Plateful of Memories

I found out several weeks ago that this issue of the magazine would include a segment about some of the restaurants in Fort Worth that have been around quite awhile. That got me reminiscing about the places I frequented growing up that wound up shutting down for one reason or another. Of course, Joe T. Garcia’s is not one of them, but I bring it up because it had such an impact on my early life. Back in the ’50s, my friend’s dad took a few of us third graders to a Fort Worth Cats game. After the game, we drove over to Joe T’s to eat. It was the first time I’d ever been to a
Mexican restaurant. This might be hard to believe, but the dining area was just one small dimly lit room. Its gradual expansion to the Oklahoma border began years later.
My friend’s dad ordered for us and, unfortunately, the first thing I tried was a plate of the refried beans. I hated them. I didn’t take another bite of anything else because I assumed it would be just as bad. It would be a long time before I returned. However, despite my dislike of Mexican food, dining out with the family started to include frequent visits to the El Chico on Berry Street near TCU. My order was always the same: a chicken sandwich. I was in my early teens before I had the guts to take my first bite of an enchilada.
All of us have periods of our life that we regret. Mine will always be those 14 years I missed out on all those enchiladas. Thousands went uneaten because of me. Anyway, most of my buddies and I wound up becoming fixtures at that particular El Chico throughout the ’60s and ’70s. For some reason, I also didn’t like pizza the first time I tried it. But that changed in a hurry. I don’t even think we had a pizza joint in Fort Worth until the mid-’60s. The first one I recall was a Pizza Inn on University Drive right about where the Hoffbrau is now. I became a regular there too.
There were other family favorites. One was Zuider Zee, a great seafood restaurant that was in the space currently occupied by Michael’s Cuisine Restaurant. I didn’t appreciate the food back then, but I loved those tiny oyster crackers. They were just perfect for pelting my annoying little sister.
Then there was The Farmer’s Daughter, which was a little more upscale. It abutted the old Parkaire Drive-In on University Drive. I only got to go there a couple of times because my parents were pretty sure that I would embarrass them...again.
Of course, barbecue was always a big part of everybody’s diet. The first barbecue restaurant I remember was Jetton’s, which at that time was located in the medical district. The sliced beef was supposedly LBJ’s favorite. I can still see all that sawdust on the floor. It came up over your shoes. Angelo’s had it too. For whatever reason, city officials made all the barbecue joints get rid of it. There’s no telling the number of car keys and the total amount of loose change owners discovered once they’d sifted through all that old sawdust. Probably even found a couple of guys that had passed out the night before.
When I started going to college, I began to discover the “crash and burn” joints. These were the places you went when you were finally ready to admit to yourself that the fun for the evening was really over. I had two favorites: the Toddle House by TCU and Rockyfellers on Camp Bowie.
Breakfast was king at the Toddle House. My favorite was the hash browns. They’d pour the potato buds in an old piston ring and fry them up crisp on the grill. Rockyfellers was famous for their little hamburgers. They were great. And if you frequented those places during the same hours I did, in all likelihood you were either going to see a sunrise or a fistfight.
As I got older and could sometimes afford to go to a really nice place, my first choice was usually The Carriage House, located on the corner of Merrick and Camp Bowie. It was a great place to take a girl you were either trying to impress or beg for forgiveness. It had a neat main dining area and this unique private area in the back, which seemed to be especially accommodating to wealthy gentlemen and their nieces. To this day, I have no idea why it closed.
I had other favorites, too. In particular, Massey’s, Dos Hermanos, Topsy’s and Under the Tower.
A whole article could be devoted to Carlson’s Drive-In, but I’m going to leave that to Bud Kennedy because he’s probably the only one that could do it justice.
They’re all gone now, and I miss them.
But at least we still got Joe T.’s. And as much as I like their margaritas, I also go there because they make my favorite side dish better than anybody else. Yep. Refried beans.