baby yearned to wash it all down with Pho Nam’s salty lemonade soda. A tie game for this year’s awards? Not necessarily — in this neighborhood alone are another half-dozen Vietnamese spots.

Mike’s Diner looks like the kind of Belknap dive that just might have great home-cooking. It’s in a sagging wood building bracketed by empty lots; inside, the décor is typical neighborhood-diner downscale. Everything in the place is comfortably ancient, including the clientele. Merely by sitting down, no-spring-chicken Chow, Baby lowered the average patron age by several decades. (The Haltom City Senior Citizens Center is only a 20-minute walk away, about three blocks.) Mike’s offers burgers and plate lunches, plus rotating daily lunch specials like chicken and dumplings, beef tips, and baked ham. Chow, Baby dutifully gummed its extraordinarily tender roast beef, whipped-into-submission potatoes, and pliant green beans. Dessert, a canned peach half, was by contrast bursting with flavor and texture. Good food; teeth not required.

The Smoke Pit is just across the Trinity from downtown Fort Worth and on a bit of a rise, so it’s fitting that the joint’s motto is “Barbecue with a View.” Yet the windows are small and few and covered from the inside. Chow, Baby, waiting on a to-go combo plate, pondered this puzzle between bouts of people-watching. The customers: mostly middle-aged men, a few young men, some thirtysomething men, not one woman. The waitresses: young, scantily clad, very attractive, given to giggling breathlessly and bending way over. Oh. There’s the view. Now Chow, Baby understands why Smoke Pit is so crowded in the middle of the afternoon. With more spandex than Sammie’s and better brisket than Hooters, it’s the best of both saucy worlds.

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