| photography by Jason Kindig |
With six locations in Texas, Owner Jerry Lasco has made many a believer out of his unique “wine dive” concept. It’s inspired by the kind of dive bar where everybody knows your name, and it pairs a carefully curated wine selection with the comfort foods you grew up loving. Think “fine dining,” but add a jukebox and subtract the white tablecloth and bill that’s more expensive than your next car payment.
“MAX’s kind of makes fun of the historical pretension that surrounds wine in this country,” Lasco admits, adding that MAX’s is all about having fun. “You can play George Strait or ZZ Top on the jukebox and wear jeans and cowboy hats.”
Speaking of cowboy hats, the new Fort Worth location has plenty of personality. Lasco had been eyeing the spot for a couple of years before finally taking the plunge last fall, and it already seems to have gained a loyal following. Perhaps that’s because he knows his audience.
“Fort Worth is a very cool, vibrant town with a great history,” he says. “Our goal is to fit in to the community.” MAX’s does that and more by decorating organically, leaving the artwork, music and kitsch choices to the employees themselves, which gives the place a very homey, genuine vibe. Whimsical, cubism-esque portraits of celebs like Michael Jordan and Steven Tyler — all painted by local Fort Worth artist Chris Gonzales — line the walls. Sprinkled among rows and rows of wine sit vintage records from diverse artists like Jimmy Buffet, the Foo Fighters and Meat Loaf. A “Come and Take It” flag hangs proudly above the retro jukebox. Everyone is treated like a rock star. And the wine is always flowing.
“Carpe vino,” they say.
So where’s the food in the middle of all this wine seizing? Well, let’s just say you better bring an appetite. MAX’s is all about comfort with a twist, from the fried chicken to the grilled cheese. And everything is made from scratch. Executive Chef Stefon Rishel often scouts the local farmers markets for the freshest ingredients, updating the menu seasonally. The kitchen also emphasizes all things good and local, sourcing ingredients whenever possible from places like Empire Baking Co., Niman Ranch, Latte Da Dairy, Lone Star Foods, Beeman Ranch and Magnolia Cheese Co.
But where to start? Go for the classics first. These are listed on the left side of the menu, which stays the same year round at all locations (the right side of the menu is more experimental, featuring seasonal dishes and special prix fixe menus). The first classic listed is MAX’s Famous Southern Fried Chicken—and there’s a reason it’s famous. It’s cooked in a way that seals in the juices, leaving you with a slightly sweet bite that’s tender inside and crispy outside. You’ll get a thigh, breast and leg, all served with mashed potatoes, collard greens and Texas toast. Or you can do what our neighbors did and order double mash, sub mac ‘n’ cheese, or any other combo that gets your mouth watering. Just don’t forget to wash it down with champagne, as the waiters cheerily suggest.
Another must-try is the grilled cheese and tomato soup. A far cry from the white bread and Kraft singles you grew up with, this gourmet version includes buttery, toasted artisan bread loaded up with Gruyère, provolone and roasted red bell pepper, served with a cup of creamy tomato soup and homemade truffle parmesan chips. This one is for both your inner child and your cheese-loving, calorie-count-forsaking adult.
The menu also includes a variety of shareable plates, from the cultish Pan Borracho (drunk bread) and Nacho Mama’s Oysters to the Pork-Stuffed Piquillo Peppers and MAX ’n’ Cheese. And don’t forget dessert. Peanut butter cheesecake and chocolate chip cookies topped with homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream are sure to please any palate, or you can satisfy your sweet tooth from the seasonal menu with something like rich and creamy chocolate mousse. Naturally, there is a great wine to go with each, and your well-informed waiter will be happy to help you make the right choice.
“Down-home comfort foods pair — like everything else — with wine,” Lasco shares, referring again to his dislike of pretension. “It’s like the difference between wearing a suit and tie, and jeans. They both get the job done, but one is more comfortable.”
So go ahead and check out the Dive for yourself. How often can you ask, “What wine would go best with my grilled cheese and haute dog?” But at MAX’s it’s normal. And you’ll even get a solid answer.
location: 2421 W. 7th St., #109
Fort Worth, 76107
for info call: 817.870.1100
price range: $$-$$$
hours: Mon.-Fri., 4p.m.-midnight; Sat., 10a.m.-midnight; Sun., 10a.m.-10p.m.
what we like: We are a fan of any place you can get chicken fried steak paired with champagne.
what we don't: If you are counting your calories, this might not be your best bet.
our recommendation: You can't leave this dining establishment without trying the MAX 'n' Cheese.