By: Shilo Urban
Fort Worth chef Victor Villarreal has cooked in some of North Texas’ top kitchens — Grace, The Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, Clay Pigeon, to name a few — but most often in a supporting role. He was a line cook here, a sous-chef there. Always second in command, seldom the one out front.
But that’s about to change for the West Texas native. On Dec. 7, FOODHALL at Crockett Row will open for business, bringing together a dozen different food vendors — hawking everything from burgers to acai bowls — under the same roof.
Among the occupants will be Villarreal’s highly-anticipated Italian spot, Abe Froman’s of Fort Worth, which will specialize in brick oven pizza, housemade sausage, cheeses and gnocchi, and charcuterie. For Villarreal, it’s not just his own place; it’s a chance to prove to everyone — friends, family and maybe even himself — that this was the road he was meant to travel.
Q: First time I heard the name of your place, I was like, “No way, ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!’” But aren’t you going to get sued?
A: I spent days on the phone, days, talking to three different lawyers about this, and they came to the conclusion that since Abe Froman is a fictional character, it’s OK for me to use the name. I just can’t say, “Abe Froman, Sausage King of Chicago,” like they do in the movie. But I can say, “Abe Froman, Sausage King of Fort Worth.”
Q: Opening a restaurant inside of a food hall wasn’t exactly a part of your master plan.
A: You know what I thought about doing? I wanted a sausage cart, and I wanted to roll it around on Magnolia Avenue, near where I live, and sell sausage on a stick. Sometimes you have the right idea but the wrong dream. I knew I wanted to make and sell my own sausage, and when this opportunity came along, I jumped on it. I just knew, “This is it.”
Q: What is it about sausage that strikes a chord with you?
A: Like a lot of chefs, I’m drawn to foods I ate growing up. My family wound up in England when I was about 17. My dad was in the military, so we moved around a lot. Every day I would walk to school and eat at this bakery. I can’t remember the name of it, but I’d get a glass of milk and two sausage pies every single day. It was the best sausage I’d ever had, to this day even. And that has stuck with me all this time, and I knew, at some point or another, I would wind up basing a menu on it.
Q: In addition to sausage, what else are you doing?
A: Pizza, charcuterie, I’m going to be making my own cheeses and my own gnocchi. I’m not doing tons of stuff, but the small menu will allow me to focus on what I know how to do best. I’ll have about a half-dozen different types of pizza, including one with sausage meatballs stuffed into the crust.
Q: You started working in restaurants when you were a kid, but then you got out of it.
A: I was about 15 when I started working in restaurants, but then I took a long break. For about eight years, I studied sleep disorders, and I walked away from that, a $75,000-a-year job, to go back into restaurant work at $8 an hour. My then-wife was so thrilled, let me tell you.
Q: What drew you back in?
A: The guy I was working for at the time gave me a copy of Anthony Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidential. It was a turning point in my life; I knew I wanted to get back into it. So, I volunteered to work, for free, at a party at the Mansion on Turtle Creek, and this old man in the kitchen comes over to me and says, “Hey, you’re pretty good.” He talked to some other chefs who were working there, and by the end of the day, they offered me a full-time job. That old man turned out to be [celebrity chef] Rick Moonen, and I was working alongside Tim Byres and John Tesar. It was a life-changing experience.
Q: So, since Knife is opening at the food hall, you’ll see John again.
A: He’s got a reputation for being whatever, but when I worked with him at the Mansion, he was always cool. I think it’s awesome we’re going to work together again. I want to show my peers, the people I’ve worked with along the way, what I can do now. I’ve grown so much. My food’s always been good to me, but I feel like now I’ve finally realized who I am as a chef.
Victor Villarreal’s Abe Froman’s of Fort Worth will be joined by nearly a dozen other vendors at the FOODHALL at Crockett Row. Here’s a look at who’s who:
Finally, Fort Worth will know what we’re talking about when we say the Ozersky burger is one of the absolute best burgers in North Texas. Dallas celebrity chef John Tesar came up with the concept of this straightforward burger stand, an offshoot of his Knife steakhouse in Dallas. The nearby Knife Bar will offer cool cocktails and craft beers.
Not Just Q
Former TCU football star David Hawthorne and known barbecue cook Eric Hansen have teamed up for the brick-and-mortar version of the Not Just Q food truck. As the name implies, it’s barbecue, plus unusual items like brisket nachos and garlic green beans.
Rollin’ & Bowlin’
A pair of TCU students came up with this concept, too, an acai bowl-focused food truck-turned-brick-and-mortar.
Aina Poke Co.
Owner Kevin Nguyen Ho opens the first poke shop in this neck of Fort Worth’s woods, specializing in the trendy rice bowls filled with sushi-grade fish and fresh veggies.
Press Waffle Co.
If you’ve been to the Legacy Food Hall in Plano, you’ve no doubt seen the long lines for brothers Bryan and Caleb Lewis’ Belgian waffle shop. The dough-based, Liege-style waffles are made with Belgian pearl sugar and come in both sweet and savory renditions, with toppings such as cookie butter and fried chicken.
Dallas food truck brings coastal cuisine to its first brick-and-mortar location. Brett Curtis’ coastal cuisine-inspired menu will include New England-style lobster rolls and crab cake sliders topped with bacon.
Mediterranean street food concept will offer a menu of roasted meats, customizable shawarma bowls and several veggie/vegan options.
Cupcake chain, originally dreamed up by Oklahoman Gigi Butler, will offer cookies, cupcakes and other baked goods in both gluten-free and totally-gluttonous options.
High-end deli-style sandwiches from popular Dallas chef Joshua Harmon. Can’t wait to try the collard green and pimento grilled cheese with a side of smoked kimchi potato salad. Smoked miso soup will feature wontons from beloved Fort Worth chef Hao Tran.
Courtesy of Dallas chef Justin Box, Fort Worth gets its first elote bar, where you can customize your cup of corn with housemade seasonings and sauces.
By: Shilo Urban