We'd be lying if we didn't say that we're a tiny bit flattered by chef Casey Thompson's choice of Fort Worth as the location for her first restaurant, Brownstone. After her appearance in 2007 as a runner-up on Top Chef, the former Dallas chef is a celebrity of sorts who could've settled in a number of cities, so we'll happily take her affirmation of the greatness that is Fort Worth.
But even if you're not star-struck by Brownstone, it's a fine restaurant with food that's as tantalizing as it is well prepared. Thompson has brought a menu of items you won't find anywhere else. Who else is doing fried chicken livers ($9), encased in a crunchy cornflake crust with sweet-and-hot pepper vinegar sauce for dipping, or a Texas summer salad ($11) with bibb lettuce, Texas peas, grilled summer corn and fried okra?
Thompson is among a handful of Fort Worth chefs, along with Café Modern's Dena Peterson and Ellerbe's Molly McCook, who are striving to follow the farm-to-table philosophy of getting ingredients from local sources.
It was a thrill to find a dish such as Thompson's smoked beet and chickpea purée ($9), a thick purple dip, not too beety, accompanied by a rustic collection of baby root vegetables: tiny carrots with the green still attached, little green pattypan squash, so young it was still tender; and baby turnips no bigger than your fingernail. The rarity of such a dish made it feel luxurious.
The menu isn't large, with half a dozen entrees and eight smaller plates to be shared, such as Grandmother's biscuit pan ($13). The presentation was terrific. Three buttermilk biscuits were served in a small ironstone fry pan, with three venison sausage patties and a small jar of house-made seasonal preserves. The biscuits were wonderfully dense and moist, and the berry preserves were loaded with flavor. The sausage was the weak link; too greasy.
Chicken potpies ($3.50 each) looked like wee turnovers, with a very good pastry crust enclosing a heaping spoonful of chicken potpie filling.
Entrees were big, almost enough for two, and mostly meat such as the grilled buffalo rib-eye for two (market price) with potato dumplings. The beef Kobe cheeks ($24) had an irresistible "falling apart" pot-roastlike texture that helps make it a bestseller. Chicken stuffed chicken ($22) was a half chicken from Fran's Farm, a glistening puffed-up breast stuffed with chopped dark-meat chicken over a bed of pepper jack grits.
Desserts are meant to be shared, but some lend themselves to that more easily than others. Ice cream sandwiches ($7), consisting of laser-edged squares of devil's-food cake with pristine white ice cream, were a breeze; the plate had one for you, one for me. But the more popular vanilla cheesecake custard ($7) came in a small canning-type jar, hardly big enough for one spoon, never mind two.
Our sharp-eyed young server was part of a responsive team ready to jump to your assistance if you even tilted your head.
That combined with a dining room so comfortable that it felt almost like home made for a warm dining experience one early Saturday night.
Operating partner Sam Sameni has created an environment where good times can prosper, and the later it gets, the louder and more crowded it becomes. There is, after all, a celebrity in the house.