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Arlington's Babe's will have no trouble luring chicken-fry fans

Babe's Chicken Dinner House

230 N. Center St.


817-801-0300; www.babeschicken.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Signature dish: Fried chicken

Entree cost: $10.99

Essentials: Major credit cards; no bar; smoke-free; wheelchair-accessible.

Good to know: BYOB is cool here. Also, despite the wood-burning fireplace, the outside waiting area is cold this time of year, so dress accordingly because you may be there awhile. Note, too: Online menu lists a $6.49 veggies option.

Recommended for: Those headed to a "Johnnie High" show.

Posted 9:05am on Friday, Dec. 17, 2010

ARLINGTON -- The new Babe's is hotter than a cast-iron country stove.

Some of the heat has to be synergy with the Arlington Music Hall, the just-redone home of "Johnnie High's Country Music Revue." Fans of High's brand of wholesome country can now simply step next door to chow down before the show.

Babe's Chicken Dinner House has done well in towns such as Sanger, where the waiting area consists of an open storefront cooled by an industrial-size box fan. The new Babe's, however, surrounds diners with an almost Disneyesque, high-concept interior environment that re-creates an early 20th-century Main Street, complete with false church front, store windows filled with merchandise and a big neon cowboy with working lasso.

The menu omits some of the items that Texans of an earlier era might have eaten: squirrel or rabbit, for example. Still, the food offers a plausible, though highly edited taste of what was for dinner in the generations before moms marched off to the boardroom and began buying brown-and-serve biscuits in a cardboard can.

Speaking of biscuits, the Babe's version is addictive. Not much taller than a pancake, they soak up honey like a sponge. They're also right for sopping up that cream gravy, which is so viscous that it may well actually contain cream instead of the milk-based stuff that some of our forebears fixed. Too bad they only come two to a plate; shy diners might quit asking for refills before they've had enough.

The biscuits and other vittles are conveyed by relentlessly friendly, quick waitresses who also serenade customers on their birthday and make them wear a chicken hat. The sunny staff keeps the unlumpy mashed potatoes, "Grandma's corn" and green beans coming in family-size bowls. Incidentally, infants and those who forgot their dentures should be able to get those green beans down without a struggle.

Meals are $10.99 and offer a choice of meats. We ordered the smoked chicken and chicken-fried steak this visit. The chicken-fry's extra-crispy breading is its main claim to fame: excellent. The interior, however, will transport some diners back to the school cafeteria instead of an old-school grandmother's Sunday table.

The smoked chicken shouldn't scare any of the more proficient area barbecue purveyors, but its generous serving works well with others on the plate and made a tasty cold lunch the next day.

Babe's finished strong in the dessert category. The chocolate meringue pie ($2.49) came out warm, seemingly just from the oven; the coconut meringue pie ($2.49) filling met and exceeded the finger-licking-good threshold. The topping on both was about an inch deep and stood up to a demanding fork.

Both left a lip-smacking aftertaste and a reminder of why everybody, it seems, wants a piece of Babe's.

John Austin, 817-390-7874

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