It seems almost too good to be true that, located near the Trinity River in Cowtown, there could sit an unassuming mecca of scratch-made Creole cuisine in an ultra laid-back environment with a genuinely hospitable staff.
Fort Worth native Cindy Crowder-Wheeler has cast a wide net, capturing the swift attention of locals with her plates that pay tribute to everything from the Gulf. Serving up snapper, shrimp and fish dishes flavored with Cajun spice, Wheeler imports her seafood from various parts of Louisiana. Never frozen, fish is delivered three times a week to ensure freshness.
Wheeler has been in the restaurant business most of her life, working at places such as Neiman Marcus' Zodiac Room and managing Southside favorite Nonna Tata. She gained much of her experience by experimenting with the flavors of New Orleans while previously running her smaller Creola Café in Waxahachie.
It’s ironic that a restaurant that encourages you to slow down and take it easy would sit on Race Street. The converted 1940s bungalow in the up-and-coming River East district is cozy with a nautical theme. Weathered Windsor chairs put off a rustic vibe that is complemented by tables draped with white tablecloths topped with butcher paper and succulents. Strains of jazz and ballads from the bayou softly fill the dining room, making it easy to hear your dining companions.
Tributary Café’s menu incorporates river-related terms and consists of Southern staples like seafood gumbo, crawfish étouffée, po’ boy sandwiches and several seafood entrées. A wine list includes white and red basics, and the beer list is mostly dominated by local brewery products.
Electing to start with the Fried Green Tomatoes ($8) proved to be a wise decision. Lightly battered, sweet and perfectly ripe, the dish wasn’t bogged down with grease. Each bite took a quick swim in the accompanying Roasted Red Pepper Dressing, which balanced the crunch with a hint of creaminess.
Resisting the urge to order the Shrimp Creole in fear of a needed nap afterward, I went with the lighter option – the Gulf Coast Po’ Boy ($14). Understanding the true essence of a hearty, well-prepared Louisiana sandwich, its preparation was nearly flawless. Abundantly filled with thick filets of fried snapper, two halves of crunchy baguette also cradled lettuce, tomato and pickles. While the description stated the inclusion of tartar sauce, it was hard to detect and would have provided the desired tang. A generous side portion of slightly crispy, thick-cut French fries was on point and lightly salted.
With temps in the 70s on the day of our visit, we opted to enjoy our dessert on the handsome partially enclosed patio, complete with an outside bar. Instantly craving beignets (unfortunately not on the menu, as of yet anyway) when we discovered that Tributary offers Café Du Monde Chicory Coffee, we inquired about the sweets selection and were informed that our choices were between the Key Lime Pie ($6) or Bread Pudding.
Both selections were recommended with equal enthusiasm by our server, but we thought the Key Lime Pie’s tartness would marry well with the nuttiness of our coffee. A thick, loosely packed homemade graham cracker crust grounded an airy and slightly sweet filling drizzled with strawberry-raspberry sauce and topped with freshly whipped cream. It was so delectable that we snagged a few pieces to go so we could share with family.
Tributary Café has definitely found its flow, and with the addition of brunch, will hook an even bigger fan base. While Fort Worth may not have the French Quarter, Chef Wheeler brings us the next closest thing … a little taste of the Big Easy.
Location: 2813 Race St.
For Info: 817.744.8255
Hours: Tue. - Fri. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
What We Liked: Food is thoughtfully prepared with authentic Cajun flavors, and the ambiance is chill.
What We Didn’t: The only complaint is that the po’ boy was a little dry due to lack of sauce.
Our Recommendations: While not every item on the menu has been tested, we can’t imagine anything less than extraordinary offered at this establishment. Take some time to soak up the vibe, and leave room for the made-in-house desserts.