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Have fun alfresco at Flips or Central Market in Fort Worth

Posted 11:24am on Wednesday, Jun. 16, 2010

Eating on a patio in the summer heat seems to be every North Texan's birthright. Invariably, we've all found ourselves searching for that perfect patio that marries good food with good times. Recently, I decided to do some scouting in advance of Father's Day, such a barbecue-friendly holiday, and visited two popular patios to compare notes on the cornerstone of every grilling experience: the burger.

The place: Flips Patio Grill, 6613 Fossil Bluff Drive, Fort Worth

The time: 6:30 p.m.

Because: Friends live nearby, and we've heard that this place has a great patio vibe.

This is not our neck of the woods -- Interstate 35 and Western Center Boulevard in north Fort Worth -- but good friends live up here, so we all decide to meet up, if only to see how many kids under age 8 we could cram around one of the restaurant's elongated picnic tables.

Oh, and to taste the burgers, which have gained a pretty big following over the last few years -- first at the original Flips in Grapevine and now at this second location in Fort Worth.

By 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday, the patio scene is starting to warm up; it's already plenty hot outside. Couples, families and motorcycle aficionados hold court at various tables. The restaurant has an extensive, Chili's-esque menu. I decide on the blue cheese burger, which features bacon, blue cheese crumbles and a blue cheese dressing. My companions try the mushroom ranch (portobellos and Swiss cheese) and the Suicide Jack (cherry peppers, jack cheese and spicy mayo). Most of us order 22-ounce beers on draft, because being a parent is hard work.

Pretty soon, we're all sinking our teeth into these hearty burgers, and on the whole, the results are unanimous: very tasty.

My burger has nice texture since the bacon is crumbled and, hence, crispy. The accompanying sweet potato fries are killer: matchstick in size and delicious. Others in my party were impressed by the fresh veggies accenting their plates. Our only quibble was how the burgers were cooked. I ordered mine medium rare; it came out closer to medium.

Inside, Flips has a rockin' sports-bar scene, where many were watching World Cup games on this night. But we were content to keep our perch on the expansive patio. This may not be our neck of the woods, but Flips' food and patio will bring us back more often.

The place: Central Market, 4651 W. Freeway, Fort Worth

The time: 5:30 p.m.

Because: Burgers and Bock rocks, and so does the music of the Tone Kings.

On many a summer evening, we've enjoyed Central Market's Burgers and Bock on Friday nights. The formula is easy: We have a few adult beverages and a few too many french fries while we keep somewhat lackadaisical watch over our children as they carom off the nearby playground equipment. The place is usually jam-packed and requires strategy in order to secure a table. Hence, I sent my minions (read: in-laws) to score us a shady spot near the playground.

As the Tone Kings, a blues and jazz band, set up their equipment, the sun continued to bear down. The wait for the grill to open was tolerable only because of the Tecate Light sweating in my hand. Soon enough, we ordered our food, and due to an overzealous need to be second in line, our dinners were ready within five minutes. This year, the Burgers and Bock menu is revamped, with a back-to-basics motif. No specialty burgers, like a buffalo version or a veggie option, as have been offered in the past. Just the traditional burger or double, plus the Tex (bacon, Cheddar and chipotle barbecue sauce), the Heater (sriracha sauce and pickled jalapeños), a grilled chicken sandwich and a kid's burger meal. Fries are available on the side.

Overall, we weren't wowed by our food. Call it heatstroke or just a short memory, but I remember the burgers being tastier. Served on an overpowering brioche bun, the meat seems to be of the ground chuck variety and is well-seasoned but not very juicy. The grilled chicken sandwich, topped with an avocado salsa, was very dry. To round it out, the fries were fair: crunchy, but with a weird, almost breaded consistency.

Aside from the food, which amounts to being one notch above your neighbor's best barbecue effort, the scene is still chill. Crazed kids run barefoot on the playground's Astroturf, parents relax as best they can thanks to bottles of wine and beer, and, no matter the marginal nature of the music, each week's band does its best to entertain the masses.

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