Friday, October 7, 2011

Chowing Down In Cowtown

H3 Ranch
109 East Exchange Ave.
Fort Worth, TX

If you were ever going to find a place that has a good way with a slab of meat, you’ve got to figure it would be in the old Fort Worth stockyards.

Where rough and tumble authentic cowboys under the blazing Texas sun would drive cattle up from the Rio Grande Valley along the Chisholm Trail. No showers, no beds, no booze, no, um, entertainment, for weeks at a time. These boys rode into old “Cowtown” dirty, hot, sweaty, thirsty – and hungry.

Among other things.

That’s why in addition to acres of cattle pens, the streets of the stockyards were lined with good places to sit a spell and down cold beer, strong whiskey and giant slabs of beef.

And as one tourist guide politely calls it, “find felicitous companionship.”

It gets lonely out there on that dusty trail, you know.

Of course thanks to refrigerated rail cars, Conagra and nitrates, the old stockyards and sweaty cowboys who prowled “Hell’s Half Acre” are long gone. After all, everyone knows ground beef doesn’t come from cows any more.

It comes from Wal-Mart.

It’s mostly tourists now who roam East Exchange Street in the 102 degree noonday sun in search of a good juicy burger and ice cold long necks.

A century old building like Pearl’s Brothel is now “Pearl’s Dancehall.”

The biggest cattle pen in the stockyards is now “Billy Bob’s Texas”, the “World’s Largest Honkytonk,” scene of one of the greatest nights of Suit757’s life (a story for another blog). Dozens of bars, multiple concert stages, a live bull riding ring, all under one roof, Billy Bob’s is like Disney World for rednecks – 6,000 of them at a time.

There’s even a fake “cattle drive” staged twice a day as “cowboys” parade a small herd of longhorns around the Stockyards in a big circle while the tourists drink beer and snap pictures.

Sure, the Fort Worth Stockyards are touristy, but a good time can definitely be had here if you know where to look.

Somewhat paradoxically, the best place to eat in the Stockyards is located in the most prominent building in the district, the old Stockyards Hotel right in the middle of the action at the corner of East Exchange Street and North Main Street.

The H3 Ranch and Booger Red’s Saloon just off the hotel lobby serve up a good selection of local longnecks and great fire-grilled meat to city slickers precariously perched on the saddle-shaped bar stools.

My excellent waitress recommended the Fort Worth-brewed Rahr and Sons Stormcloud, a local IPA. She said she knows the Rahr family whose brewing roots stretch back generations to barley growers in Germany.

Good microbrews can be hard to find in Texas, so I appreciated the excellent suggestion.

The most prominent feature of H3 is the giant grill on which all the meat is cooked in full view of the main dining room. These boys know how to marry flame and meat to create a match made in heaven.

Any doubts about this place being a tourist trap disappeared after my first bite of my rib appetizer. Juicy, tender, smoky and just kissed with a touch of sweet sauce seared onto the outside of the meat, you will never have better ribs anywhere. Ever.

They were so good I immediately regretted my decision to order a burger for lunch. I know I’m in the stockyards, but forget the beef. Next time I’m just ordering the ribs!

Don’t get me wrong, the burger wasn’t bad. Maybe not as thick and juicy as I had hoped, but definitely above average. It was piled high with top notch, extra thick bacon, a pile of shredded unmelted cheddar cheese and generous slathering of Thousand Island dressing.

The bacon, cheese, Thousand Island portion of the burger was thicker than the beef itself, somewhat overwhelming the flavor of the burger.

But hey, if you’ve been paying attention to this blog, you know I’m never going to complain about too much bacon. The ratio was just a little off.
The beans on the side were four star, loaded with even more – you guessed it – bacon!

As a sausage connoisseur, I just couldn’t resist the urge to try H3’s smoked sausage link on the side. It came in a black iron skillet sizzling off the fire. This sausage was juicy and peppery – top notch.

As I pushed back from the sturdy wooden table to give my expanded stomach an extra couple inches of digesting room, I couldn’t help but think back to those wild and wooly cowboy days and feel just a little sorry for those good old boys pulling into the Stockyards after hundreds of miles of hard riding.

I know that first splash of an ice cold Lone Star on the back of a parched throat is heaven-sent. And I’m sure Pearl and her gals up the hill made them feel right at home (for the right price).

But there is no way you are going to get me to believe they could find a meal this good.

Come to think of it, sometimes being a tourist isn’t so bad after all.

Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.

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