Hottub's Back Porch Grotto is a welcoming oasis

Hottub's Back Porch Grotto

4413 Trail Lake Drive

Fort Worth


Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday

Signature dish: Fried catfish

Entree cost: $9.95-$28

Essentials: Major credit cards; full bar; wine list; wheelchair-accessible

Good to know: Smoking allowed on patio.

Recommended for: Catfish lovers, fine diners, Westcliffers looking for a neighborhood restaurant

Posted 7:15am on Friday, Jan. 07, 2011

In rock 'n' roll, a "superband" is made up of players from other bands who've come together to form a new, star-studded group. Hottub's Back Porch Grotto in Fort Worth is the restaurant equivalent; it even has a rock-star name.

That name initially caused a slight stir in this hushed area of Westcliff. Neighboring residents, perhaps imagining bikini-clad waitresses delivering hot wings to hot-tubbers, were concerned about the goings-on in a place called Hottub's.

But, alas: "Hottub" is simply the nickname of owner Danny McGuire, a former Fort Worth police officer who decided to go into the restaurant business.

If this superband has a lead singer, it's McGuire. As one of the original investors in the downtown Texas de Brazil, and the owner of the former Twin Pines Catfish restaurants in Burleson and Azle, he has the highest profile. His rhythm section consists of Stephen Preston, longtime sous-chef at Colonial Country Club, and director of operations Michael Welch, a 30-year-plus caterer, chef and consultant most recently associated with the Ashton Hotel.

They've each brought something unique to the table, so to speak, resulting in a wide-ranging menu and an atmosphere that is casual and classy. In a dining room that seats about 100, you'll find white linen tablecloths -- along with a pair of flat-screen TVs. You'll find McGuire's signature fried catfish -- plus high-end dishes like a $28 grilled rib-eye. Peruse a wine list while your server shakes and serves a tangy margarita tableside -- in a mason jar.

The outdoor, partially enclosed grotto bar is exit, stage left. It's far enough removed from the restaurant to not disturb more serious-minded diners.

And there's plenty on this menu that deserves attention, starting with the appetizer Kobe beef sliders ($8.50). Served three to an order, the generously sized sliders featured quality cuts of Wagyu beef, perfectly grilled to medium well. The meat was seasoned lightly, allowing its natural flavor to shine through, and garnished with melted aged Wisconsin cheddar and tiny piles of caramelized onions. Even the potato buns were good -- lightly buttered and toasted, with a firm texture. On the side came a small serving of thin, well-seasoned onion rings.

The restaurant has another hit on its hands with its cup of lobster mac and cheese ($7.95), composed of soft ditalini pasta, white cheddar and lobster cream sauce. The light sauce, made with pieces of lobster, provided a nice lobster taste without overpowering the flavor of the cheese, or filling you up. Diced Nueske bacon was sprinkled throughout, adding a bit of smokiness.

Other appetizers included "Laughing Bird" shrimp cocktail ($9.50), made with Caribbean white shrimp, and crab cakes with avocado salsa ($10.50). Patrons are also served complimentary pinto beans, cooked old-school, with onions and ham hocks, with flavorful results, and stick hush puppies, which were disappointingly flimsy.

If Hottub's has a greatest hit, it's McGuire's fried catfish plate ($13.95). Instead of traditional cornmeal batter, six small catfish fillets were coated in a thin, flour-based batter that had been lightly seasoned with garlic and pepper. The fish itself had a nice, clean taste. Crisp coleslaw came on the side, along with hand-cut fries, pairs of lemon wedges and purple onions, and creamy tartar sauce and tangy cocktail sauce, both house-made.

The redfish dish ($17.95) hit a sour note or two. The fish was very good -- a pair of tender, grilled redfish fillets that had been cooked well and seasoned nicely with a simple brown butter meunière sauce. But the accompanying rice pilaf had an overpowering peppery flavor, making it difficult to eat. The dish was also served with bright, crunchy broccolini and fresh leeks, but the portions were absurdly small.

Desserts included homemade pies (all $4.95), including an interesting-sounding sour cream raisin pie, and white chocolate bread pudding ($6.95). The latter was a generous square filled with blueberries and topped with house-made whipped cream. Interestingly, it didn't have the usual creamy texture of bread pudding; it was firmer, like a cinnamon roll. It was so good that it left you wondering what Hottub's could possibly do for an encore.

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