Chow, Baby: Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Love the Love Shack, Baby

What was it Chow, Baby said almost two years ago? That it wishes our star chefs would get over the posheries and open more “semi-divey hang-out joints” with a “ramshackle patio,” “Shiner on tap,” a menu of “Texas standards” with occasional “serious gourmet shit” (preferably involving “quail”), and all at “working-man prices”? Yes, that was it (“Steak to the Heart,” June 26, 2005). ‘Course, those words were specifically directed to Brian Olenjack, who didn’t listen. Chow, Baby has made similar pleas to Grady Spears, though we’ll have to wait until May (at the earliest; you know how these things go) to see what he actually does with the former Jon’s Grill on University Drive. But Chow, Baby never thought to pitch its plea to high-flier Tim Love (Lonesome Dove, Duce, NYC crash-and-burn). And yet here it is, the answer to Chow, Baby’s prayers: the Love Shack, 108 E. Exchange Ave.

The Love Shack has taken over what used to be the White Elephant Beer Garden — which right there covers “hang-out joint” and “ramshackle patio,” though some of the scarier decrepit wooden railings have been replaced with metal banisters. Also the bathrooms are now clean. As for drinks, they got your cold Shiner, but even better are the made-from-scratch root beer and lemonade ($1.85). Shakes, too, though Chow, Baby didn’t try one, even though that day’s special was mango. Chow, Baby was saving room for the appropriately named Love Burger ($4.16), a tender, juicy, thick, extra-flavorful prime tenderloin patty with fresh garnishings and “Love Sauce,” an artisanal Thousand Island. (Also on the menu is the Dirty Love Burger, topped with, yes, a fried quail egg. So Chow, Baby can tick another item off its checklist.) The weirdest taste sensation (“serious gourmet shit,” check) is the marvelous chicken-and-apple bratwurst ($4.85 loaded), so juicy the bun couldn’t keep up. For a side, tough choice between the fried onion strings ($3) and the superbly greasy potato chips ($2.31) dusted with chile powder and parmesan. Chow, Baby had both.

That’s about it for the menu — burgers, hot dogs, fried sides, drinks — but that’s plenty when you’re relaxing on a ramshackle patio on a mild April noon, with singer/songwriter Brad Hines a-strummin’ on stage (there’s still live music most nights and, now, most days). Thank you, Chef Tim, for making Chow, Baby’s semi-dive dream come true.

Pitt Stop

For a moment there Chow, Baby thought it had gone too far in its quest for cheap eats. Fluorescent lighting, vinyl everywhere, classic-country jukebox, mottled (stained?) counter — in the category of low-rent Southern diner chains, Pitt Grill (912 N. Collins St., Arlington) makes the Waffle House look classy. Seriously, Chow, Baby was looking around for the bus station. But what it found, once it dismounted from its high horse and settled into a surprisingly comfortable booth, was diner perfection, complete with feisty-single-mom waitress, creaky short-order cook who doubles as sidewalk-washer, and regulars ordering “my usual” of hearty 24/7 diner fare.

This was the middle of the afternoon, but as the saying goes, breakfast is the cheapest meal of the day. So Chow, Baby went for its sunrise standby: corned beef hash with scrambled eggs and hash browns ($5.29) All were perfect — no doctoring, nothing funny, just good, basic, stick-to-the-ribs grub. And anybody who doesn’t appreciate that can just kiss Chow, Baby’s grits.

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