If there's a sure way to charm Fort Worth diners, it's to open your restaurant in an old gas station or car-repair shop, a lesson already learned by such esteemed restaurants as Ellerbe Fine Foods and Paco and John Mexican Diner. Now Magnolia Motor Lounge joins that category, opening in a one-time transmission shop that is fortuitously situated near the trendy West Seventh development. You couldn't ask for a better location.
The remodel is handsome, with corrugated steel, shiny furniture and a wall of windows in front. The interior is surprisingly large, with the dining room opening onto a bar with flat-screen TVs. There's also a pen to display a vintage car, part of Magnolia's savvy exploitation of its ex-repair-shop niche. For now, the car is a 1931 Ford Model A hot rod; partners Mark Euckert and Stephen Gebren are car fanatics who rotate out the model every few months.
The menu has a car theme, too; appetizers are "Tune Ups," hot dogs are "Hot Rods" and menu items are named "Driving Miss Daisy" or the "El Camino." As for what's on the menu, it's burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and fries. There's a salad or two thrown in for nonburger diners, but that's the only hint of virtue. Otherwise, Magnolia serves up a feast of fried food and inglorious excess.
The menu is bacon-crazy, with the signature being chicken-fried smoked applewood bacon. It surfaces first in an appetizer called "Dipsticks" ($3.96), where it's served with spicy sauce. If you're not getting anything else, get them as an appetizer so you can say you've tried it. But if you plan to order other dishes, forego it, since the odds are good that you'll get the same bacon sprinkled on your food in one form or another.
You can find it on the Garage Fries ($4.68), a french-fry concoction topped with a mass of ingredients: melted cheddar cheese, grilled onions, jalapeños, sour cream and spicy sauce. This was an amusing, unholy mess and not a bad dish to share. Magnolia hand-cuts its own french fries, so points for that. But the toppings were too much of a good/bad thing, making us long for fries straight up, with nothing on them.
But that is not how they roll at Magnolia. Even a plain basket of fries ($2.90) came seasoned with a peppery spicy salt. It wasn't bad, but it covered up what seemed to be very good fries on their own.
The Magnolia custom burger ($9.89), nicknamed "The Kitchen Sink" (with an alternative nickname "The Great Hangover Helper," because why have one nickname when you can have two?) could feed two. A beef patty came topped with chicken-fried bacon, sauteed mushrooms, pepper jack cheese, a slice of ham and a fried egg, the favorite topper these days at chef-driven burger joints.
This was a big sloppy mess, nearly impossible to pick up or get it all in a single bite. But the individual ingredients were tasty enough. Mushrooms still had some firmness, and the fried egg was a winner. Can't say that the slice of ham added anything, but it didn't hurt.
The excessive hot dog was the Junk Yard Dog ($7.47), which came deep-fried, just like the bacon. The hot dog was dipped in batter, deep-fried, then topped with chili, spicy sauce, jalapeños, mustard and onions. The hot dog crust had a satisfying crunch, but trying to actually eat it in the bun was difficult. Next time we'll go with the plain Fast Eddy ($4.54) topped with ketchup and mustard, and call it a day.
You can find restraint among the sandwiches made with grilled chicken breast, served on a sourdough bun or cornbread jalapeño loaf, with a side of fries or slaw, priced from $6 to $10. All of the prices end in quirky amounts such as $7.32 or $9.68, and you get a lot of food for the money.
Desserts included a chocolate cobbler ($4.89), served warm, though calling it a cobbler was a misnomer. It was a small square of chocolate that looked and tasted like a soft brownie, rather than the vision we had of pastry and chocolate cream. The selection of beers is worthy, including selections from Fort Worth's own Rahr Brewery. Thankfully, none of them is flavored with bacon.