Chow, Baby: Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Institutional Diet

Chow, Baby’s friend was appalled. “You call yourself a restaurant critic and you’ve never been to Italian Inn? It’s a Fort Worth Institution!” Okay, for one, Chow, Baby has never called itself a restaurant critic; that’s a real job. For two, every time Chow, Baby cruises by Italian Inn Ridglea, 6323 Camp Bowie Blvd., the place looks closed. “That’s right, you’re not from here,” the Fort Worth native sneered. The entrance is dark and quiet only because the restaurant itself is in the basement, he explained, local nose in the air. For three, Chow, Baby’s not from Fort Worth, but Fort Worth loves Chow, Baby anyway. Hey — it’s possible.
How does a place get to be an Institution? By surviving for decades. By setting the local cuisine standards, as in “This pizza/rib-eye/chicken-fried/lemon meringue pie is good, but it’s no Mama’s/Cattlemen’s/Massey’s/Paris Coffee Shop.” But mainly, by being a place where locals run into each other. We’d barely descended the stairs at Italian Inn when Chow, Baby’s friend spotted a couple of old high school buddies (Country Day, though you wouldn’t know it to look at them now) and launched into 12 years of “Whatever happened to?” Blah blah got married, blah blah is living in Stephenville, and an ignored Chow, Baby gobbled all the “let’s share an appetizer” shrimp scampi ($8.95), five large beauties in a good-to-the-last-drop garlic sauce. Lasagne al forno ($10.95) was sweetly rich and meaty, though chicken florentine ($13.95) was disappointing, with a pale chicken breast smothered in unripe tomatoes and overcooked spinach. The service was great, especially considering that our also-class-of-’93 waiter, James, spent a chunk of time sitting at our table playing catch-up and another chunk onstage crooning “My Funny Valentine.” Singing waiters are not a prerequisite for Institution status, but they help.
Still smarting from the “not from here” remark, the next day Chow, Baby lunched like a local: at Angelo’s, 2533 White Settlement Rd, the decades-old barbecue joint by which all other joints are measured. Not a lot of meat on the combo plate ($10.50), but boy, what great flavor in the hickory-smoked brisket and peppery sausage. A half plate of meaty ribs ($7.50) seemed the better deal, quantity-wise. Both plates held ample sides: fresh crunchy cole slaw, great potato salad, and saucy beans.
All good, but in the whole crowded hunting-lodge-cum-barn there was only one familiar face: the stuffed bear in the entrance hall. So outcast Chow, Baby shared with the bear its latest Instituition news: The venerable Kincaid’s is opening a second burger barn this week in Southlake Corners (E. Southlake Boulevard at Kimball Avenue), supposedly with much the same atmosphere in the form of wooden picnic tables and old-timey advertisements.
But why wait, when the original Kincaid’s is so close (4901 Camp Bowie Blvd.) and, more crucial, not on Southlake Boulevard? One short, stress-free drive, and Chow, Baby was chomping on a huge juicy cheeseburger ($4.10) on a Mrs. Baird’s bun — doesn’t get more Fort Worth Institution than that — but eschewing (that’s the opposite of chewing, right?) the awful once-frozen fries ($1.20). And look! At the next table! A guy Chow, Baby knows but hadn’t seen in years! Chow, Baby gets it now: the joy of fitting in, the harmony of being part of a community, the blissful feeling of belonging in an Institution.

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