2021 in review: Fort Worth has the best barbecue in Texas, plus great pizzas


The year 2021 brought bigger pizzas, hotter chicken, finer donuts, and the city’s first outdoor rooftop restaurant to Fort Worth.

Oh – and the robot servers.

But more than anything else, 2021 will be remembered as the year the Texas legislature made it a priority to legalize margaritas and take-out cocktails.

Take-out cocktails came to every bar menu, some in fancy thermal coolers and others in used plastic lemonade jugs.

They have helped restaurants and customers through a year of fluctuating COVID-19 cases that have not only slowed business but also made it harder to order staff and supplies.

Here are some of the strengths and weaknesses of 2021, a year that has seen around 80 unique local restaurant openings and around 30 closures:

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A Facebook photo shows traffic on Dick Price Road around Goldee’s. Chris Onstad facebook.com/chris.onstad

Cowtown barbecue rules Texas

Texas Monthly magazine named Fort Worth, the new barbecue capital of Texas, tracing long lines to Goldee State No.1, 4645 Dick Price Road, in rural southeast Tarrant County.

But the hunt for the perfect chest didn’t end there. Queues have multiplied at No.10 Panther City BBQ, 201 E. Pennsylvania Ave. (East Hattie Street), as well as the Top-50 Dayne’s Craft Barbecue in Fort Worth, 2735 W. Fifth St., and Smoke-A-Holics BBQ, 1417 Evans Ave.

All were over a year old, but the sudden sequel meant they all burst onto the scene as new restaurants. Other restaurants reported fallout and several restaurants launched a new local specialty: smoked chicken salad.

A former restaurant, Smokey’s BBQ, closed after 41 years. Plus, well-traveled Pit Master Billy Woodrich took his barbecue and chicken fried steak from Rufus Bar & Grill in West Texas and to the new Billy’s in Cisco.

Lady & The Pit, 5301 E. Lancaster Ave., best known for its home cooking, has reopened in this new location.

At the end of the year, the new F1 Smokehouse truck opened behind a bike shop at 4801 Edwards Ranch Road. Owner Felipe Armenta has six other restaurants, including Maria’s Mexican Kitchen in 2021, 1712 S. University Drive.

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Downtown and northeast view from RTB, the rooftop bar atop Sinclair. Bud kennedy [email protected]

Dinner at height

RTB – it stands for “rooftop bar” – open atop the Sinclair Hotel, 512 Main St., offering a light menu and 360-degree views of the city from the 17th floor outdoors.

It opened almost simultaneously with Refinery 714, the closed bar on the 24th floor of the Kimpton Harper Hotel, 714 Main St.

Both joined Branch & Bird, on the 12th floor of 640 Taylor St., and Ático, six floors above at 2315 N. Main St. in the Stockyards, as city skyline restaurants.

Dark storefronts

A two-month experiment ended abruptly for the Dallas Revolver Taco Lounge in Sundance Square, where several anchor restaurant spaces remain vacant as the mall swaps past tenants.

Fred’s Texas Cafe and Dallas’ much-loved Blue Fish Sushi has left Crockett Row and the West 7th Borough, as the surrounding development continues to cater primarily to late-night drinkers and bar crowds, not diners. Fred’s has announced a move to 7101 Camp Bowie Blvd., West.

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The Brand Room was once a private club and VIP club during the filming of “1883”, a prequel to “Yellowstone”. Bud kennedy [email protected]

The stockyard boom

The opening of the Hotel Drover, 200 Mule Alley, and new attractions in the Stockyards have made North Fort Worth a regional tourist and business attraction, with mixed results for restaurants.

The Drover and its 97 West steakhouse and patio drew overwhelming crowds despite staff struggles. Some found their way to nearby restaurants such as Chef Marcus Paslay’s Provender Hall, 122 E. Exchange Ave., and breakfasts or cafes.

Upstream, restaurants like Hookers Grill, 213 W. Exchange Ave., drew crowds for its connection to “1883,” a Yellowstone spinoff. But Chef Grady Spears’ Horseshoe Hill Cafe sank amid a legal dispute, and some staff members opened the Brand Room, 212 W. Exchange Ave.

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Parlor Donuts, known for their crescent-shaped “cronuts”, opened in Lake Worth. Bud kennedy [email protected]

Bigger, hotter, more chic

Extreme food – those circus items that are extra large, extra spicy, extra unusual, or extra garnished – continued to dominate new restaurant openings. (Sadly.)

based in Indiana Salon donuts, 6547 Lake Worth Blvd., is the best of the new donut stores, serving a wide variety of croissant-style ‘cronuts’, with sugar-free and carb-free options and coffees.

Dallas-based Serious Pizza, 2728 W. Seventh St., delivered a “seriously big” 30-inch pie, and popular downtown pizza place Picchi Pacchi, 411 W. Seventh St., matched it.

Other “hot Nashville” chickens have arrived from the west and east to spread cayenne pepper throughout Texas, with Helen’s Hot Chicken of Tennessee opening at 2812 Horne St. and Dave’s Hot Chicken chain. ‘Hollywood at 4608 Bryant Irvin Road.

The food isn’t extreme, but robot cats have been enlisted to deliver the orders to Japan House, an all-you-can-eat sushi and hibachi restaurant at 7536 Boulevard 26, North Richland Hills.

Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and went on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 18 sessions of the Texas Legislature. Since 1985, he has also written over 2,800 “Eats Beat” columns on restaurants, dining and food in Texas.

About James Almanza

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