Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Old school but open to fresh ideas: Terry Chandler (Photo by Vishal Malhotra)
Fred’s Café
915 Currie St, FW. 817-332-0083 or 817-332-1520.
Native Son

Mixing old world with new, Terry Chandler of Fred’s Café
is one of a kind.


It’s late Friday afternoon at Fred’s Café, that diner-slash-Cowtown-institution in the Cultural District, and hanging out with owner and head chef Terry Chandler can be quite a trip. He’s counting money and doing payroll in a back booth, hurriedly because he knows he has to get this Friday’s dinner special going — smoked quail. Does he have any of the ingredients yet? Nope.
So Chandler finishes up the paperwork and hops in his pick-up. He needs some napolita cactus, Mexican-style crème fraîche, sweet potatoes, wild rice, and a bunch of other stuff. Weaving through heavy traffic, Chandler hits Carnival, then Fiesta, then Central Market. He makes it back to the café by 6 p.m., probably when every other restaurant on the globe is already slinging its specials. Chandler commences chopping mesquite in the patio area of the restaurant, in the rear, for getting a good fire going. Then he’s mashing the sweet potatoes, then getting the wild rice cooking, then stuffing the quail — all hundred of so of ’em — with jalapeños and wrapping them in bacon.
When will the special be ready? “When it’s done,” Chandler said. “Give or take an hour or two.”
But not that any of Fred’s patrons care too much. They know that when the meal finally arrives, it will be perfect. The $14 spent on this or any other Fred’s special is well worth it. The café’s Friday night specials always sell out.
Smoked quail at an eatery known as a “dive” and “greasy spoon”? It may sound crazy, but what Chandler is doing is fascinating. The man who calls himself the Outlaw Chef, a guy with no formal culinary training, who wears his long hair in a braided pony tail beneath his weathered cowboy hat, is something of an anomaly in North Texas food. His style is a combination of Texas-style chuck wagon with high cuisine. From his humble beginnings flipping burgers, Terry Chandler may have become one of Fort Worth’s most valuable chefs.
“Many years ago I got bored flipping burgers,” Chandler said. “Part of the reason we did these [specials] was to feed my ego and artistic needs. It just kind of evolved. There was a time when I was trying to be more trendy and fashionable in my cooking. But now, I’ve decided to go back to my roots. I’ve taken everything I’ve learned and now try to mix with it with good old Texas ranch cooking.”
Some past Friday specials have included pork schnitzel with mushroom cream sauce, tilapia filet in mango salsa, grilled Mexican pork chops, or a sirloin roll with cheese and green chiles. There are also specials on Wednesday — usually pizza, such as a pizza verde with green tomatillo sauce or Greek calamari pizza — and on Tuesday and Thursday, when patrons can bring in any game they’ve killed for Chandler to cook. (Plans need to be made in advance with the chef.)
Chandler’s parents, J.D. and Gari Chandler, bought Fred’s in 1978. After graduating from Richland High School in 1984 and serving in the Marine Corps, Chandler found himself hanging out and surfing off the North Carolina coast. He got called back in the late 1980s by his father to do construction. Before long, Chandler found himself behind Fred’s grill.
Chandler has his own way of educating himself. He reads some cookbooks, but he mostly learns new things by experimenting. His ultimate goal is to find new ways to do old dishes. Heavily influenced by both Mexican and Asian culinary traditions, Chandler is also an avid hunter and lover of Texas ranch-style cooking. His eclectic mix of influences is nearly unmatched in these parts, which may explain why a tv producer has been asking Chandler to develop a syndicated cooking show. “Maybe they can show me killing a feral hog with a spear,” Chandler said, “and then show me cooking it with a chipotle crème sauce.”
Chandler is country to the core but not above embracing new cultures and influences — kinda like Fort Worth.

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