Sure, reliable, chain restaurants have their places, and so do chef-driven, upscale eateries. But I’ve always believed that family-owned and -operated restaurants are the glue that holds any dining community together.
It’s at these places where you’ll usually encounter food steeped in tradition, made from recipes that have been handed down from one generation to the next; where your eyes (and taste buds) will be opened to different cultures and cuisines; and where you’ll often usually find personal and deeply attentive service.
Fort Worth has a number of spots that embody everything that’s great about family-run restaurants: the Mexican staple La Familia, where owner Al Cavazos is usually at the door to greet you with a proper handshake; the Thai restaurants – Spice, Thailicious, and Thai Select – owned by the Thanpaisarnsamut family; and the German restaurant Greenwood’s, run by chef Peter Gruenewald and his wife Vlatka.
For many years, though, my favorite Fort Worth family restaurant has been Chadra Mezza and Grill, in the Paschal section of Fort Worth, where the Lebanese-born Nehme Elbitar and his wife Christina serve up a marvelous array of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes.
Like a lot of folks who live in the neighborhood, one of my favorite things to do is visit Chadra on Friday or Saturday night, and take advantage of its affordable buffet. For just $17, you can taste the very best this restaurant has to offer, including a roast leg of lamb, served on the bone and impossibly tender; wonderfully crispy falafel; ablama (yellow squash stuffed with ground beef and herbs); and what is for my money the best babaganouj (or smoked eggplant dip) around.
Good news for Chadra fans: the Elbitars have now opened a second Fort Worth spot, West Fork Grill, located inside the Frost Bank building on Summit Avenue. It’s only opened during weekdays, for breakfast and lunch; and at first glance you may think you’ve simply wandered into a corporate office building snack bar. (The food is served in to-go boxes, and there are only a handful of tables inside the café.)
But appearances can be deceiving, because this turns out to be one of the best and most satisfying casual spots around. The lunch specials, many of which are also featured items on the Chadra menu, change daily: on the day we visited, it was paprika-roasted chicken thighs, topped with a sauce of olives and tomatoes. The mild spice of the paprika, coupled with the sweetness and saltiness of the sauce, proved just the right balance, and the boneless thighs perfectly cooked. (The dish also comes with roasted potatoes and a side salad.)
But the menu also features numerous salads and sandwiches, including a wonderful gyro, with plump, nicely seasoned gyro meat, tomato and lettuce, topped with a bright slathering of feta and tzaziki sauce. Meanwhile, breakfast options include made-to-order omelets, breakfast tacos, and lemon-and-blueberry pancakes.
As if all this weren’t delicious enough, we finished our lunch off with something you’d never find in an office building cafeteria: three freshly made, light-as-air macarons, strawberry, chocolate, vanilla. The strawberry version, with a thin layer of jam at the center, was a particular knockout.
So whether you work in that part of town, or are here to visit Fort Worth and feel like tasting something a little off the beaten path, get yourself to West Fork Grill. And though alcohol isn’t available, you might nonetheless want to raise your glass and say a toast a la familia – in honor of all the local families who make Fort Worth Dining so tasty.