Almost immediately after I moved to Fort Worth in the fall of 2000, a friend pointed me in the direction of Fred’s Texas Café –the words she used to describe it were “pure Fort Worth.” I opened the door to the original Fred’s on Crockett St. not knowing what to expect, and I was immediately hit by a one-of-a-kind blast of beer, burger grease and country music. I settled into one of the beat-up booths that lined the wall, ordered a frosty schooner of Shiner and a Fredburger with cheese.
If this was “pure Fort Worth,” I remember thinking, I was definitely going to enjoy living here.
In the past thirteen years, Fred’s has survived a fire, re-built, and expanded its outdoor patio. But it remains an essential Fort Worth dining scene institution, serving up what for my money are the best burgers in town: gently-peppered, impossibly juicy patties that sprawl out from beneath butter-kissed buns. Fred's has also become a go-to spot for live music, with bands performing virtually every night of the week.
But can such a distinct spot maintain that “pure Fort Worth” spirit – and expand into other corners of the city? In 2011, chef-owner Terry Chandler opened Fred’s North at Western Center Blvd and Interstate 35. Since the spring, a Fred’s mobile truck maintains a steady presence at the Clearfork Food Park. And last month Chandler opened Fred’s TCU, located on Bluebonnet Circle, in spot occupied previously by Love Shack and the late, lamented Oui Lounge.
I’m here to report that the Fred’s spirit translates quite nicely. On a recent weekday afternoon, Fred’s TCU was crowded with students, businessmen and neighborhood locals, none of whom seemed in a rush to get back to school or work. The restaurant is divided into two large rooms, with bars and tables in each. In the second, larger room, there’s a large-screen television; a stage for performances; and pool tables near the rear of the second room. The walls are decorated with familiar, Fred’s-style kitsch – you’ll see everything from old license plates to deer antlers to a wagon with G.I. Joe action figurines. Look closely and you'll also find that Chandler has even paid tribute to his Bluebonnet Circle ancestors, with a sign near the bar advertising the old Oui Lounge.
As for the menu, it’s similar to the original Fred’s menu, though there’s certainly none of the slackening in quality you sometimes fine when restaurants open satellite locations. We started with the fried pickles, and loved the way the peppery, buttermilk batter plays against the tang of the pickles. For our burgers, we ordered the classic Fredburger and the infamous Diablo burger, a spicy wonder that comes topped with chipotles, grilled onions, and melted Swiss cheese. (Both come served with Fred's hand-cut, nicely salty fries.)
My vote goes to the Diablo, but there isn’t a burger on this menu that misses.
Chandler has said that he plans to add outdoor seating (though not as big a patio as the one at the original Fred’s), as well as host live music. And while I suppose the original will always hold a strong place in my heart, Fred’s TCU is a fine alternative – especially if you are visiting TCU or looking for a place to have dinner after a football game.
It’s still pure Fort Worth. And it’s pure burger-and-beer bliss.